Journal of Gambling Studies

, Volume 26, Issue 3, pp 401–420 | Cite as

Social and Psychological Challenges of Poker

  • Kyle SilerEmail author
Original Paper


Poker is a competitive, social game of skill and luck, which presents players with numerous challenging strategic and interpersonal decisions. The adaptation of poker into a game played over the internet provides the unprecedented opportunity to quantitatively analyze extremely large numbers of hands and players. This paper analyzes roughly twenty-seven million hands played online in small-stakes, medium-stakes and high-stakes games. Using PokerTracker software, statistics are generated to (a) gauge the types of strategies utilized by players (i.e. the ‘strategic demography’) at each level and (b) examine the various payoffs associated with different strategies at varying levels of play. The results show that competitive edges attenuate as one moves up levels, and tight-aggressive strategies––which tend to be the most remunerative––become more prevalent. Further, payoffs for different combinations of cards, varies between levels, showing how strategic payoffs are derived from competitive interactions. Smaller-stakes players also have more difficulty appropriately weighting incentive structures with frequent small gains and occasional large losses. Consequently, the relationship between winning a large proportion of hands and profitability is negative, and is strongest in small-stakes games. These variations reveal a meta-game of rationality and psychology which underlies the card game. Adopting risk-neutrality to maximize expected value, aggression and appropriate mental accounting, are cognitive burdens on players, and underpin the rationality work––reconfiguring of personal preferences and goals––players engage into be competitive, and maximize their winning and profit chances.


Poker Gambling Risk Uncertainty Competition Behavioral economics Strategy Economic sociology 



The author thanks Tony Puddephatt, H. Ted Welser, Robb Willer and the Cornell Social Psychology Lab Group for helpful feedback and suggestions in regards to this project. The author also acknowledges Kim Burlingame, Janet Heslop and the Cornell Institute for Social and Economic Research for providing the computing resources and support necessary to make this project possible. Finally, the author is very grateful to for providing access to the data which this research is based upon.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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