About three years ago my opinion on the game of poker was ignorantly based on what I had seen on T.V. , a game played by degenerates in shady, dim lit back alley bars and unlicensed casinos.
Well not quite, I always knew that was an unfair stereotype and that it was a game played by millions of people from all walks of life however the negative connotations somehow stuck at the back of my mind.
A good friend who knows I love chess and other strategy games introduced me to it, he explained how to play and left me to it. I started practising on my own and started seeing the intricacies of the game very quickly. Here was something far deeper than just a card game, in many ways this was a reflection of my own strengths, weaknesses, attitudes, creativity and above all instincts.
So I started playing just for fun and after getting crushed by players who were absolutely atrocious at the game but only slightly better than me, I decided to watch the pro’s and see how they play. This opened up a whole new understanding of the complexities of poker. I had figured a lot of it out by myself but this was a whole new game.
I was absolutely mesmerized by how these pro’s knew what was happening in the hand and whether they were ahead and trying to extract value out of their opponents and when they were behind and knew they had to cut their losses.
Professional poker players became the object of my obsession. For me it was like watching a magician seemingly doing the impossible. The only difference was that all the tutorials, manuals and pro tips were readily available. Anyone could learn the intricacies of the game and those who are dedicated can master it.
The idea of being a professional gambler is a frightening prospect, there may be some fantastic years but the dry years could be devastating. Let’s look at that concept in a little more depth.
For the most part being employed in the current economy is nothing more than a professional gamble itself. Get retrenched or even take a salary cut and the bills and the lifestyle you maintained before the cut could see it all come down like a house of cards.
How many times have we seen it lately, how many foreclosures are there every day? The riches to rags story seems to be more prominent than the reverse.
What about your own business? Can anyone honestly say that starting their own business was not a professional gamble. OK granted everyone knows that it was so let’s pose this question. Is the everyday running of even a successful business not a professional gamble?
So the real question then becomes, are you qualified to run your business? I am not talking about professional qualifications but rather acumen. A doctor may be a highly intelligent and educated person but that does not make him an entrepreneur or a businessman. He may have the intellect to learn fast and develop himself, but he needs to be dedicated to it first and foremost.
The same applies to any aspiring poker pro. The story is the same with businesses as with poker, not all of them will make it.
Sometimes even the biggest companies fail and sometimes the no hoper makes the big time. There is an element of luck and the right place at the right time but what people often fail to see is the work behind getting yourself in the right place and taking the opportunity when it comes your way.
Often what can cause a business to fail is something out of the owner’s control. Competition moving in, server failure, fire, burglary, logistical problems and a whole host of other potential tragedies could be lurking around a dark corner. In our business we try to rely on third parties as little as possible but the truth is IT IS impossible. There will always be some reliance on them.
So in that department, the advantage goes to the professional poker player. They only need to rely on themselves. There will always be tournaments to play in, casino’s and those dark back alleys we spoke about earlier. One bad mistake for them can see them out of a tournament, one bad mistake could see you out of business.
OK I will drop the Chicken Little cynicism now but it was necessary to understand that playing poker professionally is a gamble similar to running a business or having a job. As with life there is always the element of risk, the skill is in minimizing it.
So let’s look at some of the most successful business people. Who are the guys that are right at the very top? It’s always the same, the ones who took many a calculated and educated risk. They are also the people who treat making money like a game.
That may sound flippant but it’s the truth. Those who have more money than they could ever spend are not doing it for the money but for the love of the game. The money is a by-product. To top it off the game is completely ”addictive”. These are also the types of poker players who do extremely well.
See the trend of similarity developing here?
One fundamental human principal to understand is that we learn more from playing games than any other activity. As children our entire trial and error learning system is based around play. Why then as adults do we often dismiss this activity as irrelevant rather than see the lessons that games have for us?
So few professions embrace this but would you ever get on a plane with anyone who has never been in a flight simulator as part of their training. We learn from mistakes that are made in a safe environment. That is what real training is about, making mistakes.
Don’t believe that games are the most effective way to learn? Have a look at the success stories from Rich Dad Poor Dad’s Cashflow game. The game was designed to teach people about investing and business and creates a safe environment to learn. Regular players of the game have gone on to become very successful which leads me to my first point:
1) Poker is a game of retrospective learning. Just like in business the mistakes we make are often realised after the event and they sit in our memory banks so that when a similar situation arises we can chose a different course of action with a more favorable result. It gives us a reference point to call on when we need it.
2) Poker is a game of instinct - This is one of the most important things in poker, life and business, sometimes your head and your gut is in direct conflict, all of the logic and reasoning is pointing you one way but your gut is screaming no! I have learned in business that your gut is almost always right and it takes courage to go with it.
Yes it happens that your gut wants you to believe something that simply is not true and that can land you in a world of pain but when your gut is adamant, it’s always best to go with it. The art is in being able to identify it and trust it. How many top business people have gone against reams of expert advice only to end up on top.
These people often get accused of serendipity when it turns out well but I see it as trusting their instincts. Reasoning can get in the way of your instinct and vice versa. This can result in major internal confusion but poker can help you hone the skills so that you can perfect the art of listening to which voice is screaming the loudest, the one in your head or the one in your gut.
3) Poker teaches you to make fast decisions - This is particularly true of internet poker where you have a timer. You need to assess the way the hand was played, the likely range of your opponent and put together the puzzle before making a decision. In business in order to make the most of market conditions or to take an opportunity you often need to act fast. Just because a decision is made fast does not mean that it’s reckless. Sometimes a business just needs to adapt fast and let’s face it with the speed at which everything is moving nowadays this is an increasingly important skill in business.
4) Poker teaches you to make tough decisions - There will always be times in poker and in business when a tough decision needs to be made. You are under immense pressure and it feels like the world is closing in on you. You are sweating and hoping that you make the right decision but the time has come where it is unavoidable, either way a decision has to be made. This usually is the spot where gut feel meets reasoning and rational and a combination of these factors gives an overall picture which helps you make the call.
5) Poker helps you call people on their bullshit - Some people are just full of it. You know the type, those who can talk a good game but when it comes down to it, they reveal their limited abilities and it ends up costing you. In poker it’s often the lesser players that result in a ”bad beat” for you and cause the most damage to your resources. Business has the same pitfalls and being able to identify these types can help you avoid the mess.
6) Poker teaches you behavioral patterns - People often assume that poker is all about body language. While this is a massive part of the game, online poker has taught many aspiring players that behavioral and betting patterns are just as important. With online poker you don’t have the body language to put the picture together but the betting patterns can tell the story. Using previous assessments of how a player reacted gives you an advantage and you can use that knowledge to play against them in a different way. Reading people in business is a hell of a skill particularly when networking and gauging the sincerity and virtues of a relationship but being able to spot behavioral patterns is where the real information is. Honing this skill to gauge how different people will react to different situations and different pressures could provide you with some great info not just on your target market but also your employees or contractors.
7) Poker teaches you to be adaptable - Following on from our last point, a good player will assess what type of players are at the table, some will be aggressive, others more passive, some will be downright reckless. Understanding how to play each player will also teach you the skills to adapt yourself to different people in the business world. Not everyone is treated equally in poker and the same is true in business. Poker teaches you to find your opponents weakness and to exploit it. While this is a coveted trait in business there is a flip side to it. It also teaches you to identify people’s strengths and this could be used to find and utilise people whose strengths offset your own weaknesses. Unlike poker business is a team game.
8) Poker teaches you statistics, odds and percentages - There are times when you know you are behind but you have to continue because the reward is worth the risk. There are times where you feel you are ahead but the risk is just not worth it right now. And there are times where you have no idea where you are, what the risk versus reward ratio is and you have to decide to just give it up, reassess and live to fight another day. Every business owner would have felt all of the above at some stage and the more you practice the better and faster you will get at assessing and mentally crunching the figures and then making a decision based on a blend of logic and gut feel. Starting to see how all of these skills are starting to merge with each other?
9) Poker teaches you timing - In poker just like in business there are the right moves, the wrong moves, the right moves at the wrong times and the wrong moves at the right time. Timing is so essential in that it literally is the determining factor between winning and losing. The right move at the right time could cement your place at the top of the leaderboard while a mis-timed move could leave you open to exploitation, ridicule and even complete decimation. I don’t know exactly if I was referring to poker or business just there. Both are dynamic, ever changing and both require a shifting through the gears at the right time. Sitting tight is sometimes more effective than jumping in but when the time is right action is what will get you to the top.
10) Poker is a creative game - There are times when things are just not going your way and you need to force the issue somewhat. It takes creativity not only to win hands that you have no right to win but also to extract maximum value from the hands where you are ahead. This is often a fine balancing act and your creativity is the differentiator. Appear to be stagnant and rigid and your opponents will exploit you every time.
11) Poker teaches you to pull the trigger - There is often a lot less bluffing in poker than most laymens would imagine. The game is about putting yourself in the best position to extract as much value as possible while minimizing undue risks. Often the bluffs are smaller than you would think but there comes a time in poker and often in business where you just have to put your ass on the line and risk everything. Once you burn the bridge behind you there is no room for retreat and it’s all or nothing. It takes serious balls to do it and the timing has to be perfect. How do we know when it is perfect, we don’t but we rely on those instincts.
12) Poker teaches you about yourself - Poker is a really funny game, a chess opponent may gauge some insight into your thinking for instance and poker works the same way. What I find most profound however is how much it teaches you about yourself and in particular your attitudes. How do you feel about risk, how do you handle pressure, can you make a move and hustle when you need to, how do you manage a bad beat and how do you recover from it? Do you go on tilt, does your attitude change to screw it all? Do you lament your bad luck or does it make you phoenix-like determined to rise from the ashes? Are you humble in victory? How creative and adaptable are you? All of these are attitudes and all of them are essential to fine tune for business success.
13) Poker will drive you mad at times - There is nothing as infuriating or rewarding as poker or owning your own business. Both will make you scream, tear your hair out, want to smash your computer and kick the cat. OK maybe not kick the cat but it will leave you with some dark thoughts. You know what though, there is nothing better than creating your opportunities, playing the hands you are dealt perfectly and cashing in that check off the spoils of your victories.