Treating business like poker

People sometimes say to treat poker like a business. But these days I've been finding ways to treat business like poker.

My schedule for the WSOP this year is going to be one of the lightest I've had before. I'm only going to be there for about two weeks, arriving at the beginning of July and then playing a couple of small events, some cash games, and then the Main Event.

The time leading up to that will be dedicated to the family, and to a new project I've been focusing on a lot lately.

I've been getting a lot of inquiries from businesses wanting me to appear as a keynote speaker. Poker is very conducive to strategic thinking and logical analysis, both of which are very important in the business world, and so I've been invited to come talk to groups about parallels between poker and business and to explore those parallels in constructive ways.


Both in poker and in business, in order to win something -- or profit -- you have to risk something. The same is true for life in general, although it isn't always financial investments that we make and from which we hope to gain material goods, but other kinds of investments from which we try to gain emotionally or in intangible ways.

So when faced with all sorts of decisions, we're constantly asking ourselves "Is it worth it or not?" This is where poker can help.

Understanding concepts like pot odds, variance, and long-term versus short-term results can help a lot in non-poker contexts. Not being results-oriented is also a helpful skill to learn in business, just as in poker, which can in turn help with understanding how to judge your decisions apart from the consequences that result from them.

Business is also like poker in that your outcome is often directly related to others' outcomes -- like opponents at the poker table -- and so you not only have to have your own strategy but you have to take into account what others are thinking and doing, too. And in both cases, if you can get into the head of your opponent (or competitor), you are way ahead when it comes to the amount of value you can extract.

Tight-aggressive can often be a good starting strategy in both poker and business. When an investment opportunity comes along, it needs to be examined carefully because not every such opportunity is going to be a good one. Being patient and picking your spots are very important in business. But once you do decide to invest, those who are successful often invest aggressively, be it with money or resources, in order to gain maximum value and put more pressure on opponents/competitors.

That style also means being able to accept losses when they come. Venture capitalists will invest in start-ups and out of 10 companies in which they invest, seven or eight might fail. That's a lot of failure, but one or two might earn big returns that more than make up for the losses. To stay in business you have to be able to handle losses financially, of course, but you have to be able to handle them emotionally, too.

There's a lot of talk about start-ups in Berlin right now, so this is all somewhat timely for me to be discussing with the groups to whom I'm speaking. Recently there were a couple of notable failures that drew a lot of attention, but a poker player viewing the situation would be able readily to see how such losses are just "part of the game," so to speak. In Germany business people are often very risk-averse and sometimes too concerned with the short-term. They also aren't always able to grasp that a decision can be a good one even if it doesn't result in profit.

For example, back in 2007 I invested in a company that invented something that today we know as an iPad -- kind of an early tablet. But the company failed for various reasons, one of which was the fact that the field filled up too quickly and with too many players. But I knew my investment was in fact a brilliant one, because it could have easily gone the other way and I could have been playing the Big One for One Drop this summer! And staking a couple of friends, too!

It's very rewarding to teach, because as a teacher I learn a lot, too, because after breaking down these concepts and explaining them to others, I'm learning them better, too. I think I'm doing a pretty good job at it, too.

I've been a coach for celebrities and poker-playing amateurs before and I've worked a lot as a presenter on various poker shows, so I've faced the challenge before of trying to explain poker to people who aren't necessarily well-versed or even especially interested in the game. The important thing is not to be overly detailed about strategy, but to communicate general concepts that are familiar to the audience and which they can apply to their lives even if they aren't poker players.

Besides spending time with family then, I'll be spending the next few weeks trying to help these business people learn a little more about decision-making and realize how poker strategy can help them.

After that, though, it'll be back to my main business -- playing some poker!

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