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10 Business Lessons from Poker

Updated on February 14, 2016

Winning at Poker - A Lot Like Success in Business

How Poker Taught Me to Go All in On Fear
How Poker Taught Me to Go All in On Fear | Source

What Texas Hold Em Taught Me About Winning in Business

It's no secret that some of the brightest minds in business love the game of poker. Bill Gates himself played many a game with his lifelong compadre, Steve Ballmer, in their dorm rooms until 6 in the morning before dropping out of Harvard to start Microsoft.

Even Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, wrote about "Everything I Know About Business I Learned From Poker" on his lessons in his blog

1. "Cash is king" - this is something that every MBA student has drilled into him, and in poker this is no less true as well. While credit is great, recent economic times has shown how quickly the dominoes fall when the lifeblood of capitalism dry up. Playing "short-stacked" (sitting with one of the smaller stacks at the table) can severely limit your options. Managing your purse is the key skill in both business and poker.

2. With all that said, don't let good money chase bad bets. Ok, you miscalculated the odds that your competitor would call your bluff. Now you're in for half your stack. What do you do? Sometimes it's best to cut your losses, and other times the best deals are the ones you walk away from. Learning to walk away lets you live to fight another day. As the Kenny Rogers song goes, "you got to know when to fold 'em.. know when to walk away.."

3. "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles," said Sun Tzu in the Art of War. It's said that if you can't figure out who the donkey is at your table.. Know your own strengths. Then, hire others better than you to take care of the rest. Too many of us are worried more about looking good, rather than simply having the best people at the right jobs. Guy Kawasaki says, "In the Macintosh Division, we had a saying, 'A player hire A players; B players hire C players'--... On the other hand, mediocre people hire candidates who are not as good as they are, so they can feel superior to them. (If you start down this slippery slope, you'll soon end up with Z players; this is called The Bozo Explosion. It is followed by The Layoff.) I have come to believe that we were wrong--A players hire A+ players, not merely A players. It takes self-confidence and self-awareness, but it's the only way to build a great team.'"

4. The best poker players talk about table feel and position. Understand your market - too many would-be entrepreneurs worry about incorporation and legal entities before having a clear understanding of what their potential customers want / need. Similarly, are you a first mover into a market or late in the game? What will it take to get critical mass? Are your customers' needs changing? How do you respond?

5. What is your table image? Be clear about your marketing message but willing to adapt and change. Are you telling the other players that you're an aggressive player or a passive one? In defining your service or product offering, are you a premium brand or a bargain? While sending mixed messages may confuse your customers, maybe it's time for you to change your approach. Your competitors won't expect it, and done right you may delight the market.

6. People tend to think of bluffing as lying, but another Sun Tzu maxim is that "all warfare is deception." Similarly, in business you need to act "as if." Guy Laliberté, creator of Cirque du Soleil, convinced the Quebec government to give him a large contract even though he could barely even get its tents up. Consider this - convincing your client that you're the best choice to deliver on-time under-budget is a "lie" until it's true.

Biggest Pot in History - Guy Liberte

Play Your Game

7. Each hand is unique. You may earn a reputation as a good aggressive player, but if you're distracted and the cards just aren't going your way, none of that matters. Similarly, reputations and credentials only go so far. Each day is a new game and a new opportunity to prove yourself. Sometimes my MBA or CV may help me to get my foot in the door, but I don't expect any more advantages beyond that.

8. Trust your gut check. Too many winning hands are folded too quickly due to a lack of conviction. They believe that the other player is bluffing but are afraid to go with it. Sometimes more important than knowing how / when to act is simply having the courage to "just do it."

9. Fail forward faster - life happens. Sometimes the cards don't go your way, similarly, sometimes the best business plans fail. What did you learn? How will you carry these lessons into your next game?

10. Learn from the 'bad beats" - the failed sales call, the deal that fell apart because the landlord and tenant couldn't see eye-to-eye. Tomorrow's another day. Just dust yourself off, and get moving. Remember that saying - Some Will .. Some Won't .. So What .. Someone's Waiting!

What Poker Taught Me About Facing Fear in Business
What Poker Taught Me About Facing Fear in Business | Source

How Poker Taught Me to Face My Fears in Business

Here I talk about how one lesson Annie Duke taught me made me over $320,000 -

I share the importance of learning to zig when everyone else is zagging and how this may take courage but sometimes what seems the scariest is actually the safest route to take.

More on How I Go All In on Fear

What helped me to pull the trigger in moments of fear? Maybe this martial art of aikido is what taught me more than how to breath and relax.. read more about it here

My First Poker Tournament.. Steps into a Larger Universe

Something led me downstairs.. a curiosity? An instinct that there was something more than winning money at my first poker tournament. Little did I know how poker became a lifelong love of learning about people, money - and everything in between!


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    • jycmba profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Los Angeles CA

      Yes, one of the interesting things that Sun Tzu points out is that the ultimate is not to have some bloody slugfest where last man standing "wins" - instead, sometimes the best victories are those where not even a shot is fired.

      There have been some hands where I was glad to double-up without a showdown, just from the other player sensing strength and laying down.

      Similarly, price wars can be the costliest for a business to "win." It's often where everybody loses! Customers get worse service; businesses struggle to say in the market or just stay out.

    • billyaustindillon profile image


      9 years ago

      I like the quote from Sun Tzu - brilliant strategy and why because it is so simple. Cash is king excellent point - the financial crisis confirms that too.


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