10 Reasons Why Poker Players Make For Great Entrepreneurs

by Jonathan Costet

You probably haven't been asked to play a few hands of Texas Hold'em in a job interview. However, if you had, a lot of skills that would be immediately transposable to an entrepreneurial position may have come to light.

Sure, there is the myth of the poker player as it is often peddled: the rugged individualist, vaguely superstitious, without family or friends, who is just a razor-sharp mind dulled by alcohol when not being used at the poker table.

And then there is the reality of it: Poker is a game of skill, complete with elements of strategy, management of resources, probability calculation and psychology that other games don't have.

While games like chess are said to have value in executive professions where the skills are transferrable, so, too, is there a strong case to be made with poker.

Poker shares a lot of core skills commonly associated with entrepreneurship. After all, a shark is a shark, be it a card shark or a business shark.

While the debate whether to legalize online poker in the US still rages on, the talents the game requires are highly rewarded in other walks of life, particularly in the business world.

1. Logical reasoning

If one thing is certain, it is that nothing is ever certain. Poker players know this better than anyone. They can factor this into their thinking, evaluating with precision their chances at every stage in the game.

Similarly, entrepreneurship means assessing risks and reducing uncertainty by mapping out the different possibilities and calculating the odds of each outcome.

If, as in poker, every decision is a bet, the answer is not inaction. Rather, a logical approach consists in calculating your odds and managing your expectations, but also knowing when to place your bets.

2. Level-headedness

A good poker player will never allow himself to be “on tilt,” that is, letting his emotions take over his decision making. As soon as money is involved, it is important to be able to detach your ego.

A poker ace, though he resents taking a hit during the game, knows how to pick himself up, dust himself off and make up for the setback.

In business, too, when things don't go according to plan, it is crucial to have a quick turnaround, reassess and react to take control of the situation.

3. Reading the competition

When a poker expert reads an opponent, he isn't just looking for obvious tells like a cough, a blush or even a twitch to determine what his adversary is thinking.

He is carefully analyzing, hand after hand, what the opposition's overall strategy may be and how this guides his decision-making process.

What is at stake isn't merely uncovering flaws in the opponent's cost-benefit analysis; it is to gain predictability over the other player's behavior.

Gaining insight into the competition is valuable not just to sense when the competition is taking an uncalculated risk, but also to predict what risks they will be willing to take and which ones they will not.

4. Adapting to the competition

Losing a few early hands to an opponent is not, seen from this perspective, a tremendous disadvantage. A poker pro might start under; he might even work himself temporarily under by handing the opponent easy wins.

But, it is only to assess their strategy and retaliate with a plan of his own that will determine the nature of the opposition.

Likewise, a comprehensive business plan takes into account not only the customer or client, but also the other players on the market.

5. Money management

Also dubbed “bankroll management” in the poker world, managing and keeping an eye on your stack of chips and the state of other players' finances is important.

A poker player, like a business owner, should not let himself be bullied by competitors with shorter stacks and should look for ways to wear down some of the bigger ones, one chip at a time.

Moreover, it is also important to measure your bets in relation to your hand, your stack and other players' stacks.

6. Hiding your game

Throughout all of these mental steps, it is crucial to maintain a poker face at all times. A good poker face is, contrary to popular belief, not just a face without expression. It is a façade that adapts to the situation. It can even be a front in part of a larger plan.

Throwing out misleading cues, dropping fake tells and moving in with big bluffs is part of keeping your strategy unpredictable to the competition.

With less information or inaccurate data on your decision making, your opponent's decision making is impaired.

7. Seizing opportunities

As the poker saying goes, “A pair of balls beats everything.” A less crude and more professional way of putting that would be, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take.”

Once you've set out a coherent plan, calculated your odds and measured your stakes, all that is left to do is to take action.

You might lose in the short run, but with an airtight plan, you are very likely to finish on top in the long run.

8. Distinguishing between short-term and long-term

Temporality is key in poker. Not only when it comes to choosing the right moment to pounce, but also when you analyze your own performance.

A few setbacks at an early stage doesn't mean it's time to cash in your chips; it means you might have to reassess your strategy, the time and resources you've allowed yourself to put that strategy in place, or both.

Similarly, a business should distinguish between short- and long-term. Just because the effects are taking longer to materialize than anticipated doesn't necessarily mean you're on the wrong track.

It takes leadership to be able to set and readjust the target and close in on long-term goals.

9. A pinch of good luck

No amount of skill, whether in poker or in business, will guarantee results. Chance is also a factor; a poker player knows this better than anyone.

This, however, doesn't necessarily make him superstitious, nor should it turn the entrepreneur away from logic.

Rather, in poker players and businessmen alike, it should reinforce the distinction between what parameters they control and which ones they do not.

10. Gentlemanly behavior

Bad beats are part of the game, but as the poker adage goes, “Another night, another table.” When luck isn't on your side, or you've been bested, it's best to walk away with dignity. There will be opportunities for a do-over, with patience.

The most important thing is to learn from your mistakes and consider them valuable in their own right as learning experiences.