Is there a writer who ever played this game and hasn’t observed
that poker’s a metaphor for life?
A metaphor for life! If true, there should be important life lessons
everyone can take away from the poker table -- lessons which once learned
and applied -- ought to make it much easier for a poker player to survive
in a world where the majority of people haven’t learned these
advanced lessons for living.
Be Selective, But Be Aggressive
How true. In the real world you do have to pick your battles, and carefully
choose when to retreat, (fold ‘em) and when to draw your proverbial
line in the sand (hold ‘em). History is replete with examples.
General Robert E. Lee, confronting overwhelming supremacy in men, munitions,
and technology, was able to keep the Confederacy’s cause alive
as long as he did because he picked his battles carefully. He did not
engage the Union Army at every opportunity; he selected opportunities
where he believed he could negate the Union’s inherent advantages
and overcome them.
In fact, during the early stages of the war, Union General McClellan
was unwilling to commit his troops, even when the odds were strongly
in his favor. Like a player who is overly weak and overly tight, General
Lee constantly ran him off the best hand. McClellan ultimately suffered
the military equivalent of really bad beat ¾ he was sacked by
President Lincoln, who, knowing his man held most of the big cards,
wondered why he wouldn’t play a hand and therefore couldn’t
Know Your Opponents
If you can pick up tells in a poker game -- where players take great
pains not to broadcast them -- think how easy it ought to be to read
people away from the table. Yet how many of us really take the time
to know our opponents. Your boss is in a nasty, irritable mood? Maybe
you’d be better off feigning an emergency and postponing your
annual performance review until next week.
Wouldn’t you stand a better chance of winning when you held a
strong hand? Tackle a tough project now. Close that sale and make some
customer so happy that he calls your boss and tells him how valuable
you are. Once you’ve done that you’re holding strong cards
-- strong enough to stand up to your annual review.
Try it in your social life. You don’t have to be an expert on
body language to realize that you’re not getting to first base
with that woman who’s got her legs crossed, arms folded, and is
leaning away from you with a bored, indifferent expression on her face.
It’s time to try a new strategy, or be selective, fold your hand,
and wait for some new cards to be dealt.
Do the Pot Odds Offset the Odds Against Making Your Hand?
No winning player would draw to a flush with 5:1 odds against making
it, when the pot only promises a 3:1 payoff. The winning player will
wait until the pot promises a payoff better than 5:1 before investing
in it. The same thing is true away from the table. While real life payoffs
can vary widely, your investments are usually time, money, or both.
Is it worth your time to spend half a day trying to make a small sale,
without the promise of greater rewards down the road, or are you better
off courting one of your bigger, better customers?
Whenever you analyze situations like this, the answers often seem obvious.
Still, people fritter away large amounts of time, not realizing that
they can be horribly unproductive. Office workers spend hours dealing
with problems and issues that may be urgent, but are often neither significant
Better time management frees you from dealing with issues over which
you can exert little control, and have small payoffs. If you aspire
to success, you’ll look for chances to capitalize on opportunity,
rather than wasting your time fighting small, insignificant, brush fires.
Once you’re able to step back from the daily demands of urgent-but-unimportant
issues, you’ll be able to see opportunities as easily as you saw
that spending time with important customers was more productive than
chasing opportunities offering insignificant payoffs for your efforts.
Have a Plan
If you have no standards at the, and adopt an any-two-cards-can-win
philosophy, you’ll soon go broke. Knowing in advance which cards
you’re going to play, what position you’ll play them from,
and how you’ll handle different opponents, are key factors to
success at the poker table. It’s no different in the real world.
If you don’t plan, you’re just a leaf in the wind. While
traveling in a random direction does get you somewhere, it’s probably
not where you hoped to go.
Poker teaches you to plan, to have an agenda, and to pursue it aggressively.
In the real world, if you don’t have your own agenda, you’ll
soon be part of someone else's. In fact, I’d guess that if you
examined people foolish enough to join a cult, you’d find very
few of them with a plan, an agenda, or a set of governing values to
Be Responsible. Never Blame Others For Your Failures. Quit
Everyone’s, it seems, has their favorite bad beat stories. I’ve
been around poker tables long enough now that I seldom hear one that’s
unique. Moreover, I don’t care. So you lost in a way that defied
all imaginable logic and odds. A bad decision from a floor person did
you in. Who cares? Enough, already. It doesn’t change anything.
You’ll never be a successful poker player until you accept full
and complete responsibility for the results you achieve.
Real life is much the same. To succeed, plan on always being held accountable
for your actions. So you weren’t born with Rockefeller’s
money, Einstein’s brains, or Tom Cruise’s looks. Neither
were most folks. Get up. Get on your feet. Play the cards you were dealt.
Go on from there. Most of us do not come close to maximizing our potential.
Some don’t even try. Like successful poker players, those who
are successful in real life don’t place the blame for their failures
anywhere but where it belongs ¾ squarely on their shoulders.
Be Sure You Have An Out
When I was 12 years old my arch enemy was an overgrown 13 year old named
Zimp. He was always threatening to beat the crap out of me, and I had
no doubt he could do it. But I had an out. Zimp was big, and Zimp was
strong, but he was slow. Since I could outrun him, out ride him on my
bicycle, and out climb him on any trees or garage roofs he’d try
to chase me over, I could escape every time he decided to take a run
at me. As long as I never got myself get cornered in a blind alley,
I knew I could survive childhood until we grew up.
I also had another enemy, a kid named Skinny Vinny. Now I could take
Vinny, but Vinny could outrun me, and I seldom caught him. Had Vinny
and Zimp been card players they would have known that even though I
was a favorite against each of them individually (I could take Vinny,
and I could outrun Zimp) if the two of them ever teamed up, I was dead
meat. All it would have taken was for Vinny to run me down, and keep
me engaged until Zimp arrived to toss me a beating. Neither one of them
had an ounce of brains, weren’t friends anyway, and never got
together to conspire about how to take out their mutual enemy.
Next time you’re holding a pair of kings or aces, and thinking
about just calling instead of raising to limit the field, remember Zimp
and Vinny. They never got the better of me because each chose to face
me individually -- and I was a big favorite heads up. If they took me
on together, I’d have gone from a favorite individually, to an
underdog against their collective efforts.
I grew up in Brooklyn, in a neighborhood where street smarts were required
learning at an early age. Maybe these street smarts helped me learn
poker, and gave me the discipline to play it well. But I also believe
poker gave me more street smarts than I ever would have garnered if
I never played the game. Who knows? Maybe they’re mutually self-enhancing.
If you keep playing the game, and listen to the messages coming your
way across the card table, you’ll not only win at poker, you’ll
win at life. Keep flopping aces!