Life Lessons You Can Gain from Poker

Poker players must stay focused at all times.

Poker players must stay focused at all times.

For the uninitiated, poker is a popular card game that combines elements of gambling, strategy and skill traditionally played at home, in casinos or these days, online. Reading into the strategy part of its core makeup, I believe, as many do, that the game throws up many lessons that you can carry over into real life. From knowing how to bluff (for the right reasons) to reading other people to keeping calm under pressure, playing the game of poker can teach anyone skills that they can apply to the real world.

Understanding Poker

Firstly, you need to understand the basic elements of poker. The many variants of poker have different variables in the numbers of cards dealt, betting procedures, shared cards and hidden (hole or pocket) cards. For example, Texas Hold ‘em, the game’s most popular format, requires its players to construct or pretend (bluff) that they have constructed, the best five-card hand available from the seven provided. Of these seven cards, two remain held privately by each player and five shared (community). These five community cards reveal at various points in the hand, referred to as the flop (when the first three cards reveal), the turn and the river, which expose cards four and five, respectively. Betting rounds take place in between each stage, which is where the strategy comes into play.

Another example is Omaha Hi-Lo, a split-pot version of the game in which players compete for both the high and low halves of the pot. In Omaha Hi-Lo, players receive four cards and must use two of these together with three of the shared community cards to make up a five-card poker hand. The game, then, plays a bit like Texas Hold ‘em unless we reach showdown (where to players go all-in against each other), when their hands determine who has the best high hand and who has the best low hand, with each winning the corresponding half of the pot.

Deal with It

Caption: Play the hands you’re dealt.

Caption: Play the hands you’re dealt.

So, you can see why the game involves a lot of bluffing and strategy, which you can apply to everyday life. Namely, skills such as composure. I mean staying calm and avoiding what poker players refer to as “tilt.” That means getting annoyed, frustrated or even angry when you have a bad hand or when another player heckles you. Similarly, when life throws a curve ball your way, you need to react in the best possible manner. Poker teaches you how to keep your emotions in check and react accordingly, which will, in the long-term, reap rewards and hopefully, prosperity. In poker tournaments, you are constantly weighing up your options and estimating the consequences. That allows you to plan out your most likely path to success ahead of time, and a skill like that will always be useful.

But what if life throws you a strong hand, or you go first in a hand? Just like in life, poker favours aggression. That’s because the players that follow you must react to your move, whereas in life, hesitation can often lead to you missing out. Being aggressive can put you ahead of the rest and provide a cutting-edge advantage that timider folks can only dream of, so be as aggressive you can. Also, play the hand that you have. By this I mean, and the poker skill speaks for itself, the lesson poker teaches you is that you are better off not worrying about the things you cannot change. Instead, it is better to play from a place of neutral objectiveness and ask yourself how you maximise this opportunity and make the most out of your hand? Good players can turn a bad hand into a winner while bad players blame their cards.

Know When to Hold ‘em and Fold ‘em

Texas Hold’em famously takes a minute to learn but a lifetime to master.

Texas Hold’em famously takes a minute to learn but a lifetime to master.

As already mentioned, bluffing is an invaluable part of poker, and the key is to know when to do it. Newcomers to poker are easy to spot from a mile away, but when you learn how to bluff properly, you can change people’s opinion of you or in the case of the game, what they think about your hand or what you are, or might be, holding. In life, there will always be times when you need to represent yourself as more successful than you are, in which case, bluff! Because poker is a game of incomplete information, it forces you to hone your analytical skills as you, in turn, analyse all the variables and other possible outcomes. In life, we don’t always know whole picture or what motivates other people who might have ulterior motives. We can improve the odds in our favour, however, by looking for tells, knowing an opponent’s patterns or generally gaining a better understanding of body language.

Both poker and life throw failure at you all too often, but it will also help you to cope with it, too. Indeed, understanding how or where you went wrong will help you process what you do wrong for you put it right. You also need discipline and patience if you want to be successful at poker and in life. It’s like the old saying: good things come to those who wait. Or another useful phrase would be “patience is a virtue.” It is highly likely that there will be times when playing that you will get a run of bad cards, causing you to fold many times in a row. Even more frustratingly, your stack depletes with each hand dealt. Do not be tempted to play an unworthy hand out of boredom or frustration. Being patient and waiting for the right moment to go all-in in poker is just like waiting for a better job or life opportunity and making rash decisions often leads to poor outcomes. 

Finally, as this is a financial advice site, a little bit about bankroll management. The first step in bankroll management in life, and in poker, is to keep track of your money. Never play with more than you can afford to lose, and always let your money help you make more of it. That, I think you would agree, is the same in real life where you need to protect your assets always and rely on what you have to increase it. See, poker and life do share similar characteristics and require many of the same skills to navigate every outcome, skills that can be picked up at the poker table.