What Poker Has Taught Me About Business

A couple years ago, I started to play a lot more poker. I played online, I attended the World Poker Tour Boot Camp, and I have played in a couple tournaments in Vegas. I have seen a few articles about poker strategies in business, and for the most part I didn’t find them to be that accurate, at least in my own experiences. So, I thought I would write down a few connections that I see myself.

For the record, I’m not a very good poker player. I’m so-so. I make it to the final table at the tournaments, but then I get my ass handed to me.

1. Sunk Expense – I think my biggest weakness at the tables is that I will follow a bad decision right up to the end. I’m getting better at it, but it did make me start to reflect on that. For example, I was at a tournament at Mandalay Bay, and drew a Ace/King unsuited. I was in a front position, so I went in with a triple blind. A loud mouth raised by doubling my bet. Calling was the right thing to do, so I did it. The flop came, and it was nothing I needed. I checked, and the loud mouth raised. I called. Then came kicker, still nothing I needed. The loud mouth goes all in. I called…with nothing. I had already put so much into the pot, I didn’t want to let go. And I didn’t like the loud mouth calling me out. I should have followed the idea of it being a sunk expense and moved on wit my life. I got beat, and I was nearly knocked out of the game. If a deal is going south, no matter how much you invested, cutting bait is always an option.

2. Read People – I was playing at another tournament, and I noticed someone across the table from me. I have been working on doing a better job of reading players. This guy stuck out because he looked familiar. He has a flannel shirt, a Timex digital watch, some very cheap geeky glasses, and a hair cut that his wife might have given him. He also had a very concentrated, serous look to his face. This guy looked like someone who doesn’t take a lot of chances in life. I decided to watch him most during the game and see what I could pick up. He maintained a slight slouch throughout most of the game. He played very few hands, and when he won, it was only small pots. But the blinds were increasing, and he was beginning to lose ground quickly. I watched as he got his cards and the bets were laid. He still had a substantial chip stack, so most didn’t notice when he put in a substantial raise. But I noticed that right before he did, he straightened out his back and tried to pump out his chest a bit. He was bluffing. I called and waited for the next card. He didn’t flinch, and he went all in. I called and took the hand with pocket 8’s. He had nothing. I could tell that he knew he had to make a move, and had committed to the bluff. It was my first real win from reading someone. I felt like a real poker player. But now I use that more and more I life. I watch people’s reactions, listen for things they say. I mostly look for something that changes the way they have been historically. Playing poker really helps you read people, and that helps in just about everything.

3. Play few hands, but when flush test a lot of waters – My play has changed a lot as I gain more experience. I have really learned that in a tournament, the object is first to stay alive. Play few hands, and protect your stack. But once you begin to pick up steam, play more hands and try to draw something out. It’s amazing what you can get on the flop if you play a lot. I think when it comes to business, Google is the best example. They are very flush, and they are playing a lot of hands right now. It’s something I think Apple would benefit from.

4. Nothing is certain – Cards don’t know about the odds. They are random. In business nothing is certain. Macro conditions change that can have a weird effect on your business. I recently saw an example of this at the airport. In SFO there is a wine merchant. How were they affected by a terrorist plan in England? Even the small shop that sells the soft drinks for $2.50 per bottle. They will obviously sell less when people cannot bring the soda on an airplane. I guess that means we’ll be paying $3.00 per bottle soon. Nothing is certain in poker or business, don’t ever believe that things cannot change.

5. Practice increases luck – The longer in business, the better decisions I make. Mistake usually bring with them experience and wisdom (hopefully). Poker is the same. You can read books, you can watch TV, but in the end, it’s the practice that makes you better. Much like how some of the worst bosses I have ever had came with degrees from Harvard. I don’t have a degree, I dropped out of college. Am I better CEO than them? Well, my company has lasted longer, and I’m still here and growing.

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