Business lessons learned from Poker

To succeed, you must know the rules, calculate odds, take risks and know your opponents.

October 30, 2013

By Kevin Phillips, idu Software

If you don’t know what you’re doing in poker, you can lose with the best hand at the table. Conversely, if you’re skilled and a little lucky, you can win with the worst hand. Not always, but often enough to tip the odds in your favour.

It’s exactly the same in business. We don’t get to choose the hands we’re dealt — but we do get to choose how we play them. To succeed, you must know the rules, calculate odds, take risks and know your opponents.

Be tight-aggressive
Being over-cautious can be as dangerous as being over-aggressive. If you play every hand, but are too timid to call a raise, you’re likely to lose. Don’t bet on every hand, but when you do, bet aggressively. If you believe in your cards, go on the attack.

That strategy works in business too; there’s a place for aggression in every tactical toolbox. If you can recognise when to back down and when to push back you have a huge advantage.

Know when to fold ‘em
Knowing when to fold is a critical survival skill. To make the decision, you need information.

How much do you stand to lose if you fold? How many cards in the deck will help you? How much more do you need to invest to stay in? How much do you stand to win if you get the right card? You need to be able to calculate the odds objectively.

A business deal is no different – you need to dispassionately evaluate how much you have invested, what might work in your favour and what it will cost — financially, in time, in energy — to keep going. When does the cost outweigh the reward?

Know your opponent
Evaluate your opponent. What is their playing style, how do they react to certain situations, what are their tells? Good poker players watch their opponents at least as carefully as their cards. A realistic assessment of relative strengths and weaknesses allows you to match yourself to the competition in poker and in business.

You can’t bluff in business
The one fundamental difference is that you can win in poker on a bluff and never have to show your cards – In business you always have to deliver. In fact, if you deliver on your word, you might get to choose the game next time around – and it doesn’t always have to be poker.