Poker is not an inherently noble pursuit. It does not necessarily offer poignant moments of introspection or life lessons. On the surface, poker is a simple game played with 52 cards. To play it well against good competition requires an array of skills, but you don’t have to be a Field medal mathematician to succeed. When played in a casino or card room, the strong take money from the weak. No one gets Gandhi points for sitting down to a poker game. So what, if any, lessons, can be taken from this odd and seemingly selfish pursuit?
Lesson 1. Patience Pays
Patience is frankly not my strength. I like immediate results and hate waiting in lines. But if you play poker without a good dose of patience you’ll make some very bad decisions. Let’s just say I am a work in progress on this dimension, even at the poker table. However, at least I try to remember when I am in traffic, eighth in line at the one open register at KMart, or waiting to hear back about whether my new health insurance check has cleared that I should not respectively: lay on the horn, say loudly “what’s wrong with this place,” or threaten a lawsuit. Impatience leads to hasty and generally bad decisions. If things are not going your way, bide your time. Don’t self-destruct, and likely the tide will turn.
Lesson 2. Don’t Worry About Others’ Behavior
In poker, there are opponents commonly referred to as “calling stations.” No matter how large a bet you make, they’ll call you down with even the remotest chance of winning the hand. This sounds like a good thing until they get that miracle on the last card dealt and you lose big. Then you feel like flipping over your chair and cursing them, along with anything else in your rage path. Play poker long enough and you realize that other people have the right to make any decisions they want.
The only thing you can do is assess whether you played correctly, no matter the result. This is true in life as well. The only person you have control over (hopefully) is yourself. Let others make their own calls, and adjust as you can without being enraged at them when their decisions impact you. Obviously in some situations of safety and stability there are limits. But in most things, Doris Day it and que sera, sera.Don't Play with Money You Don't Have Click To Tweet
Lesson 3. Not Everything is Controllable
Related to the previous point, in poker you can not control the next card that appears. You make the best decision possible with the information at hand. If your decision generally leads to a good result, great, you made the right decision. When it does not, learn to love the variance, bad luck, whatever you want to call it. Away from the poker table, life’s bad breaks are often more challenging to accept. However, giving up the illusion of complete control is key to staying sane.
Lesson 4. Don’t Play with Money You Don’t Have
To play poker well and for a long time, you need a stake that you can afford to lose. Things can go sideways for an extended period even when you play well. You have to have the funds to absorb those swings. Managing your finances should follow a similar logic. Buying a house out of your price range with poor assumptions about how you can swing it is a recipe for disaster. Building credit card debt to help finance furniture, a car, or vacations will have you swimming upstream forever. Budget, embrace frugality, and plan for emergencies at all times.
Lesson 5: Ethical Grey Areas Abound
Life entails trudging through a moral quagmire. It’s New Year’s eve and a drunk guy is blowing off hundreds of dollars rapidly through epic poor play. Do you thank the heavens for your good fortune, or leave not wanting to take advantage of this out-of-control soul? Profitability in poker requires taking advantage of weaker players. Again, not a noble enterprise. But if you love playing and want to do well, a necessary evil.
Many of us work jobs to support our families that do not necessarily offer great social value. Maybe we’re not helping big tobacco sell cigarettes to kids, but the welfare of the consumer is not a priority for most corporations. However, your job clothes and feeds your kids, allows them to go to college, and keeps your family safe. Living the ideal life of our young fantasies seldom happens. As with poker, sometimes we have to allow for the grey.
For the uninitiated, poker may seem an odd and perhaps sketchy pursuit. But the lifestyle allows one to meet a great range of people, and creates some interesting and challenging moments. Lessons can be learned anywhere, and the poker table is no exception.
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