Five life lessons learned from playing poker.


This article for goldfish:

  • Nobody in life gets dealt the same hand. It’s never going to be a level playing field. Focus on what you can control and grab the opportunities you get.
  • Don’t blame yourself if a calculated decision didn’t work out the way you expected. You can’t foresee everything.
  • Invest in your dreams. If those investments are not paying off yet, make sure you have another (more secure) income stream to keep the lights on.

This article for humans:

Life shows surprising similarities with the game of poker.

All too often, the winners will tell you success is all about skill and the losers will blame their failures on the bad luck they had to deal with.

The truth is often somewhere in between: you need luck, but the chance of luck can be notably increased by the person with the right knowledge and skill. 

This is true in poker, as it is in life.

Here are five life lessons I learned from playing Texas hold ‘em poker:

1. Focus on what you can control.

Everyone gets dealt a different hand. 

Opportunities are never equal from one person to another. It’s never going to be a level playing field, it’s never going to be fair. When timed right however, a skilled poker player can play the weakest hand and turn it into a win. 

Life is no different.

Focus on what you can control (your actions), not on the hand you’re dealt. It’s not easy when you’re dealt a worse hand than others, it’s not how it should be, but it’s the only thing you can do. Make the most of what you got.

That takes us to our next point…

2. Grab the opportunities you get.

Most people in life play it safe. 

They’ll spend a lifetime refusing to act upon any opportunity life throws at them. Sometimes because they don’t recognise the opportunity, but more often because they’re not brave enough to take the leap. 

In poker terms: they fold every hand they get, waiting for that perfect opportunity. 

It’s a guaranteed way of losing. The perfect opportunity might never come, and if it comes, it might not play out like they expected.

In most cases, the cards get the blame. This, however, is an easy way to dodge responsibility. Every professional poker player will tell you the game is not about the cards you get dealt. 

It’s about taking calculated risks. It’s about reading and playing the field.

Life is no different. Be brave, don’t let an opportunity pass by because it isn’t perfect. 

Take the leap and play the field.

3. Don’t judge decisions based on outcome alone.

In poker, sometimes amateur players place a bet on the weakest hand you can get, and win big by hitting a full-house on the Flop (the first three cards on the table). 

This doesn’t mean it was a good decision to play that hand. In fact, if you play out that same round a 100 times over, there’s a good chance that player will not be that lucky 99 times (99.27 on average to be more exact).

Sometimes people hit the jackpot by a strike of luck, but that doesn’t mean the decision that led to that win was a good one.

On the flip side, all too often players bet big on a strong hand in poker, but hit nothing on the table and lose their initial investment. This doesn’t mean it was a bad decision to play this hand. Upfront, the odds of winning were significant.

Judge your decisions based on the information you had at the time of making the decision, not based on the outcome. 

Don’t blame yourself if a calculated decision didn’t work out the way you expected. You can’t foresee everything.

Live without regrets.

4. Small wins pay the bills, big wins determine the game.

In poker, you’ll need small wins to pay for the blinds (a small bet each player is forced to place before seeing their cards). The course of the game however, is determined by only a handful of big plays. 

Small wins are important to keep a poker player in the game long enough to be able to double down on the big opportunities when they arise.

In life, you’ll likely have bills that need to be paid periodically, too. You need the small wins (e.g. your day job) to keep the lights on.

If you don’t take a shot at a big win (e.g. building your own dream) however, you’ll be forced to live off the small wins for the rest of your life. 

On the other hand, if you compromise the secure small wins to pursue the big win, chances are the big win will not pay off soon enough and you’ll run out of resources.

Play the long game.

Let the small wins pay the bills, but work on your big win on the side in order to win the end game.

5. Cut your losses when needed.

Don’t keep spending money on a hand you already lost, just because of what you’ve invested in that hand in the past. Pull out and take your losses when the ship is sinking, don’t make it worse. Save your investments for the next opportunity.

Life is a game of chances, nothing is guaranteed. Play too reckless and you might lose it all. Make calculated moves, and you might win a round or two. Whatever you do, execute and make moves. 

Nobody ever won a poker tournament by playing a passive game, just like nobody ever won life by being a spectator.

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About the author

Wesley van der Hoop

Dutchman living in The Bahamas. I get excited about digital marketing, writing, traveling, surfing and learning new things.

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