Three poker skills that will help you in life

You may not realise it, but figures of speech from card games like poker have filtered through into everyday usage.

Have you ever said you “throw your cards in” when you give something up? Perhaps you have said you’ve been “dealt a bad hand”, or you need to “play your cards right”?

These are all expressions from the game of poker. It’s a card game that can actually teach you some important skills in life, especially in business. So, next time anyone scoffs at you for “gambling”, you can hit back with the fact that you have learnt some important lessons.

You can take some of the skills you pick up from learning poker tips and apply them to everyday life. Here are just three of the key ones.

Reading people

Poker is a game of information – or, more to the point, the lack of it. You know the strength of your hand but cannot see your opponents’ cards. A key part of the game is reading people, an ability to second guess by the way they are acting or the way they handle their bets, whether their hand is weak or strong.

Have you heard of keeping a good poker face (another everyday expression)? That means you are not giving away clues to others about what you’re really thinking.

Good poker players can pick up every nervous twitch from an opponent, their body language, and the consistency of how they bet or act. These are called “tells”, and good players use these to help them decide how to play their own hand.

Now think about this in a real-life situation. Using the same people-reading skills, you can start spotting tell-tale signs if another person is lying to you or, at the very least, is under duress about a situation. Equally, if this person is bursting with joyous news but not allowed to tell you, you might pick up the signs.

Use this skill, especially in a business setting. When you are negotiating, for example, with a supplier or client, are they telling you the whole truth? How about when you hire a new employee – can you trust what they are saying, and are they genuine?

Recruitment specialists use psychological knowledge in their hiring process, and reading people is just an extension of that.

Assessing risk versus reward

Without bogging you down in the technicalities of skilled poker, a key part to making a profit is to maximise how much you win from good situations and minimise what you lose from unfortunate situations (i.e. good hands or bad hands).

But the game is not quite that simple. As we mentioned earlier, it’s a game of incomplete information. You do not know your opponents’ hands, and there may yet be more community cards to be dealt before you know if you can make the hand you hope.

As an example, another player might make a large bet. To continue in the hand and match the bet is the risk you must take, even though you are not sure if you will end up making a good hand of your own.

The reward in this equation is winning not just the money already in the pot but any additional betting to come. The risk versus reward is the mental arithmetic you should make to determine whether it is worth continuing with the hand or folding, having established how much you might win should you stay in.

You can see how this strategic decision making can help you all the time in your normal life. Let’s take a simple example – you are cutting it fine to make a job interview but are very low on petrol. Do you stop and fill up, although doing so could make you late and possibly lose you the job? Or do you carry on, because there’s a good chance you won’t run out of petrol, you’ll be on time, and you can win the position? The risk is either being late or running out of petrol (both bad), the reward is getting hired (good).

Or think of a business situation where you weigh up whether to make a capital investment into your business – perhaps new machinery. Is the cost of the project justified by the extra profits the machinery could help you achieve? There’s a chance you might not recoup those costs. Risk versus reward again.

Mathematical skills

People who know nothing about playing poker are surprised at quite how deep the math skills go. The best players in the world go to extraordinary levels when working out probabilities of certain events – how likely they can make their hand, the chances of other players having certain types of hands, the chance other players will bet or fold and so on.

If you could see inside the best players’ brains, they are constantly computing. It’s amazing to hear some of them talk about their strategies (you need to listen hard just to keep up).

Using such math skills under pressure, and quickly, is a key skill anyone can use in real life. Just think about the times you had to work something out in your head. It’s not easy, is it?

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Love Belfast
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