Poker is a microcosm of all we admire and disdain about capitalism and democracy. It can be rough-hewn or polished, warm or cold, charitable and caring, or hard and impersonal, fickle and elusive, but ultimately it is fair, and right, and just. -Lou Krieger
Poker is everywhere, but why should you jump on the bandwagon? Why invest any of your precious time to learn how to master a frustrating card game? It is just another card game, right? Just another hobby you dabble with, like you did with that set of golf clubs sitting in the basement, or the fly fishing gear up in the attic. Getting serious about poker means a serious investment of time and discipline and money. Why not dust off those golf clubs or that fishing pole instead? Why not try pinochle, or bowling, or knitting? Hell, why not just watch television? Why should you bother to learn poker?
Because poker is good for you.
Let’s repeat that for clarity: learning to win at poker will make you a better person. It will also make you money—potentially a lot of money—if you’re willing to put in the effort. But before we get to the monetary benefits, I want to emphasize some of the other reasons that poker is such a great self-improvement tool. Said another way: if you learn to master the skills necessary to win at a poker table, you can transfer these abilities into your personal and work life and “win” there, too.
For example, poker clearly requires mastery of a number of basic technical skills that can also be used in the real world. These things range from basic math and probability skills, to logical deductive thought, to understanding how to evaluate risk versus reward. Learn to play poker, and you will also learn how to read people and their intentions. You will learn how to adapt to changing conditions and information.
This sounds a lot like life in general, doesn’t it? Of course. And the similarities between poker and life extend beyond purely technical skills into broader, more general abilities.
For instance, poker ultimately is a game in which you have to learn make difficult decisions under pressure, with limited facts. You have to learn how to think on your feet, weighing incomplete information to arrive at the best choices and decisions for your situation. Is your opponent bluffing, or does he have you beat? Does your significant other really mean it when they give you an ultimatum? Would you be better off folding your hand and waiting for a better situation to present itself? Is it smart to decline a project at work that your boss is looking for volunteers to perform? When do you make a stand? When do you raise the stakes? When do you walk away?
The ability to read a difficult situation, evaluate the pros and cons, make a decision, and carry it out efficiently is something all successful poker players have learned how to do. It’s also exactly what is required to succeed in the business world and at home.
The list goes on. The ability to pay attention, concentrate, and of course control our emotions permeates poker and life equally. Patience is another virtue that is rewarded in both venues. The same is true with having realistic outlooks and expectations, putting things into context, learning to plan ahead, depersonalizing conflict, and dealing with loss, both big and small. Simply being able to understand the difference between things we control (e.g., our decisions, emotions, and actions) and those that we don’t (the results of a poker hand, an emergency at work, a child getting sick) is fundamental to success in the card room, the boardroom, and the living room alike. Bad beats happen to everyone; it's how you deal with them that counts.
Without taking too great of a leap of imagination, it’s clear that the types of skills people need to succeed at in poker are very similar to those needed in life. Poker is one of those rare pastimes that extends further than its own sphere. If you learn the skills required to master Hold'em or Omaha, you will also begin to learn the skills needed to thrive and excel in many other aspects of your life.
Poker players like to say that the game takes minutes to learn, but a lifetime to master. They also say that poker is a metaphor for life. It constantly puts you in situations that parallel those you find yourself in at work, the classroom, and home. Learning to play poker well can make you better at your job, your education, and your love life. Poker is all about learning how to make the best possible choices and decisions with the information you have at hand, and then maximizing the profit and benefit from those decisions.
All-in for now...