What poker can teach you about business

Saturday marked our first, and hopefully last, annual boys weekend that had to be held virtually. A group of people who mostly work in tech played poker over Zoom with real cards instead of a virtual poker table to save the £20 fee (it cost more to buy and post the cards). This was my first ever real game of poker and to say I was not a natural is an understatement.

I am a third of the way through Tony Hsieh’s book and used my first commute in 8 months to listen to more of the audio version, read my Hsieh himself. During today’s section of the book, Tony talks about rediscovering the game of Poker one sleepless night after selling LinkExchange to Microsoft by reading a community website for regular poker players. 

Tony writes that he was ‘fascinated’ by the mathematics of the game. He discovered that luck did not matter so much in the long run as there was a mathematical way to calculate the ‘pot odds’ from the ratio of people still in the bet, the number of chips in the pot and the statistical chance of winning. After noticing the similarities between what he was learning in poker and what he knew about business, Tony made a list of lessons that he could apply in his work. 

The two biggest lessons that poker taught Hsieh were 1, ‘Focus on what’s best for the long term, and 2, the most critical decision is to pick the correct market to be in.

Quote: One of the most interesting things about playing poker was learning the discipline of not confusing the right decision with the individual outcome of any single hand… Tony Hsieh

A small selection of Hsieh’s poker rules for business

  1. Evaluating market opportunities – “Table selection is the most important decision you can make.”
  2. Marketing and branding – “Act weak when strong, act strong when weak. Know when to bluff.
  3. Financials – “Always be prepared for the worst possible scenario.”
  4. Strategy – “Don’t play games that you don’t understand, even if you see lots of other people making money from them.”
  5. Continual learning – “Educate yourself. Read books and learn from others who have done it before.”
  6. Culture – “You’ve gotta love the game. To become really good, you need to live it and sleep it.”

I really should have paid attention to rule four, but alas, I started the book too late. I have dusted off my copy of Play poker like the pros that I bought years ago and never used, and I am heading to an online poker table to start my Tony inspired journey.

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