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The business skills to learn from poker

The business skills to learn from poker

Published by Programme B

The image of a poker player is usually of a ruthless and calculating individual who is an expert at spotting others’ tells yet stays cool enough to be completely inscrutable when it comes to what’s in their own hand. However, the reality is that many of the most successful poker players are not just ice cold in the face of mounting pressure, but also have a number of other skills that give them the edge in this complex and fascinating game.

Many of these skills are also incredibly useful in a business environment, and it’s no surprise that many of the most successful people on the planet enjoy playing a hand or two of poker. From film stars and musicians to athletes and broadcasters, there are a number of people who are using the skills that have seen them succeed in their careers to conquer their opponents in poker as well.

These skills include:

Reading People

The satisfaction of bluffing successfully or of spotting when an opponent is trying to mislead you can be as exciting as winning the hand itself, but the skills that allow people to spot a tell can also be useful in a business environment. For some jobs, such as law enforcement and the judiciary, identifying untruths is a big part of a person’s role, but there are other ways such a skill can come in handy.

In some professions, there is a direct benefit to being able to tell when someone is lying and it can help you to make better business decisions if you can identify when someone else is misleading you. This can be as serious as a company misrepresenting their products, over-estimating their value, or hiding information that a customer, client or supplier would definitely want to know. 

In a lesser sense, it can be helpful for managers to know if one of their reports is being flexible with the truth, especially if it allows them to help put in additional support or head off a difficult situation before it’s too late to rectify. It’s also useful in allowing them to weed out persistent latecomers, identify those that are not pulling their weight, and spot anyone that might take credit for others’ work.

Statistics on the fly

The best poker players have a good understanding of the likelihood of any given combination of cards winning and the ability to work out which cards are still in play based on what’s on the table and those they know have already been played. By honing their memories and making it their business to keep track of what’s happening with their opponents’ cards, players gain an advantage.

Even those that claim to have good mental arithmetic skills will often flounder when it comes to calculating odds and the statistical likelihood of any given event occurring. This leaves them at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to playing poker, but can also hold them back in the boardroom.

Being able to quickly determine the likelihood of any given outcome is a hugely useful skill to have in business. It helps you make quick decisions based on the information you have available and enables you to adapt and alter your strategy whenever new information is presented.

Become process-oriented

Winning at poker takes a degree of luck, plenty of skill, and a thorough understanding of the underlying principles of the game. The best players can swiftly calculate odds, allowing them to play their hands in the way most likely to end in a win – playing online poker can be a great way to practice this.

This is important in a game such as poker where players can feel significant pressure to make decisions while being scrutinised by their opponents. A strong understanding of the game allows the best poker players to focus on playing their odds rather than being swayed by emotions or the behaviour of the other players


Staying calm under pressure 

Even in a relatively low-stakes poker game, the pressure can build, and as more money hits the table, the desire to win can go beyond the fear of being out of pocket. Players that can make good decisions in spite of how they feel about the situation will always prevail over those that let the pressure get to them.


Anyone who has had a high-pressure job that requires them to stay calm under pressure will be aware that making decisions while in a panicked state of mind rarely ends well. From surgeons to air-traffic controllers, being able to think rationally and logically even when you feel incredibly stressed, is a hugely important skill. 


Much of what makes a poker player successful is the ability to know when to walk away from a hand and having the patience to wait until the cards go their way. Professionals need to avoid making rash decisions based on an unwillingness to wait until the right opportunity comes along.

Success relies just as much on not doing the wrong thing as it does on doing the right thing, so patience is important for anyone that wants to ensure that they avoid taking a bad deal because they were struggling to wait for a good one. 

Most successful poker players rely on a combination of these skills to maintain their winning streaks and those that do well in working environments may use some of these skills more than others as well. Even those skills that might not come naturally to everyone can be learned, and playing poker is a great way to hone them.