For the past decade, I’ve been a poker player.
I’ve played in my cousin’s basement, illegal underground games, and casinos all over the world.
Though some luck is involved, poker is a game of skill; the best players will win over the long run. However, I’ve seen many professionals come and go over the years—even some very good ones.
Poker is a capricious game, unforgiving not just to one’s bankroll but to one’s soul. It’s a solitary pursuit, which, when things aren’t going well, can make you question whether it’s worth playing at all. I certainly did, more than a few times.
But poker is also beautiful. It’s a game of calculations and probabilities, calibrations and assumptions. Often, you’ll draw on past experiences to make critical decisions.
Poker is poetic in that it mirrors life so perfectly, each session a sort of accelerated microcosm of a lifetime.
Over just a single session there are ups and downs, bouts of luck, thrills, anguish, and the triggering of survival mechanisms . And, just as in life, to thrive one must take on one’s own demons, and recognize one’s own limiting beliefs.
I’m convinced that we can glean valuable life lessons from poker that make us better, more well-rounded people. Here are my top five:
1. Know When to Hold’em. Know When to Fold’em.
Kenny Rogers knew what he was talking about when he wrote his 1978 hit song, “The Gambler.”
Some of the hardest decisions we make in life are about whether we should let go or hang in there and try harder.
Whether they involve a relationship, job, or a particular poker hand, we should learn how the decisions we make are affected by our intuitions and instincts, since they’re often based on incomplete information.
When we trudge forward not knowing what the outcome will be, we try to have faith that, no matter what happens, we will be able to handle it.
2. Fortune Favors the Bold
In poker, players who don’t take risks eventually lose.
In other words, if they are too afraid to put money in the pot, then they will never have the opportunity to win.
Life is similar. If we remain too fearful to go after our dreams, we fail even before we’ve given ourselves an opportunity to succeed.
Fortune is bestowed on those who have the courage to fail.
3. Nothing is a Given
In life and in poker, we can do everything to put the odds in our favor, but we can’t completely control any outcome.
A 96% chance of winning can become 0% with the turn of a single card, just like an ill-timed injury can put a good person out of work…
…but we can’t live in fear of such. What we can do is give ourselves opportunities to succeed by putting in the work, continuing to learn and grow, and by doing our very best despite results.
4. Who Are You When the Chips Are Down?
In poker, within a span of few minutes I can experience the high of winning and the low of losing thousands of dollars.
It’s easy to be the best version of oneself when everything is going well, but how do we react when facing adversity?
Are we proud of who we are? And what do our answers to these questions tell us about how to improve as people?
I took to my vlog to try to answer these questions for myself:
Poker has allowed me to see my true character, and given me a place to build on.
5. Surrender to the Present, Not the Past
After getting unlucky in a poker hand, or during a losing session, you may find yourself hung up on the negatives.
For instance, I’ll start focusing on how much I’m down or lamenting all the recent mistakes I’ve made, but that does no good.
In fact, it’s detrimental, and takes away from my capacity to concentrate on the present and make good decisions.
The same is true of unpleasant situations in life. In every moment, we have the choice to let go of the past and to create the future by being in the moment.
Every situation in poker and in life can be an opportunity.