Thursday, August 6, 2015

Five Things I Learned About Life Through Playing Poker

Hey everyone.

As some of you may or may not know, I'm an avid poker player. I've never played in a World Series of Poker event or anything like that (although it is a bucket list item of mine). And I'm not a professional by any means. But I've been playing fairly consistently for the past seven years and I've picked up a few life lessons along the way. Here are the six most important truths about life that I've gleaned from my time on the felt. 

1) It's important to focus on things that you can control (i.e. process, decision making) and not worry so much about things that are out of your control (results). 

Poker can be brutal sometimes. I remember one particular night in an underground cash game in NYC where I took the nastiest beat I ever took in my life. I picked up Aces - the best starting hand in poker - and of course I raised. My opponent reraised me. After some posturing, I moved all in.  I turned over my Aces and he turned over pocket Queens. I sat there, looking at the $600 in the middle of the table, waiting anxiously for the last of the five cards to be dealt so the dealer could push the chips in my direction. Statistically, at that point, I was an 80% favorite to win, but I knew my Aces could be cracked. The flop (the first three community cards shown) were A 2 3, all of different suits. Whew! I flopped a set. 

At this point, with only two cards to come, I was a 97% favorite to win the hand, but I still felt uneasy about the whole situation. I told the dealer, half-jokingly, half-seriously, "Don't do it". I was referring to him dealing out a statistically improbable situation - a Queen on the next card, followed by another Queen. Of course the next card was a Queen. I was still ahead in the hand, and still a massive favorite to win. But then I really started to sweat. "Don't do it dealer", I repeated. "Don't do it". My opponent needed the final Queen in the deck to beat me and of course, the deal burnt one card, and turned over that final Queen my opponent needed. I got up swiftly, wished everyone a good game, and then left. I felt like vomiting up the fish and chips I had eaten earlier.

Could I have done anything differently? Not really. I've played poker hands poorly before - lots of times in fact - but this time, I played my hand well. But yet, I still lost. This happens in life too. The high school valedictorian gets straight As, but gets rejected from all of her top choices. You never take a sip of alcohol, but get killed by a drunk driver. Life can be unfair, but ultimately, if you keep making good choices, you'll more than likely end up okay.

2) Being ready for profitable situations when they arise is crucial. So stay prepared and pay attention.

In live poker, because you see so few hands - maybe 40 or so an hour - most of the money that you win will probably in a few big hands over the course of any given poker session. Therefore, it's important that you're paying to your opponents' tendencies, even when you're not in a hand. If you're busy watching the game on the flat screen tv on the wall in front of your poker table, or ogling the cocktail waitress with the nice ass, you're going to be missing opportunities when they arise.

The same thing applies in life. You never know when opportunities are going to arise for you, so it's important that you have your "elevator pitch" ready. That you know the responsibilities of the person whose job you want, so that you can jump in immediately if they get fired. You get my drift.

3) It's important to reflect on your mistakes in order to get better.

In poker, all of the best players vigorously dissect the way they played a hand - whether they won or lost it - after their poker session is over. After you make a mistake in real life, you shouldn't just chalk it up to bad luck. Really ask yourself if there's something you could have done better to change the outcome. If not, that's fine. But it's important to consider that an action might have been a mistake. Even though I'm not at the top of any field just yet, I've seen this trait in others and it's done wonders for them.

4) Mental toughness can take you a long way.

Like I said earlier, bad stuff happens in poker as in life. And unfortunately, bad luck isn't distributed evenly throughout the universe. Some people are objectively more unlucky than others. Nonetheless, being able to look forward to a brighter day and push yourself onward will certainly open up more opportunities. As the saying goes, "Effort only releases its reward when one refuses to quit."

5) There are different paths to success.

In poker, the optimal strategy is to always be adapting to what your opponents are doing. However, there are general styles of play, such as tight-aggressive, or loose-aggressive. There are plenty of different styles that can lead to success. In life, the same thing applies. One can become wealthy through investing in real estate, the stock market, creating one's own business, or being a CEO. It's not so important what path you choose, so long as it's one you feel comfortable with. 

Thanks for reading and stay tuned!

JP $


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