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Learn poker skills to win at work

Have women “missed” the competitive advantage that learning to play poker could give their careers? Learning the skills needed to succeed in poker can make all the difference for women. In a world where strategic thinking, risk management and confidence are the keys to professional success, learning to play poker can give women an “ace up their sleeve” (pun necessary).

What image comes to mind when you think of poker players? Perhaps a group of men sitting around a table drinking beer, smoking cigars and chatting about their local sports teams. What you may not know is that there is a growing culture of female poker players who meet every year at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas to compete in the World Series of Poker women’s tournament.

In fact, a record-breaking 395 women came to Las Vegas to play in the WSOP Main Event in 2023, compared to 375 in 2022. A total of 1,295 players participated, which is a new record, a 21% increase from 2022. There’s a lot of money and even jewelry to be won, which I think will always bring women to the proverbial table. According to the Hendon Mob All-Time Female Players earnings list, the top 100 women in poker have earned more than $162,000,000. That number includes all poker tournaments, not just the World Series of Poker, although the lion’s share was probably earned at the WSOP. There are some rising stars in the world of poker, and Maria Ho is a big one with total earnings of $2,414,709.

I must admit that I had no idea about the growing popularity of female poker players, but after doing some research and taking a lesson or two, I quickly became addicted to the thrill of being at the table – having nowhere to hide, being forced to take risks, being able to throw the “likeability” to the wind and embrace the uncertainty that comes with every card dealt.

But can learning to play poker with your girlfriends, coworkers, and other gaming enthusiasts really give you an edge at work? The answer I found was a resounding “yes.” At first glance, poker and business may seem like distant relatives, but dig a little deeper, and the parallels are strikingly clear. Both are high-stakes games of strategy where success depends on weighing probabilities, managing resources prudently, and making bold decisions based on incomplete information. In poker, a player places bets and develops strategies based on the ever-changing odds of winning a hand. Similarly, business leaders create forecasts and budgets based on previous years’ revenue and current market conditions.

The skills you develop at the poker table – strategic thinking, risk management and adaptability – are exactly the skills that can take a career in the business world to new heights. Poker isn’t just a pastime; it’s a microcosm of strategic thinking and decision-making under pressure. To learn more about the skills poker can develop, I spoke to Maria Ho, a World Series of Poker phenomenon and one of the most recognizable faces in the game.

Skills that poker promotes

The ability to question prejudices and conditioned thinking

When asked what she thinks the biggest barriers are for women learning poker, Maria replied, “I think it may be down to societal norms and maybe upbringing that women shouldn’t be encouraged to take risks. I think men are strongly encouraged from a young age to take risks – not to always play it safe. Women are also taught not to be aggressive or they might get labeled the B-word, but when men are aggressive they get labeled ‘alphas’. But games like poker favor those who can handle risk and sometimes dishonesty – two things women are definitely not encouraged to do.

Strategic thinking

Poker is about making calculated decisions based on incomplete information. This skill translates directly to the business world, where leaders often have to make important decisions without knowing all the facts.

Risk management

Poker players must constantly weigh the potential risks and benefits of their actions. In the business world, learning to weigh risks and benefits is invaluable.

Emotional control

Maintaining a poker face and keeping emotions in check is crucial in poker, and it is equally important in professional situations, especially negotiations or conflicts where high stakes are involved.

Observation and adaptation

To be successful at poker, you need to carefully observe your opponents and adjust your strategy accordingly. These skills can help you better assess situations and people, leading to better teamwork, leadership and negotiation skills.

Negotiating and persuading

Bluffing in poker is similar to negotiating in business. Persuading others while hiding your true intentions can be a powerful tool in the boardroom. When Ho was asked for her opinion on how to become a better negotiator, she replied, “Being able to speak your mind and negotiate for yourself is critical to success in poker. There will always be moments in the workplace where you feel like you can’t speak up or speak up for yourself, but poker has really taught me to find my own personality. There are a lot of rules and protocols in poker – there are a lot of things going on at once. And sometimes I think a lot of women at the table are afraid to speak up if they don’t know what’s going on, or if they don’t understand something, and they just let things come to them. But I feel like poker has taught me that in situations where I see something that’s wrong, or when I notice someone trying to game the system, I should speak up.”

The central theses

Accept that you are underestimated

When asked how she reacts to being underestimated by male players, Ho explained, “It’s incredible to be underestimated because I can take advantage of people’s perceptions, their misperception of how I play because I’m a woman, or what I know about the game because they haven’t seen that many women in the poker room. I quickly realized that I can either be upset that these people are underestimating me, or I can just turn it around and use that to my advantage.”

Gain a competitive advantage and have fun

Incorporating poker strategies into your professional life can give you a competitive edge, like knowing when to take calculated risks can lead to deeper connections and more money, but it can also be a wonderful opportunity to get to know your colleagues and friends on a deeper level. That’s what I haven’t talked about so much in this article – how much fun it is. So we encourage women in our circles to play poker. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Host poker workshops: Organize workshops where local professional poker players can teach the basics and advanced strategies of the game. There are also countless videos online. This not only teaches women new skills, but also fosters a sense of community and support.
  2. Start a poker club: Start a poker club at work or in your ERG that supports women. Regular games can help women practice their skills and build confidence in a supportive environment.
  3. Promote poker nights: Encourage participation in local poker nights or tournaments. This exposure to different playing styles and strategies can further improve their skills.

By encouraging the women in your company to learn and play poker, you’re not only teaching them the game, but you’re giving them tools for professional and personal growth. So shuffle the cards, place your bets, and watch the women around you rise to the challenge, armed with the confidence and skills to shine. Remember, in both poker and business, sometimes you have to go all-in to win big. Let’s bet on women and empower them to achieve greatness with every hand.

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