It’s easy to dismiss poker as a silly game that middle-aged men play at their weekly guys’ night to one-up each other and (maybe) earn some cash.
However, beneath the exterior of clattering multicolored chips and rising cash pots, poker is actually surprisingly complex. The game frequently associated with creating gambling addictions and money problems isn’t as primitive as it seems; winning takes serious strategy and smarts.
It’s no secret that mathematical knowledge can result in poker prowess, but what else does the game require? Even more, what lessons does it have for an entrepreneur? Although it may not be immediately obvious, poker does in fact offer valuable lessons about conducting business.
Here are five entrepreneurial takeaways from the pinnacle of competitive poker, the World Series.
At their core, business and poker are both about competition. With at least 65 events and an ever-growing number of participants in the World Series, competitive poker is at an all-time high.
Thousands of competitors gather every year at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) in the hopes of winning the multi-million-dollar grand prize. There is a lot at stake, so it is only natural that the spirit of rivalry fuels the atmosphere of the poker championships.
In the same way, businesses are all vying for a single valuable thing -- consumer interest. With entrepreneurs, corporations and companies all set on the same goal, the business atmosphere is just as heated as that at WSOP, if not more so.
As WSOP expands, it is starting to include more types of poker. This diversification of tournament play has resulted in a division of the overall competition into multiple sub-competitions.
However, the added variations of poker don’t detract from the structure of the overarching tournament. Rather, they change the dynamics of the competition ever so slightly. Even though the overwhelming majority of games played at WSOP is Texas Hold ’Em and its variants, the existence of alternative modes of play creates smaller, more intimate struggles for superiority.
Simply put, it creates closer rivalries between the players who want to be the champion of a specific event. Similarly, not all businesses are the same, and not all entrepreneurs deal in the same market. Differences between markets create smaller rivalries, and allow people who do business to see themselves as more involved in the whole process, rather than being swamped by the vast number of different companies in the world.
WSOP can teach entrepreneurs to value their role in business, instead of seeing it as insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
It is often said that poker requires mathematical know-how to really break into the ranks of the professionals. For example, the ability to count cards on the fly is a critical part of many poker players’ success.
This feat requires careful, meticulous and ultra-specific calculations: how many aces have been played, what are the chances the guy on your right has the queen of diamonds, and so on. Top-notch poker players know the deck of cards like the back of their hand.
If businesses understood the market’s playing field in the same granular detail and applied the same careful assessment of other businesses’ decisions (hands played, if you will), advertising and efforts to win over consumers would be much more incisive.
Entrepreneurs can learn from WSOP the potency of studying competitors and their marketing choices very closely.
4. Poker face
Unless you have a good "poker face," deceit is generally an avenue into a hairy situation. Top poker players are seasoned in the art of hiding emotion that would give clues about their cards.
This deception ensures that other players won’t get the upper hand by deducing what moves they have planned. Entrepreneurs can adopt the same principles that poker players do, such as putting on a poker face or keeping their marketing plans and PR objectives in the dark.
Companies do not necessarily need to decrease their advertising presence, because that could be detrimental to their business. However, they can be a little more sporadic and unpredictable when it comes to marketing, so competitors can’t keep up as consistently.
In short, businesses can learn from WSOP the importance of deceiving their competition, even if this course of action is a little sneaky.
5. Changing winners
Since the beginning of the poker championships in 1970, there has been a long line of different victors in the ever-growing tournament. There have been a few repeat champions, but as a result of the increasing level of competition in WSOP, no one dominates forever. There have been too many players involved for that to happen.
Similarly, no single corporation consistently stays on top of the rest. Positions change as companies adapt to a changing marketplace and cater to consumers who are becoming more aware of the goods and services available to them.
The most important lesson businesses can learn from WSOP is that, no matter the state of competition or their marketing prowess, there is a part of the market that is simply uncontrollable.
There is no single way to guarantee dominance year after year. All businesses and poker players can do is to perfect their conventional skills, understand the structure around them and adapt as that structure morphs.