Although poker has long been a popular worldwide pastime, there is no question that the game’s popularity has grown over the last decade. Professional players have long known that the skills required to be consistent winners have numerous real world applications. The relationship between poker skills and business skills has been a topic of study for some time. In the last few years, the positive educational aspects of playing poker have acquired equal attention.
Christian Heinrich, the Boarding School Association chairman and head teacher of Cumnor House School in Sussex, in addressing the Association’s annual conference said, “So I exhort children at my school: ‘Climb trees! Cook your own lunch! Drive a go-kart around the car park (cordoned off!). Even play poker!’ There’s more to school than classrooms and exams. Make mistakes whilst the consequences can be managed and the lessons learned.”
Primary school teacher Amy McVey uses a game she calls “place value poker” to teach mathematics to students aged eight, nine and ten.
University students have long embraced poker as a source of recreation with the possible side benefit of making a bit of extra spending money. The availability to play poker online as well as in student digs has made the game more accessible. The results of this increased availability can be readily seen at tournaments like the European Poker Tour, where a large percentage of the players are in their twenties. Whether they are players like poker professional Vanessa Selbst, who honed her skills while attending Yale Law School before becoming the highest earning female poker player in history, or university graduate Ryan Riske who recently blogged on Full Tilt about how he turned a $50 deposit into $40k; the skills they have learned at the poker table have applications that easily carry over into the everyday worlds of academics and life.
Learning to Read Others
Whether it is a business or social situation, knowing how to approach another person is a fundamental skill needed to be successful. Poker has often been called “a people game played with cards.” Playing poker quickly teaches the player that they must vary their strategies and tactics depending on their opponents.
How to Handle Yourself
This is of course the corollary to the first point. How others react to you is a direct result of how they interpret your verbal and non-verbal communication. Poker players quickly learn to suppress subconscious movements and expressions, called “tells” in the poker world. The appearance of confidence and strength also works in the business world, the classroom and in society at large. How you handle yourself in the face of adversity is equally important as how you handle a victory. In poker, a player that loses a hand often reacts emotionally instead of logically. This is called going “on tilt.” Players on tilt make errors in judgment and become a target for the other players at the table. Poker reinforces the fact that strength and confidence are important whether you win or lose.
Improve Your Mathematical Skills
Maths is the bane of many students’ academic career. A good understanding of maths and mathematical concepts is invaluable in almost every business. Poker is a maths based game. In order to make good decisions at the table, players must make decisions dealing with probability, risk vs. reward, and odds. Our primary school teacher understands the value of non-traditional methods of learning maths.
How to Think Logically
Logical thinking goes hand in hand with mathematics. Too often students approach a problem, such as examinations, with little regard to logic. They rely on emotion or intuition instead of using logic to arrive at the best answer. Relying on this approach doesn’t work in the classroom or the meeting room. We are confronted with puzzles daily. In poker you have to apply logic to solve the puzzle facing you at that moment, namely “what does my opponent have?” Interpreting an opponent’s actions through logic in addition to making logical deductions based on all available information is the hallmark of a good poker player, student and worker.
Learn to Concentrate
It is natural for one’s mind to wander. It happens in the classroom during lectures and in meeting rooms as you are subject to yet another PowerPoint presentation. It happens at the poker table as many players have a tendency to pay attention to everything but the game if they are not involved in the hand. In all three cases, this lack of attention and concentration can prove costly. To play poker to your best ability, you have to concentrate on what is going on all the time. This allows you to pick up valuable information that can be used later in the game.
Learn to be Patient
As those who have taken the maths lessons of poker to heart have learned, most of the hands a player is dealt are basically unplayable. In fact, some players have described poker as a game consisting of long periods of boredom punctuated by moment of adrenaline-fuelled action. Patience is indeed a virtue and the poker table is one of the best classrooms for learning not only the truth behind the axiom, but also how to use patience to one’s advantage.
Learn to Deal with “Real World” Diversity
Most people have a small circle of friends, all of whom share a number of similar characteristics. In fact most of us experience little true diversity on a day-to-day basis. When you join an online poker game, the other players can be from anywhere in the world, of any age, of any background, or of any gender. Poker is the most egalitarian of pursuits and teaches us how to adapt to people with backgrounds and cultures different to our own. The game is also helpful in breaking down stereotypes based on age, sex or a number of other characteristics.