The Poker Champion’s Guide to Winning in Life

“Poker reveals to the frank observer something else of import – it will teach him about his own nature. Many bad players do not improve because they cannot bear self-knowledge.”
David Mamet

I love playing cards. I played whist with my granny when I was small. She made the best meringues ~ crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside and sandwiched together with whipped cream.

Those meringues could have cemented my love of card playing. But it’s the combination of familiar cards, versus the random nature of the hands you’re dealt, which makes card games fun and interesting.

Poker People

I learnt to play poker in Costa Rica. We were hanging out in the jungle with US expats and that’s what they did during the long, dark, rainy nights. So that’s what we did too.

I read a few books about poker and practiced online before taking part in a tournament for real money.

It was small stakes. Usually $20 to play then, if you won, you’d come out with $200 six hours later.

It wasn’t about the money. The main appeal of poker night was to socialize and have fun.

I never came 1st – I squeaked in at 2nd a few times – but I definitely enjoyed poker nights.

It’s More Than Just Understanding the Game

I think I know the rules of playing winning poker. The problem is, I don’t always stick to them.

It’s easy to make mistakes. Either you lose concentration, get bored, give up too soon, take silly risks or allow yourself to be intimidated by other people, especially the people who have a much bigger stack of poker chips than you.

So here’s my pick of poker skills to help you win at life, as well as at the card table.

5 Poker Skills for Winners

1. Know When to Fold

New players often make the mistake of betting on cards that they should have thrown away in the first round.

In poker, as in life, you have to know when to give up on something. It’s good to try things, and sometimes perseverance is the key to winning in life, but often it’s a case of knowing when to fold  your hand and quitting while you’re still ahead.

Sometimes the cards you’ve been dealt are mediocre and your betting position is poor. That’s when you need to cut your losses and get out of there fast.

Patience is the key to winning in poker and in life. Sometimes it’s a long wait for a decent hand but if you don’t learn to bide your time you won’t win.

2. Perseverance Pays

I know this seems to contradict with rule number 1 about knowing when to fold. But winning in poker and life is about being able to balance these two opposites, and learning which one to apply in individual situations.

You have to learn when to get out because you’re onto a loser and when to stay in the game for a chance to win. Sometimes, when you have a semi-decent hand at poker, you have to keep representing yourself as the best hand on the table, even when you’re worried that you might not be.

In that case, you can’t just bet once, you have to keep putting your neck on the line and place bets repeatedly or you won’t win. Read this for proof that perseverance pays off.

3. Be Confident

Sometimes, no matter how long you wait, you never seem to be dealt a decent hand.

So you have to bet anyway because things can still work out, but only if you’re super-confident.

You may not have been dealt the best hand in life, you may not be the most skillful player, you may not know all the odds, but confidence can be crucial for getting you through and setting you on a winning path.

4. Be a Gracious Winner or Loser

When you lose do you throw your cards on the table, shout, cry and storm out? I’ve played poker with grown men who throw a worse tantrum than my four year old when they lose.

Most people don’t want to play with them again.

When you lose at anything, it’s important to be able to shake hands with your opponent and say:

“Good game, well done.”

Even though you know they only won because they were on a lucky streak and, if the odds had played out as they should, you would have won, gosh darn it!

If you’re a good loser, people will respect you.

They’ll say you’re a top guy or chick. They’ll look forward to playing you again, and when you do win, they’ll be glad you did because they like you. They’ll say you worked hard for it and you deserved to win.

Just be sure not to rub their noses in it.

5. Study, Practice, Have Fun

As with poker, you have to apply yourself to winning in life and work at it.

Study finding happiness and self-acceptance as poker champions study the odds of certain hands. Practice your life skills daily to get better at them and come out a winner in the end.

Most of all have fun. Remember that poker and life are both games.

They can be long, grueling and frustrating games at times, but the first rule in any game is to enjoy it. Otherwise what’s the point in playing?

Thanks for Reading

A warm welcome to all my new subscribers – it’s great to connect with you. I wish all my readers many full houses, flushes and hidden straights in life.

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Thanks to CarbonNYC for the photo.

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  1. Ideas With A Kick November 10, 2009 at 9:52 pm - Reply

    Ha! I never realized poker can teach you life skills. First badminton, now this :) There’s potential to learn and grow in a lot of stuff. But we need the desire to do it, otherwise it’s just another hobby to pass the time.


  2. Connie November 11, 2009 at 12:11 am - Reply

    I played a lot of cards with my grandmother too. I think it was considered rather racy of women of their generation to play when they were young, same with smoking cigarettes and driving. I think playing cards teaches a lot of intellectual skills as well. I have the suits around my ankle as a tattoo in homage to her, and to my dad as well because he’s really good at poker.

  3. Annabel Candy November 11, 2009 at 9:39 am - Reply

    Eduard – I suppose there are lessons to be learnt anywhere if you look out for them… They do recommend teaching kids poker as it teaches them a lot of valuable skills like patience, taking turns, self-control. We have fun playing with our boys bit not for money:)

    Connie – I’d like to see that tat. Sounds as if card playing skills have been passed down through the generations in your family!

  4. Justin November 12, 2009 at 4:58 am - Reply

    As a poker player, I can relate to this post.

    One thing really applies to playing poker seriously, or as a profession (I just play for fun) but if you want to succeed, you have to work hard.
    Your first point is very spot on.

  5. Carolyn Cordon November 12, 2009 at 2:13 pm - Reply

    Wow Annabel you sure seem to know your stuff on this poker business.

  6. Annabel Candy November 12, 2009 at 2:20 pm - Reply

    Justin – So true. I always tell the kids if they want to get good at something they have to practice like crazy.

    Carolyn – I love it! Could never be pro-poker player material but it’s seriously fun:)

  7. Basant Singh November 12, 2009 at 7:50 pm - Reply

    I’ll remember the lessons. Followed you from Problogger.

  8. John (aka The Masked Financier) November 13, 2009 at 12:51 am - Reply

    Great post Annabel, and thanks for the guest post on Problogger today also.

    In the vein of poker and the analogies for life learning, my Texas Holdem Investing concept takes it one step further in terms of learning to invest.

    Specifically, the Texas Holdem Investing concept uses poker as an active tool to help learn and practise the skills and theory of investing.

    While Texas Holdem poker does provide great analogies and training for life in general, the similarities between poker and investing are uncanny, as has been demonstrated by so many references to the game by great investors – Warren Buffett, David Einhorn, Jeff Yass, and Steve Cohen to name a few.

    Keep up the good work.

  9. Dave Doolin December 7, 2009 at 11:43 am - Reply

    I look at the characteristics for achieving success, and there is always one over-arching commonality: you have to work very hard!

    Back to the salt mine…

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