There is a reason why we are mesmerized by casino games: Rarely do we see a more obvious analogy to life. The "house" has more knowledge than we do and the odds are against us, and yet we have this rare opportunity to risk it all and come out on top. I have a particular affinity for games, writing books on the interactive gaming industries and being born in Atlantic City, an early forerunner of today's megacasino cities.
Years spent playing poker, blackjack and other strategic games has made me a better entrepreneur, too. Here's why.
Know your hand
In most poker games, you're given five cards. While you might get a chance to trade them, those five cards serve as the foundation of everything you do in the current round. You have to make decisions based on those initial cards, as there is no guarantee that the cards you trade them for will be any better.
When it comes to your business, it is essential to know the power of your hand and the strength of your options. For instance, having a degree in a valuable field means that, worst-case scenario, you know you will be able to provide for you and your family if your entrepreneurial endeavor goes bust. Knowing you have a 12-month runway (the length you can operate with cash on hand) will inform your decisions differently than a 36-month runway.
Know your tell
Everyone has a tell--an indicator that shows what you are thinking. In poker, it is often physical: shifting eyes, nervous laughs, a random tick. The tell can be behavioral, too, like only betting big when you have a great hand or never folding even if your cards are awful. Observant players can pick up on our tells and exploit them. Worse, they can represent negative habits or blind spots that can destroy us without anyone else's help!
Tells are extraordinarily important in business. For example, I had a colleague who was marvelous at starting new ideas, but, when it was almost complete, would inevitably drop the project and move on to something else. Unfortunately, I don't think they were even aware of the pattern. I know excellent entrepreneurs who are honest and say they prefer starting businesses rather than maintaining them. Imagine if my colleague was empowered enough to know their own weakness.
Know when to bet big
In poker, you begin to know when you have a killer hand--it is a feeling in your gut, even when you aren't quite sure where other players stand. It takes courage and insight to differentiate between a smart bet and an unnecessary risk. It's the reason why it is so crucial to give yourself a break to reassess your wins/losses and settle up your strategy. Workaholics can miss the boat here, as skipping vacations, reflection and analysis is a perfect recipe for going on autopilot and missing the bigger picture.
Poker champion turned entrepreneur David Daneshgar talks about past losses being one of the biggest enemies to success. "If you can't let the debt go and see it through, you'll lose. It's the same in poker--it's called 'tilt'. If you lost a hand before, and you can't block it out and play this game without emotion, you're going to lose."
What insights have you gained from casino games?