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The Key Business Lessons Playing Poker Can Teach Us

The business world can be tough to master, and the lessons needed to survive must be learned every day.

The very best individuals from the world of business never stop growing or evolving. They have to adapt to changing trends, mold their approach to people and create new ways of doing things when society demands. Once upon a time, desk banging and yelling was the right approach, but in 2022 there’s a far larger focus on people, building better teams, and nurturing talent. The same leaders remain in place in many instances, but they must change and develop.

Often, lessons for business leaders can come from the most unusual of places. One such place is the world of poker, where you will often find business leaders honing some of their skills. That’s certainly the case with Vanessa Selbst; she was widely regarded as one of the finest poker players in the world, and she used those skills (and her excellent education) to move to a career in finance on Wall Street. She can still be found around the felt from time to time, with transferable skills ensuring she’s a success when she returns.

What are those transferable skills? What is it poker can teach us about business? The lessons are far too many to mention, but we’ve picked three of the best.

Value is Not Always Obvious

It is fair to say all is not always what it seems in business. Sometimes, a great deal can be bad, and other times, the opposite is true. You have to learn to look deeper and make sure that you study the facts, not simply take them at face value. The same goes for poker, in more ways than one. A stack of chips might look impressive but be worth little because of differing poker chip values. All chips are the same size, but some are worth significantly more. That could be applied to people in a business; all employees at a certain level might have the same salary but some may be worth more to you. Of course, the value of a poker hand is not always evident either; a pair of pocket aces is worth little if the subsequent flop is not kind.

Environments Can Change Quickly

If we lean on the example of the pocket aces in poker, you’ll see how quickly a situation can change. If you have aces, hearts, and diamonds, you feel like you’re in a good position. But what if the flop drops a 7, 8, and 9 of clubs? There’s a flush chance for another player, and your aces look weaker. That’s an example of a changing environment making you adapt quickly to survive. Otherwise, if you went all-in on those pocket aces, you’d be in dire straits very quickly, and that’s worth remembering in business. After all, market conditions can change with world events, and a solid business strategy one minute can be thrown out in an instant. It might be political occurrences or something in your industry, but you always have to be braced for change. Recently, many companies had to shift to remote work models, which not every business thrived in. Businesses that managed successful remote teams were able to pivot toward new initiatives like implementing training seminars, refreshing online resources, and optimizing communication platforms for engagement. This ensured they adapted rather than sticking with their now outdated setups.

People Skills Are Important

The most important thing in any business is not an idea, work ethic, or anything like that; it is the people. As a leader, you have to understand people, know when to tell them what they want to hear, and when to tell them what you need them to hear. You need to be able to read them, understand their needs, and motivate them to get the best output. Poker teaches us all sorts of people skills, starting around communication. A poker bluff is where you mislead a player to your ends, and sometimes, you might need to do the same thing in real-life. It might be telling a person they’re on the right track with a task, then subtly pointing them in the right direction. In poker, you need to read their tells to pick up if players are lying to you. That’s a great skill for business, not only for those you employ but also for other people you deal with when making deals. Sometimes, striking a bargain in business is just like a poker game and being able to read the other person is critical.


There are many more examples of how poker can help you be better in business. You have to manage a bankroll, do risk analysis, have basic math skills, and be ready to deal with pressure. Many business leaders enjoy poker, like Vanessa Selbst, and it makes them better at their job as well as bringing in a few bucks on the side!


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