An apt metaphor for life, poker offers many lessons, from how to read people to how to wisely play the hand you're dealt. Below, learn why poker is a lot like life, and how to apply poker skills — such as when to fold, call, bet, bluff, or go all in — to it.
Experience the excitement and challenge first-hand at the poker tables at Choctaw Casino & Resort–Durant in Durant, Oklahoma.
It's not the cards you're dealt, it's how you play the game.
You can't control the hand you're dealt, but you can control how you react. Play your cards right, and you could radically alter the outcome of the game.
You've undoubtedly heard at least one real-life, rags-to-riches tale; read the stories of the self-made (wo)man. Then there’s the person who "had it all": the intellect, charm, athletic ability, looks, and financial support, only to throw away every opportunity. Sometimes, destiny boils down to making the right moves.
As American novelist Jack London put it, "Life is not always a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well."
Poker is rarely about holding the best hand; it's about outplaying your opponents.
Unlike chess, a two-opponent game, the real world is comparable to poker, in which multiple players interact while trying to make the best out of whatever hand they're dealt.
It's a game of information processing: collecting data on your opponents and deciphering their patterns of betting and bluffing to help you devise your strategy.
As the character Mike McDermott, played by Matt Damon in the 1998 poker flick Rounders, put it: "Listen, here's the thing. If you can't spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker."
Winning is about managing risk and reward.
A popular table quip is, "Over the long run, those who win the most pots lose the most money."
In sum: bigger risks (bets) mean bigger rewards. And as Paul Newman's character says in The Color of Money, "Money won is twice as sweet as money earned."
To win the pot, it's critical to know when to fold, call, raise, bluff, or go all in. Here's our cheat sheet for winning at the poker table and in the game of life.
- Fold: When it's unlikely your cards hold any potential, fold before you pay to play. If your hand is poor and you know you're playing against a weak, predictable player who has consistently called rather than bet on good cards, it's probably wise to fold when he increases the bet. He probably has something big. Poker, like life, is about responding to circumstances. Sometimes it's best to ride it out and wait for the next opportunity to pounce.
- Call: While it helps to be selective about the hands you play — in poker and in life — calling, or matching the bet, allows you time to stay in the game and measure your potential against the competition, before opting out or wagering too much.
- Raise: It’s important to know when to play aggressive, at the poker table and in life. As Damon's character said in Rounders, "You can't lose what you don't put in the middle. But you can't win much either." Some people heed the rule "if it's not good enough to raise, it's not good enough to call." If that's your outlook on life, and if you've got a solid hand, raise for value. You'll likely intimidate timid players who bail when the action gets hot and heavy.
- Bluff: Bluffing is an art — at the poker table, in the boardroom, in the courtroom, just about anywhere. Essentially, you're trying to make your weak hand look stronger, or vice versa. When it comes to the former, the goal is to bet the least amount necessary to prompt your opponent to fold. When you're trying to downplay your big hand, you're trying to raise the most possible without making your motivations obvious. To bluff effectively, learn to minimize your "tells." Adopt a poker face, or confuse your opponents through animation, exaggeration, and distraction.
- Go all in: Going all in radically alters the game. Either you intimidate your opponents into folding, or they ante up to make you show your cards or to take you out of the game. Either way, you learn a lot, and fast. The same goes for life. A general rule of thumb is to go all in when you're confident you've got the best hand.
When all is said and done, remember that life, like poker, is about the journey, not the destination. You might as well enjoy the ride. Want to add a little thrill to your journey? Head to the poker tables at Choctaw Casino & Resort–Durant.