How To Remain Objective In Business (aka: What Do Business & No-Limit Poker Have In Common?)

What Do Business & No-Limit Poker Have In Common?

Are you generally on top of things in your business?

Or are you drowning in a sea of to-do lists, marketing challenges and unread emails?

Are you running your business or is your business running you?

Ever played No-Limit Poker?

You know the one you see on TV … you may have noticed that this particular game of poker (specifically Texas Hold-Em No Limit Poker) has grown hugely in popularity.

It’s big business, but there’s also something quite special about this particular brand of poker that makes it different to any other variety (which we’ll come back to shortly).

Two Ways To Play

So, broadly speaking there are only two ways to play poker:

  1. Play for fun
  2. Play to make money

Believe it or not, these two can be worlds apart. That’s because if you really want to make money playing poker, it can be very, very boring.

Likewise, if you’re having lots of fun, that can be a great way to lose money.

Some people play poker just because they love poker. That’s fine.

Some people run a cake shop just because they love cakes. That’s fine too…

… but just because you love something, doesn’t mean that you are going to make money at it.

If you’re going to play for fun, then just recognize that fact, don’t expect to make any money from it, enjoy yourself and just be careful to limit your losses. You’ll save a lot of heartache if you stop fooling yourself that you’re going to make it big some day.

If on the other hand, you want to make money, then make that your absolute focus and forget about the fun for now. You may be lucky and get that as a cool side-effect but this is business. What we need is objectivity, a certain detachment and an in-depth understanding of the game.

Leave your ego, your pride and to a certain extent your passion for the game at the door.

Detachment Lesson #1: Stop Chasing Cards

What lots of people do when they play poker is chase cards. They start with a good hand (say, a pair of Kings, for example – the 2nd best hand – to begin with).

So they bet big.

No problem with that. It is the 2nd best hand after all.

Then they flog that hand to death when the ‘board’ cards come out less than in their favor and show some dangerous possibilities. They started out as favorites but when the game turns against them they try to make their hand pay. The hand that used to be a great hand – the hand they’ve already invested so much in.

They do this even though all the signs are telling them that their (ex-) great hand isn’t working.

Sound familiar?

If they’d folded when they should have, despite having invested so much in the first place, they’d still have some chips to invest in a different hand.

They may even be dealt the exact same hand – another pair of Kings – but next time, the Kings would pay off because the timing and market conditions are right: the ‘board’ doesn’t help the other players.

Any Two Cards Can Win

Some years ago, if you had a great idea or a sound business, then that was enough and you’d almost certainly do well.

Not so much these days.


Well, because these days anyone can start their own business quite easily. We have unbelievable access to resources and technology like never before (for example I have already described how anyone can build a free website in under 3 minutes) – i.e. the barriers to entry are low to non-existent.

This means that the market place is flooded and if someone else hasn’t already had the same great business idea that you thought was so brilliant and unique, then they can just follow you very shortly and create the same business easily enough.

There is also so much more to business in the complex media-driven world than the business itself, think marketing, social media and customer experience.

The worst starting hand in poker is a 7 and a 2 (unsuited). I’m not going to give a long-winded example and explanation, but suffice to say, if I were to play the guy with the pair of Kings, my chances are slim, but nevertheless, with the right conditions (e.g. a few more sevens), my hand can beat the pair of Kings.

Any two cards can win.

The same goes for business. I’ve read stories on more than one occasion of things going ‘viral’ quite unexpectedly and with no apparent explanation or expectation on the part of the originator, and big bets with a huge investment being a complete flop despite supposedly having all of the right ingredients.

i.e. any two cards can win.

Detachment Lesson #2: Know When To Act

So the way I play poker (yes, I do play from time to time) is by judging very carefully when to act and when to fold.

For example, let’s say I have the best hand in poker – a pair of aces. I will be very happy when I see these cards as anyone would be.

The cool thing about poker (and about life, and about business) is that it’s got so many variables that there are actually an infinite amount of scenarios I could give you depending upon the people I’m in the game with, the timing, the money involved etc etc etc – i.e. just like a market … or the world.

So I’ll give you 3 scenarios for how I’d play that hand, because we like the number 3:

  1. If nobody else has bet big before me then I bet – this has a very different impact in terms of perception and influence than if I was instead calling someone elses bet – i.e. I am ‘making’ the action
  2. If someone before me goes all-in (bets all of there chips which, if they have the same or more than me would put me out of the game if they won) – even though I know I have the best hand, I would fold – why take the risk of being put out of the game, even though it’s a shame, it’s better to wait as there will always be other opportunities.
  3. If somebody else bets but not too big for my liking, then I might call their bet – in this case, they are ‘making’ the action, I am being ‘passive’, not giving any clues to what hand I have and have the possibility to capitalize on their momentum (of course, I’d still need to be prepared to fold if things turned against me but the good news with this approach is that in the first place, I have probably not committed a great deal of chips to the hand, but more helped to ‘fatten the pot’ and give the other player making the betting plenty of reason to bet more – so a calculated risk)
There will always be other opportunities.

The point here is that my hand (my business) is the best it can be (my business is perfect for the market) – but despite that fact, if there’s too much risk involved, then I would get out of it.

Detachment Lesson #3: Play Very Few Hands

Again without this being a poker lesson, in most cases (except when you’re in one of the 2 ‘blind positions) it costs nothing to fold – i.e. to defer playing until you get a hand you’re more satisfied with.

Poor players generally play far too many hands. They take a chance on too many things which is a waste of their time and a waste of their money.

Good players generally play fewer hands.

Patience is a great skill to have in poker (and in business – often the longer you can wait for a pay-off).

That Special Thing

I mentioned that there’s something quite special about this particular variety of poker which sets it apart. That thing:

It’s a game of skill.

You heard me. Starting with just two cards, the nature of the way the successive board cards are revealed via the flop, the turn and the river and just the overall configuration of the game introduce so many variables that not only can any two (starting) cards win, but also these can be played in so many different ways, that any two cards can be made to win via players ‘representing’ certain things and forcing difficult decisions from other players.

This is very difficult to do in other varieties, such as limit poker as the bets wouldn’t be big enough to make these decisions difficult (meaning that the ‘luck’ element comes into play so much more).

Of course there is luck involved in no limit poker too and even the best players in the world can have off days, however with that focus we talked about up front (i.e. making money vs fun) they will win over the long term. The fact that there are ‘best players’ at all and that the same familiar celebrities consistently make it to the final tables of the most high profile championships out of hundreds of millions playing proves that it’s not just gambling.

The 3 key skills that we’re talking about are reading the game, reading people and psychology.

… which is why I find the game so fascinating.

Recap on The Business Concepts

In case you didn’t notice, we did cover a lot of business concepts in this article – I am of course referring to the following:

  • low barriers to entry in today’s market
  • avoiding busy-time and wasted time in your business
  • when a passion-based business can be a challenge and how to recognize that to avoid becoming a starving artist
  • managing perception & influence
  • deferred gratification
  • listening to your market and the importance of paying attention to market signals
  • competitor analysis
  • focusing on what works and putting your time and attention into that (just don’t forget to course-correct again if the market tells you it’s no longer working)

did you spot them all?

Final Thought

So, as you can see above there are a few business concepts and probably even more I could mention, but the main lesson I want you to take away from this little analogy is this:

Listen to your market, pay attention to the signals you’re getting (you’ll get better at this with practice), ditch the ideas that don’t work and when you get something that is proven to work or at least has the best chance, then that’s what you should be putting your focus into.

P.S. If you want more where this came from or have any questions, jump on our email list and drop me a mail

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