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2 Parallels Between Poker and Startups

Written By: Gary 23 June 2010 Other Posts By: Gary

Having played the game for almost a decade, the way I see the world is sometimes influenced by the intricacies inherent in poker. I once wrote a Philosophy paper about the similarities between life and Texas Hold ‘Em (got an A-). When I give relationship advice, I mostly use poker scenarios as metaphors to logic out the situation (she’s like “Rockets” pre-flop – you have to play aggressive to win her heart). Perhaps it’s no surprise that, as a poker-playing entrepreneur, I see many parallels between optimum poker strategy and successful business practices. Here are a few poker tips you can apply to your startup venture:

Identify and Exploit Weakness

Most of the money you’ll win at poker comes not from the brilliance of your own play, but from the ineptitude of your opponents.”  -Lou Krieger

An important element to any successful enterprise is identifying and exploiting an opponent’s weakness, be it in poker or in business. No matter how experienced or talented you are, if you can’t find an opponent’s flaw, you’re not going to win. As the saying goes “If you can’t spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker”. In poker, being able to find that “sucker” is considered an art and science. When I sit down at a poker table, I spend a good amount of time researching and analyzing a player’s profile – the type of hands they raise and call with, their betting patterns, their mannerisms, how well they handle success and failure, what is their professional background, their style of dress, how do they like their steaks cooked (you’d be surprised how m3uch information you can get from that question), and so on. Like creating a startup, poker is a game where you make decisions based on a set of incomplete information, therefore it’s imperative you spend a good portion of your time studying your competition and taking notes.

After analyzing all that data, it’s important to figure out who’s your target, adjust your style of play to that person and position yourself to take full advantage of your opponents’ weakness. For example, if you notice that your mark has a tight-passive style of play, you should be more aggressive with your bets when you’re engaged in a hand with them, even if you have a marginal hand. Chances are they’ll fold and you… get paid! Likewise in the business world, as a general example, if your competitor is slow to take advantage of a burgeoning opportunity, you should consider an aggressive strategy to position yourself within that space, establish a positive edge for your business and you… get paid! All of this is an example of a business term known as competitor analysis. Once you understand your competition, the easier it will be to beat them.

Remember though, if you can’t find the sucker, then you’re it. If you’re having trouble identifying a problem in the marketplace or a weakness to exploit amongst your competition, it may be a sign that you have to pivot your business model, work on developing your idea further, or finding a new idea to begin with.

NETWORK!!!

In poker and in business, networking can create mutual benefiting relationships if approached in the right way. When I started playing poker, I didn’t know many people that played the game seriously and most importantly, played it well. I made a concerted effort to find people with a similar love for the game, desire to learn, and drive to be the best. I sought players at school-sponsored poker tournaments. I created a Facebook group to attract serious players looking to form a game in the local area. I conversed with my neighbors at the table and network with players during breaks at poker tournaments. I even went on HomePokerGames.com to find local games for me to play at, hoping to meet skilled players, good people, and fun personalities.

Meeting a mass of people is one thing, but choosing whom to develop a relationship with is another. It took me years to develop a poker network I felt confident in. The reality is, building and maintaining your network is an eternal process. Make sure to network smart and not network for the sake of networking. Strategize which events are best suited for you and when meeting people, find opportunities to help them, not just yourself. By creating a win-win situation, it incentivizes you to maintain your relationship in which the rewards are priceless.

Within my “poker crew”, we became better players and learned so much about poker. We exchanged ideas and poker strategies, talked about past hands, analyzed what was done right and wrong, go over possible scenarios, and gave a heads up on where the easy games are and what games to avoid. Having a circle of poker players also provides a support system. Both playing poker and having a startup can be emotionally draining at times, especially after a night of losing. As in business, there will be days when you lose a large sum of money in poker. Being able to shake it off and regroup is hard to do by yourself, but having a support system available to you makes it so much easier (trust me, there were many 5am phone calls I made and received where the first three words were “I hate poker”). Being a poker player and being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean you have to be alone.

If you’ve ever played a hand of poker or you have a business, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Not only do I expect to share my journey as an entrepreneur with you, but also hope to use my past experience in poker as a resource and highlight specific poker tactics that can help you with your startup venture. If you come to realize that poker and creating a business can be a fun game with money as a way to keep score, you’re ahead of the curve!

Twitter: @GaryReloj

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  • Gary

    Hey thanks for the comment. After reading my post again, I agree with your assessment – originally had more content demonstrating the parallels between poker and business, but in fear of writing a LONG post and losing the attention of my audience, I cut a lot of what I originally wrote. I understand one of the challenges I need to work on personally is expressing my thoughts CLEARLY and CONCISE.

    Thank you again for the comment and hope you follow Founders Block on our journey as entrepreneurs… as well as writers!

  • The Troll

    egh, too much detail about poker in the beginning. not enough correlation and insight into the similarities of poker and business in the end.

  • Gary

    Hey thanks for the comment. After reading my post again, I agree with your assessment – originally had more content demonstrating the parallels between poker and business, but in fear of writing a LONG post and losing the attention of my audience, I cut a lot of what I originally wrote. I understand one of the challenges I need to work on personally is expressing my thoughts CLEARLY and CONCISE.

    Thank you again for the comment and hope you follow Founders Block on our journey as entrepreneurs… as well as writers!

  • Rod

    Hi Gary,

    Great post – I love poker and I am an entrepenuer (and bad speller ;) – there's a lot of similarities between the two – both are big risks with potentially big rewards. The most important thing is to network though and meet new people and share ideas (just like a home poker game!). I actually get some great ideas at the poker table (I meet a lot of poker players through http://www.pokerdiy.com). There's some smart people playing poker!

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