May 14, 2021

What I Learned From Three Years of Online Poker

This is the twenty-sixth in a series of short essays I wrote as part of the Ship 30 for 30 program. You can read all thirty essays here.

Back in the day, I used to play online poker. I got into it to make money but came away with a lot more.
I made a four-figure profit in the three years I played, but the lessons I learned beyond poker were more valuable than my winnings.

Poker is a microcosm of life. You must make decisions based on incomplete information, account for other people’s behaviour, and keep your emotions in check. It also involves a blend of luck and skill. The trick is distinguishing the two – did you win the hand because you made the right decisions, or did you get lucky?

In the short term, luck is the dominant factor. But luck evens out eventually, so you need a skill edge to sustain a profit. To develop that edge, you must study the underlying principles of winning poker strategy. Turns out these principles also apply to life beyond the poker table.

Poker taught me the importance of having a plan. It also taught me to monitor how things play out and to adjust my plan accordingly. I learned to observe and listen to people and to understand how their emotions influence their behaviour.

I learned the value of seeing what someone else does before deciding to act rather than always trying to have first-mover advantage. I learned the importance of controlled aggression, patience, discipline, and emotional management. I learned about game theory, risk vs reward, and how to make real-time strategic decisions. And I learned the value of study, analysis, and reflection.

But most importantly, I learned you can’t control everything and that you should focus on what you can control. So, my time at the tables was a great training ground for life. Because life isn’t checkers or chess. It’s poker.