How Poker Can Make You a Better Planner
If I get draw this card, then I’ll open. If not, I’ll fold.
If she bets small, I’ll raise and see if I can’t take her stack.
If I get a heart on the flop, then that means I can stay in the game. If I get another heart, then I’ll stay in the hand.
These, and many more thousand decisions like them, are what run through the head of a poker player every time they sit at the table.
In fact, at its most basic, the game of poker is nothing but a giant series of if-then decisions (both short and long term) that you repeat over and over until you win or you exit the table.
(Hopefully, it’s the former, but we know sometimes it’s the latter…)
Do you know what else is nothing more than a series of short and long-term if-then decisions?
No, seriously, there is a direct correlation between your ability to process information and make decisions in life and the poker table. Which means poker is a microcosm of life that lets you practice key life skills.
This is why I believe that if you play more poker, it will make you better at planning (which in turn makes you better in your job, better at key life skills, and better in general at processing information.) If you’re not convinced, here are ways that poker makes you better as a planner.
Poker is Decision Making
This should be fairly obvious. At every moment in a game of poker, you have decisions to make.
- Should you fold or stay?
- Should you raise or call?
- Should you move, or will that give away a tell?
- What is that person across the table trying to accomplish, and how should I react?
Each of these questions leads to a decision.
Sometimes these decisions pan out, and you collect a big pot. Other times, you will make a mistake and give yourself an opportunity to learn next time. Still, other times you will find that you made the right decision and still lost the hand because poker can be a harsh mistress.
Still, it is unavoidable that when it comes to playing poker, you have a decision to make.
Some Decisions Must Be Deferred
Deferring a decision is planning. So, too, is deciding for the future.
In poker, sometimes you are not making the immediate decision (raise or fold), but instead, you have to make decisions about some future action.
This can be creating a contingency (if opponent A raises, then I will do X or if I see this card on the river, then my best course of action is Y, etc.), other times it is setting a trap, as in the instance of a value bet or check/raise.
As you keep making decisions, you will start to see how your decisions cause chain reactions.
For instance, you will quickly learn that if you do some action, more than likely, some other set of actions will occur. Therefore, the key to good decision making is finding a path that not only maximizes your chances to win at that moment but throughout the rest of the hand and even the rest of a tournament.
As your decision-making stops being only about what you are going to do next and starts to include strategies for maximizing your chances to win over time, that’s long-term decision-making.
Planning is a Skill
For most of you, the idea that poker involves decision making shouldn’t be that controversial.
Even if you don’t like the decisions you make, it’s hard to argue that they weren’t made.
It hopefully also makes sense that these decisions need to be made both for immediate and long-term timeframes. This can lead to doing things with an eye towards maximizing the chances to win strategically, even if it means losing in the short term.
That’s what I am calling planning.
However, the thrust of this whole argument fails if you don’t believe that planning is a skill, which I dearly believe that it is. Some will say that planning is an innate skill or an aptitude that you have to be born with.
Planning is a skill like writing, math, or reading that may start low, but doesn’t have to end there.
Because planning is a skill, you can learn to plan better. You can train your brain to look not only at the decisions that need to be made right now and look at how they affect an overall strategy.
To develop this skill, you will, of course, need to have more experience in the areas you are trying to plan as this will give you insights into what needs to be planned and where the pitfalls lie.
But you also need to be able to step back and see the whole picture and a mindset that constantly absorbs information and asks questions about the best way to deal with it.
That mindset and the ability to ask those questions are independent of any specific discipline or industry, and that is what poker can help you develop.
Poker Lets You Practice Decision-Making More than Life
This is really the crux of the argument for why poker makes you a better planner.
The only way to get better at any given skill or discipline is to practice it. Life will give you a lot of opportunities to make important decisions and ask questions about how this will affect you and your family’s long-term well-being.
However, let’s assume that Malcolm Gladwell was correct is saying that to be a true expert at things, you have to spend thousands of hours practicing it. You will get there eventually, but the more hours of practice you can add, the faster you will master the skill.
How can you quickly give yourself practice at planning? Play poker and be intentional about thinking of the bigger picture and practicing strategic thinking.
The need and opportunity to plan ahead will come at you quickly and often. Almost immediately, you will start to practice those planning skills, and in no time, you will be surprised at how the game of poker has expanded your mental acuity.
Why Planning is an Important Life Skill
At the end of the day, whether poker can make you a better planner is irrelevant unless there is some advantage to being good at planning.
Fortunately, there are great advantages to planning. It is one of those skills that can help you in almost every situation.
In some cases, just figuring out how to get dinner on the table, the kids to practice, and the work done is a challenge of planning that makes even the final table at the WPT seem like child’s play.
The most important roles in any company require the ability to plan ahead, whether that’s how to make sure you have enough people to cover a lunch rush to enough equipment to meet client demands. Leading people requires a great deal planning as you navigate them through the intricacies of their job.
At the end of the day, everything above really boils down to one statement: poker can make you a better planner because it lets you get more practice at it.
To agree with that statement, it’s important to understand that poker leads to first short-term, tactical decisions that ultimately affect your longer strategy. After that, you have to agree that planning is something that one learns rather than being born with, which may still be the most controversial statement.
Still, the proof of the mind-training powers of poker is often apparent when talking to professional poker players who are performing at a high level. Do they have insights into how the game is played? Most certainly.
They also have a certain strength of mind that comes through just by talking to them. It’s not just that they know what is going on currently, they can walk you through what is going to happen event by event and know how they would respond.
Some would call that experience, but it’s far more than that. Experience alone will let you recognize what is happening, but you really need the ability to plan ahead, so you know how to react.
If you’re still on the fence about poker making you a better planner, hopefully, that’s no reason for you to stop playing. Hopefully, over time, as you play more, you will see that you start to plan better and can reap the benefits for yourself.