Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2007) in Poker Player newspaper.
This is part 4 of a six-part series of entries exploring life-strategy that relates to poker.
♦ ♦ ♦
Where does poker fit in our universe? I’ll tell you where it fits. It fits right between precipitation and obscenity. It is a little less common than rainforests, but a tad more common than revolver.
Poker ranks 18,443rd in our lives. Chess ranks 9,033rd.
I hear you ask, “What the heck is the Mad Genius talking about?” I’m talking about where the word “poker” appears on a web site: www.wordcount.org.
The site provides a continuous line of the top 86,000 English words as they appear, ranked by frequency in all types of printed material (primarily British). As you can probably guess, the top-ranked word is “the.”
Now we could argue that “poker” is somewhat more common in American literature, even though poker is now a hugely popular game in the UK. But anywhere in the English-speaking world, poker doesn’t rank up there with our most used everyday words. It’s not even close.
My point is that you and I think of poker as a common ingredient in our daily lives, but most people don’t. We’re so devoted to the game that we tend to lose our perspective (today’s word).
And yet poker turns out to be a monumental game, when we consider the elements that compose it: You’re fighting over something of value, you’re wagering on the basis of secret strength, and if others don’t accept your wager, you might win even without any strength at all.
Those elements combine in strange ways and play out in real life, far beyond the poker tables. That’s why for the last three entries, I’ve been sharing some of my real-world strategies, many taken from poker.
So far we’ve learned:
(1) You know in advance that you’re going to average 281 or so routine injustices every year, whether it’s a dealer mistake or the wrong order at McDonald’s, and if you only experience 270, you’re having a better-than-average year. That’s why it doesn’t make sense to fret over everyday weirdness that’s certain to happen. Use the time to do more productive things, instead.
(2) In poker and in life, you should cheer for your friends to succeed. Most people are naturally jealous of their friends’ success, but that’s wrong. When friends succeed, you are in a position to benefit. When enemies succeed, beware!
(3) Whether you’re at the poker table or in a real-world negotiation, save your fanciest moves for when things seem to be clicking. When you’re in excellent form, others are impressed and you can try more aggressive tactics. In poker, opponents are intimidated and play worse; in life people cooperate, because they want to be on the winning side. But when things aren’t going well, you lose your psychological edge and should choose a more mundane strategy until you’re back in stride.
(4) Just like in poker, you’ll usual make the most headway in everyday life if you choose to go last. Assuming everyone will get an equal chance, acting in turn, you want to see what others do before deciding. That way you can modify your decisions in accordance with what’s already transpired.
And now we move along to a concept that is central to my teachings. If you take this to heart, you’ll not only be a better poker player, you’ll be a better person. Here it is, as I first presented it over a dozen years ago…
Don’t humiliate your opponents
Always allow opponents to save face, no matter how tempting it is to gloat. When you make it painful for opponents to lose, they play better in the future, but you want opponents to play worse. Additionally, life is complicated enough without motivating people to get even with you. So, always give those you conquer a chance to save face–unless you’ll never have to confront them again.
In poker, it’s the same–unless your opponent is permanently broke after losing this pot, don’t humiliate him. Angry players often return to harm you.
Don’t gloat; win graciously.
And finally, consider this…
Keep your hand secret
If you habitually exposed your poker hand before the showdown, opponents would know what you had, and they’d know for certain whether to play against you, whether to raise you, whether to pass. It would be stupid to play poker that way, but people do that every day in real life. How? They don’t keep secrets.
Listen: Never volunteer personal information to anyone who isn’t a friend, unless you know specifically that you have something to gain by providing the information. Sound heartless?
Well, OK, it’s all right to volunteer useful information if it can’t harm you. It’s also all right to give information sometimes if you’re getting information in return.
But think back. I’ll bet for every time you regretted keeping secrets, there are many more times you regretted telling secrets. People simply give away too much information, and it eventually haunts them. Secrets can seem insignificant at the time they’re shared, but later the sharing turns out to be a meaningful mistake.
Like it or not, successful people keep secrets much better than unsuccessful people, just as successful poker players conceal their hands better than unsuccessful players. Repeating: It’s a fact that people who succeed keep secrets.
Never reveal important information about yourself unless you have a specific reason for doing so. Starting now, practice telling yourself mentally why you’re giving information before you give information.
A special way
People talk about their lives and their opinions, giving information that may later be damaging. They do this because they want to seem friendly. But, there’s a special way you can be just as friendly and, instead of putting yourself in jeopardy, gain an advantage.
Here’s how. Instead of giving information about yourself, use the same time to ask other people about themselves. If you’re talking to a potential competitor, don’t volunteer information; ask for opinions.
I do this at the poker table. After a hand or away from the table, I ask an opponent how he would have played.
Usually, the player is flattered and offers a sincere answer, such as he would have bluffed. I remember that answer, and weeks later–long after the opponent has forgotten our conversation–I call and win the pot. It’s the same in real life. You remember the information, and you use it later.
By the way, when I consult with businesses, there seems to be one recurring problem that comes up again and again. How can supervisors best smooth up relationships between themselves and employees who don’t like them. The answer is simple.
Ask the employees for their opinions. In life, you can patch up most relationships simply by softly asking a person: “What do you think?”, “What would you do in this situation?”, “How would you handle this?”
People are universally flattered when you ask for opinions. It works with enemies, it works with employees, it works with children. Trust me, and try it. And it’s consistent with the powerful poker technique of concealing your own hand while learning as much as you can about your opponents.
One of life’s most important goals is to gain as much useful information from others as possible, while guarding your own secrets wisely. — MC