Poker is such a great game.
The rules are relatively simple. And all you need to play is a deck of cards and a few chips.
But the more you play, the more you understand the complexity of the game, and hopefully turn that to your advantage.
Because although there is an element of luck, poker is a game of skill, regardless of which variant you play.
Whether you decide to check, bet, raise, call, or fold depends on:
- The level of experience of your opponents
- How they tend to play
- Your stack (the amount of chips you have)
- Whether you are playing conservatively or not
- The cards you are dealt
- The cards your opponents are likely to have
And so on.
Over time, professional poker players, or good poker players in general, learn to make better decisions automatically, simply because of experience.
But just like in life, every situation is different, and there are so many different factors involved, and you need to work out what the best possible decision is based on what you know (and don’t know).
This alone would make poker similar to life — life is, after all, a series of good or bad decisions, and in the long run these will dictate how you live.
Now, as someone who deals and plays poker, I can think of at least eight metaphors, or analogies, that will help you understand why the game is indeed similar to life itself.
Life is like poker because…
1. You don’t choose the hand you’re dealt
You could get a premium hand four times in a row.
Then the ugly 7-2 offsuit. Then a pocket pair. Then you could be card dead for an hour or so.
Unless the dealer is cheating, the combination of cards you get is 100 percent random.
Is it a good thing? A bad thing? Not sure. But that’s how the game works.
Of course, in the long run all players will get the same percentage of ugly, mediocre, good, and excellent starting hands.
But in terms of any hand, such as the first hand of the night, that’s going to be completely random and you won’t have any control over it.
2. Tight players rarely win
I’m referring to players who are overly passive and don’t take enough risks, and never play aggressively. They are destined to lose.
Guess what — the same applies to life itself.
You can win consistently by playing tight. But you probably won’t win as much as a player who knows how to steal a few pots and maximize their winnings when they do have a good hand.
Think of a life in which you never take any risks. Think of an existence where from the moment you wake up until the moment you go to bed you play it safe and basically do things on autopilot.
Not the worst way to live by any means. But overall a pretty depressing life.
If you’re the kind of person who’s afraid to put their chips in the pot, you need to change the way you play because being too conservative will get you nowhere.
3. You need to learn to enjoy the game
As a dealer, I’ve seen many poker players that were just miserable.
They would spend hours upon hours complaining about their bad luck (which was often exaggerated in their own mind), and get really angry whenever they would lose a pot.
And when they did win, they sort of took that for granted, and still found a way to complain about the dealer, or the poker room, or anything else.
The third reason life is like poker is the fact that before you even think of winning, you must learn to enjoy the game.
Otherwise, what’s the purpose of playing? Seriously, think about it.
Mindset plays a key role in poker, and I’ve personally noticed that the best players (including professionals) are those who actually enjoy the game.
They approach the game with curiosity, and never stop learning. They are motivated. They know how to endure losing streaks and celebrate winning streaks.
4. Discipline alone makes a huge difference
In life, discipline is underrated. In poker, discipline is underrated.
To be a good poker player, you can’t blow your entire bankroll on a single tournament.
Similarly, you can’t randomly go all-in with a small pocket pair just out of boredom.
You can’t call your opponent, when it’s obvious you’ve lost, just because you’re curious to see what they have. And so on.
In this sense, willpower alone makes all the difference, and the good news is that you can learn to develop it. It just won’t happen overnight.
5. Rare doesn’t mean impossible
Sometimes you flop the absolute nuts, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to win.
And sometimes you hold a very weak hand and you know you can’t possibly win, even if you try and bluff.
But poker is a game of probability, and the good players have learned to calculate each probability, and get it right most of the time.
Some beginners, on the other hand, tend to either underestimate or overestimate their chances of winning and losing.
So you see some of them get really angry when their opponents call them and get there on the river, even when their call was the right decision.
Same with players who can’t let go of a premium hand, even when it’s obvious they should.
6. The more you play, the less you rely on luck
Is poker 50 percent luck and 50 percent skill? Is it 20 percent luck and 80 percent skill?
It pretty much depends on the number of hands you play.
If you only play two or three hands, then obviously luck itself makes a big difference.
But the truth is that in the long run the players who are more experienced and know how to play will always have an advantage over worse players.
So in a sense, if we’re talking millions of hands, poker is 100 percent skill.
In this case, it doesn’t matter if your opponent gets lucky once in a while. As long as you’re a better player, eventually you will win. This is why some people play professionally.
In poker, and in life, luck definitely plays a role, but if you know what you’re doing, and you’re consistent, luck won’t have as much of an influence.
7. You should never play on tilt
This is a big one. Never, ever play on tilt.
For those who don’t know, the term refers to a state of confusion, anger, or frustration, usually after a bad beat, or a few consecutive bad beats, or being card dead for too long.
If you’ve played long enough, I’m sure you’ve seen this many times — a player goes on tilt and starts to give money away by going all-in blind or making bad decisions in general.
Experienced players have learned to control their emotions at the table, but even they are not immune.
So sometimes the best decision is to simply take a break (this could be a few minutes, a day, or even weeks, depending on the situation).
And I find that the same applies to life itself.
Whatever your goal is, whatever it is that you’re trying to accomplish — when you’re not in the right state, the wisest thing you can do is to take a break and start again when your mind is clear.
8. You define what success is
Phil Hellmuth decided that he would be the greatest poker player of all time, and that it would be based on WSOP tournament bracelets and winnings.
This probably won’t apply to you, so if you want to improve your poker skills, or have any goals related to poker, you need to identify what success means to you.
Is it to simply become a better player? Is it to win one big tournament? Or perhaps to simply enjoy the game?
Similarly, in life, you can’t chase other people’s goals. You first need to identify what makes you happy, otherwise you’re wasting your time.
You also want to celebrate each tiny victory and accomplishment rather than constantly chasing something bigger.
This alone will make you a better player… and a better person.
Life is like poker quotes
Everyone gets lucky once in a while, but no one is consistently lucky.Doyle Brunson
You will show your poker greatness by the hands you fold, not the hands you play.Dan Reed
If you never bluff, you’ll rarely get called. If you bluff all the time, you’ll always get called.Phil Hellmuth
Life, like poker, has an element of risk. It shouldn’t be avoided. It should be faced.Edward Norton
Trust everyone, but always cut the cards.Benny Binion
Failure should be our teacher — not our undertaker.Doyle Brunson
If you enjoy winning, you have to kind of appreciate the fact that you are going to lose sometimes.Phil Ivey
The mark of a top player is not how much he wins when he is winning, but how he handles his losses. If you win for thirty days in a row, that makes no difference if on the thirty-first you have a bad night, go crazy, and throw it all away.Bobby Baldwin
It’s not the cards that you have that make you a winner or a loser.Doyle Brunson
If you keep playing phenomenally and put yourself into those positions to win, then eventually you’re going to win.Phil Hellmuth
The only bad luck for a good gambler is bad health. Any other setbacks are temporary aggravation.Benny Binion
I’ve always said a poker player should be a psychologist, and if you can tune in to your opponent, a lot of that other stuff goes away.Doyle Brunson
The cardinal sin in poker is becoming emotionally involved.Katherine Lederer
The commonest mistake in history is underestimating your opponent. It happens at the poker table all the time.David Shoup
Some poker players drink at the fountain of knowledge. Others just gargle.Doyle Brunson
Your opponents dictate how you play.Doyle Brunson
In poker, you train yourself for so many years to cut off emotion. I don’t want to be too high up, and I don’t want to be too low, at the poker table. I want to stay emotionally leveled — especially when losing.Phil Ivey
The beautiful thing about poker is that everybody thinks they can play.Chris Moneymaker
A man with money is no match against a man on a mission.Doyle Brunson
Poker is a wonderful card game, the money is just a convenient way of keeping score.Amarillo Slim
Poker is a fascinating, wonderful, intricate adventure on the high seas of human nature.David Daniel
No matter how much you may want to think of Hold’em as a card game played by people, in many respects it is even more valid to think of it as a game about people that happens to be played with cards.Phil Hellmuth
You don’t stop playing because you get old; you get old because you stop playing.Doyle Brunson
You get your chips your way, I’ll get my chips mine.Phil Ivey
When luck shuts the door, you gotta go in through the window.Doyle Brunson