A large part of poker’s appeal is the chance to get together with friends or strangers and bond over a common interest. Table talk gives players the chance to relieve the stress of complicated decision-making and enhances the game’s entertainment through discussion. But the other dimension of poker’s social environment is an opportunity to make career contacts and advertise your personal brand. Heidi Messer has used poker as a platform for some of the most venerated women in business to congregate and share ideas. Molly Bloom famously had her private poker game immortalized through the movie “Molly’s Game”, and while her games revolved around competition and winning, the business moguls in attendance undoubtedly acquired invaluable connections.
Poker shares two key characteristics with other popular networking activities such as golf, squash, or mixers: It’s popular with and accessible to professionals of all ages. This intergenerational appeal is crucial for young players seeking mentorship or connections from older poker peers. Here’s how you can leverage your facetime with other players into value beyond their chips:
Identify How Serious Your Desired Connection (DC) is About Poker
Some poker hobbyists really geek out about strategy and stay current with news and views from the poker world. Most do not. The first important step to making someone feel more comfortable speaking with you is to identify their motive for playing. If your desired connection (DC) is playing loosely, misusing terminology, or avoiding strategy discussions, you should use an icebreaker that is accessible to a beginning poker player. If they do editorialize on the finer points of strategy, sharing your perspective can win a lot of brownie points. Regardless of how seriously they take poker, try to mirror their level of interest.
Find Commonalities Outside of Poker
A mutual interest in poker is a great reason to introduce yourself to a stranger, but the more you have in common with them the better! Keep your eyes peeled for sports paraphernalia, unique fashion, card protectors or any other visual indicator of a player’s interests. A conversation-starter as simple as “I love your ‘Fabulous Las Vegas’ jacket! What’s your favorite restaurant on the strip?” can be really engaging because it lets the person feel like an expert.
If your DC is already talking with someone at the table, feel free to join the conversation whenever you have something topical to contribute. Conversations are communal at a poker table: it’s tacitly understood that even chats among adjacent seats are open to other perspectives. It’s also a poker cultural norm to introduce yourself after a lighthearted talk so be sure to take that opportunity.
Steering the Conversation Towards Your Goals
After you’ve made a favorable first impression, find a natural way to bring up the quality you value in your DC: that may be a skill, idea, or individual you’d like to know. You want to come across as curious and humble; a DC will feel more compelled to publicly help someone who is easy to root for. You also want to keep your language fairly casual so they don’t feel like they’re at work. Here are some examples of how you can bring up your interest in their career accomplishments:
“I’ve read about your impact at Bain, it’s such a small world to meet you here! Do you have any advice for an aspiring consultant about how to make her clients happy?
“Amazon was such an exciting company to hear from when they came to campus. I’d love to learn about your experience in product management, what was your path to that job?
“Truth be told I don’t know much about starting a business but I’m really curious about the whole process. Were there any people who helped you along the way?”
Try to be a model poker player when you’re networking. Show that you handle bad luck with a healthy attitude, tip your dealers and waitstaff, and be courteous to other players. Your DC will definitely notice your people skills and emotional disposition, if they are a strong poker player they may also notice your strategic aptitude. This influences their decision to work with you or refer you to other opportunities. And on a more general note, reputations matter a lot in poker since the game is predicated upon trust and fairness.
Leaving with a Relationship
After you’ve had a discussion with your DC and have asked all the follow-up questions you feel are appropriate, get their contact info before they leave! As they rack up their chips you could say something like “Hey Jennifer don’t head out before I get your e-mail. I want to take you out for drinks/lunch/invite you to a home game so I can hear more about corporate law because I’ve been thinking of pivoting into that space for a few months.”
Unlike networking on LinkedIn, you want to keep it casual after they leave. Immediately following up to thank them for their time may seem gratuitous. Most relationships you develop through poker will be friendships so just read how your new connection engages you. Successful professionals will open up in the right context and many come to the poker room to have a good time. Send a casual message sometime in the next week asking them to meet up and let your relationship develop naturally.
The process of talking to strangers is intimidating to everyone, you’re not alone if you feel anxious! Don’t feel like you have to keep a DC’s undivided attention: the beauty of talking at a poker table is that there’s always something exciting to watch.
If you know who you want to get to know before you sit down, try to finagle a seat near them so you’re not talking all the way across the table. A good time to ask a new question is when you and your DC have just folded pre-flop; most players don’t like to talk while they’re in a hand because it’s distracting.
Cash games make for a better networking environment than tournaments since you can always add chips if you run out (and tournament players tend to be a bit less easygoing in my experience.)
A great poker network to get involved with right off the bat is POKER POWER’s! Join a POKER POWER club and meet a whole group of poker minds!
So go grow your network of friends and professional connections while you play. And don’t forget to turn on the schmooze!
Written By: Sam Anschell