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Context in Poker and Business

Poker strategy revolves around contextualizing the cards you hold among the portfolio of hands you could have in the current situation. The story of a poker hand is qualified through the context of who is playing, what each player knows, and how the game’s circumstances have swayed each party’s incentives. Awareness of these factors can be a big benefit for poker, and in the larger setting, in life as well. Here’s how to use context in poker and business.

Common information

While poker is a game of information asymmetry (players’ cards are hidden until the end of the hand), the common information of bets and community cards provide guidance for what action you should take.

The pair of nines you started the hand with could decrease in relative strength if the flop (the first three community cards dealt on the table) brings an Ace, King, and Queen, as opposed to an 8, 3, and 2. You might feel very confident your top pair will win the hand if your opponent checks (passes the action to the next player, but keeps their cards) at every opportunity, but those same cards feel underwhelming if your opponent has just followed up two bets by going all-in.

Public information dictates our everyday behavior and plays a major role in game theory used by logicians and economists. If your department is slammed, you’ll know to give your team some slack on deadlines. If your boss has announced some great news in her personal life, it might be time to try your luck negotiating for a salary boost.

In markets, common information dictates share prices. Anyone can look at a public company’s financials and determine whether the value of the stock is accurate. If the price is too high, holders will sell or short the stock. If the price is too low, market participants will buy until sellers raise the price. The public nature of market information is so important to this ecosystem that it is illegal in many instances to use a company’s private information for personal gain.

Reading the room

Playing poker in person requires you to be aware of the disposition of everyone at the table. The context for interpreting a series of bets changes starkly between an opponent who bluffs frequently versus an opponent who rarely bluffs.

You might feel like you can bet on a marginally strong hand against an opponent who doesn’t like to fold and still get called by a worse hand. However, when you play against someone who won’t put their chips in the middle without a strong hand, there is little to be gained by betting a marginally strong hand but much to be gained by bluffing. Besting someone at the poker table is a process of recognizing behavioral patterns and predicting how opponents will play.

Knowing your audience is a key life skill to mastering presentations, making great deals, and motivating the people you manage. Picking up on body language in the boardroom will let you course-correct and hit home the points that matter most to your boss. Comparing the tone and language that a client uses after you make your offer to their normal speech clues you in on their excitement or reluctance.

Some employees love autonomy. Others prefer frequent reviews and reassurance. Using the emotional intelligence you develop through poker will help you figure out what motivates your staff. Social games hone social skills, and no game trains you to pick up on others’ tendencies better than poker.

Incentives

The last piece of context for decision-making in poker is identifying each player’s goal in the hand. Sometimes a player’s action suggests one of two goals. Is she checking in hopes I check as well so she can reveal her hand without putting in more chips, or to lure me into betting? Other times a player will have more obvious motivations. There is another player all-in already, and he still bet? He can’t bluff out the player who’s already all-in, so he must have a strong hand.

Thinking from the perspective of others will sharpen your understanding of incentives in poker and in business. Perhaps the reason you were assigned to an office overseas is that senior leadership sees potential for you to fill a management opportunity opening up in Europe that they can’t speak about publicly. Maybe IT isn’t responding to your ticket because they don’t know how to fix the issue, and they’re embarrassed to admit it.

Incentives give people satisfaction from their work. For those who find happiness in seeing the impact of their work, management consulting could be frustrating since a consultant is usually long gone before the results of their contributions can be seen. For someone who loves to help people, human resources is a great direction to consider.

As a leader in the workplace, you should feel emboldened to ask your staff about their goals. If your employees are looking for career capital, outline a path that illustrates how to get to the next position. If the motivations relate to the nature of the work, write down their response so that later on you can assign them a project they’ll be passionate about. Everyone wants to feel understood. The poker table will help you see beyond yourself to identify the goals of others.

Poker Power strives to unlock the potential of the women we serve by building life skills through the game of poker. We welcome players of any ability (including total beginners) to learn in a fun environment of their peers. If you want to be the difference in the next generation of women leaders, learn more about the power of poker at our community poker lessons.

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