There was a period in my life when I was very loyal to the game of poker. My interest in the game peaked one “after” morning when I realized my commitment was well down the road to that of a degenerate gambler. This was something of a crisis because I was on a major winning streak at the time. The thought did not sit well, especially for the unwelcome choices it created. Reality surely does bite!
About seven years earlier, with just a passing knowledge of the game, I decided that I wanted to become a skilled poker player and with that, I started playing the small shady games around Dublin. As my game developed, I expanded my horizons, played and won many tournaments including the Omaha Irish Open in 1990 and made it to several final tables in many other international tournaments.
My real skill was developed and honed to precision in cash games, particularly in Omaha which is considered to be the “crack cocaine” of poker games. There were several years of 3 day/2 night trips to the Victoria Casino in London to play the cash game there and then following the big bucks to the Aviation Club de France for another year or so, all very profitable.
What’s not so blissful about all of this are the angst, discipline and self-discovery which were essential in the ever learning process and self awareness that comes with being a decent poker player. I understand and endorse my poker adventure, why I followed it and why it still matters to me, so many years later. Ultimately, I used my poker winnings to fund the start of an enterprise and moved myself into the biggest money game of them all; property investment and development. Here I will share with you the most important life lessons (in no order of merit) that I learned during my poker career – and continue to benefit from.
Play your own game. That means you take all your decisions yourself and do not allow anyone else do your thinking for you. This comes down to what you know about the project or deal you’re looking at. If you don’t know something, you need to find out. We call this diligence. If you’re not happy that you have all the information you need to make an informed decision, move on and go find the next deal.
No win situations. This is also the darker side of our living experience and a fact of life. A no win situation can occur at any time and the trick is that not only do you need to be acknowledge this, but you have to have the personal discipline to cut your losses (whatever they are) and be on the ready line to walk away from a bad deal at any given time. Of course, it’s always better and cheaper if this occurs during your diligence period. Walking away from a no win situation as soon as you recognize one is what really differentiates winners from losers.
Greed and stupidity are a pair of zeros. Both these conditions are like Siamese twins – joined at the hip and totally inseparable. I’ve lost count of the times I have witnessed winners became losers because they wanted more. Again we’re back to where you decide what you’d like to get from a deal and what is the minimum you’ll take. Decide at the outset what you need and when you reach your target, saddle up and move on to the next one.
Change Gears. All good players can do this and appreciate the benefits. When you’re not hitting deals, you have to hang tougher and tighter until you get the really good one. If you have deals rolling profitably, you can afford to loosen up and take more chances, but like everything else, you have to be playing for a bigger pot. So if you’re going to take a chance on something, the reward has to be there, otherwise you’re working for buttons and anyone can be a busy fool. Be flexible in your attitude and your outlook, it will be highly profitable.
Watch your antes! This one is as old as the hills. It’s all about your cost of doing business, the cost of expertise and availability of services. It costs money to keep your engine running! Remember, every diligence costs something; especially your time and these are resources which once used, can never be recovered. Good players invariably have starting criteria, a baseline guide of what you need to be looking at before you commit in any way. Only move on deals you believe are profitable and within your capacity to complete in a timely way. It’s not uncommon for someone to go so far down on their resources with false starts; they end up desperately taking a shot at a deal that has a poor chance of working out.
Make your own luck! This one comes back to attitude and thinking. Winners make their own luck, they really do. This can be very tough to do in poker, so let me break it down for you. Only play for what you know you can win, no matter how small the pot. You build on this, slowly and carefully. Everything you do has to be a win-win. Sure, you’ll make mistakes. Dismiss them and keep building. Then you’ll find yourself on a roll and you build on that, and if you get cocky and fall on your ass, you start again. People will look at you and tell you how lucky you are and you’ll smile knowing it’s all about working it because we all share the same luck equally. It’s how you use your luck that makes all the difference.
As I look back on my poker career, I’m thankful for my time as a degenerate gambler and all the lessons it taught me. They weren’t free or anything like it, but surviving that lifestyle was an accomplishment and one that I’m quite proud of. However, the most telling thing and the most important lesson is that for all of that huge network of people I met and knew so well playing poker, not one of those relationships survived a year after I had moved on to being a family man and to a much better quality of life.
For me, these lessons remain very relevant and invaluable. You don’t have to spend thousands of hours at a poker table to learn them either. If you think about it, it’s just plain common sense!
David Tracey. Writer & Producer, FP101.net