How Playing Poker Can Make You A Better Entrepreneur
Poker may be a game of luck in the short term, but ask any poker professional and they'll tell you that luck will only get you so far.
The best players employ skill and strategy to get the upper hand, weighing up the odds of success and making calculated decisions. It's no wonder, then, that a number of entrepreneurs report learning important skills and life lessons while playing the game.
In the case of the four Gen.T honourees below, playing poker has shaped the way they run their businesses. From teaching discipline to helping you walk away when the odds aren't in your favour, here's how playing poker can make you a better entrepreneur.
It trains you to keep your emotions in check
Lai Chang Wen
CEO, Ninja Van
Lai Chang Wen started playing poker in college as a way to earn extra pocket money. During that time, some of his biggest winnings would amount to a couple of thousand Singapore dollars. Monetary rewards aside, he clearly remembers how the card game helped to shape his perspective on entrepreneurship.
“In poker, when the odds are in your favour, fight fiercely. When the odds are against you, roll with the punches,” says the co-founder and CEO of Ninja Van, a six-year-old logistics provider headquartered in Singapore with presence in five additional markets in Southeast Asia.
The trick, he says, is to not be too emotionally invested in the outcome. “Regardless of the hand that you're dealt in poker, always keep your emotions in check.
"This is the same in entrepreneurship—you’ll win some, you’ll lose some. Being overly attached to any venture might hold you back from wrapping it up and moving on to the next game with a potentially better stack.”
It instils patience
Co-founder and CTO, Cake DeFi
From a young age, tech entrepreneur Chua U-Zyn always had a curiosity for games. Many of those he enjoys, such as chess and go, are “games of complete knowledge, where players are presented with complete information and they will have to make the best decision for their next moves, hoping that the moves they make will take them closer to the end goal”.
Some 20 years ago, he picked up poker, but it was unlike any of the games he had played before. “Poker is a game of incomplete information, where a poker player is presented with scopes and rules around the current situation, and based on these, he or she has to make the best decision that is perceived to be the most beneficial to their game,” says the co-founder and CTO of Cake DeFi, a platform that helps investors get cashflow from their cryptocurrencies.
But even after making the best mathematical decision possible, says Chua, there’s still the element of luck that plays a part in determining the actual outcome. Just like life.
“In poker as in life, sometimes even after making what you believe is the best decision at that moment, the eventual outcome may not be in your favour. You have to learn to accept that you will encounter a fair share of good and bad days. As long as you continue to make good decisions, things will work out for you over time.”
He says there are also similarities in terms of how people can learn from the unfavourable outcomes of their decisions. “In poker, you strive to improve your skills by analysing your past hands or decisions made. Many people tend to analyse this based on what they could have done—‘had we invested in that venture, we could have ended up way better than we are now.’ That would be wrong to do. Instead, you should objectively analyse your decisions based on the information and resources that you had at the time. This is how you can improve yourself and make better decisions.”
It helps you understand when to let go
Anna Vanessa Haotanto
COO, ABZD Capital and founder, The New Savvy
“Poker, to me, is a game of strategy, probability and psychology,” says Anna Vanessa Haotanto, who is the COO of ABZD Capital, an investment and advisory firm that focuses on private equity opportunities in the global F&B industry.
Before the serial entrepreneur decided to slow down to focus on developing her businesses, she was playing poker up to four times a week, even competing in international tournaments such as Asian Poker Tour and PokerStars Live.
During this time, she honed a set of skills that have proven invaluable in helping her to succeed professionally. “Playing high-stake poker games taught me to be more disciplined and results-oriented. You need to consistently work on your game.
"At the same time, it also made me understand when I should walk away from a losing situation and why I should not focus on sunk costs. You have to move on quickly from bad beats, just like in business."
See also: 6 Ways To Promote Mental Wellness In The Workplace
It teaches you to focus on what you can control
For Joel Leong, co-founder of six-year-old cashback platform Shopback, one of the greatest challenges an entrepreneur faces is accepting that there are things beyond your control. In this way, entrepreneurship has are three key parallels with poker.
"In poker you can't control how other players play, but you can control how much you bet. It's the same in entrepreneurship. I can’t control what my competitors do, but I can ensure that we serve our customers—both users and merchants—better than them.
"Secondly, in poker you also can’t control what’s already committed to the pot, but you can limit your losses by not throwing good money to save bad bets. In my professional career, it is inevitable that I’ll make business mistakes, but it is important to cut losses if they’re not performing.
"Lastly, you can't control your cards in poker, but you can control who you play with—whether it's with poker sharks or fishes. I’m always determined to pick the right battles. So in business, rather than chase after every trending business model, Shopback is very focused on being the best at a specific one."