Poker Night Thoughts on Business

We had our ‘regular’ poker game a few nights ago (regular in this case meaning the first one in about 4 months) and had a really good time.  This is not a big money game – for this particular group it’s way more about the competition and just catching up and having a good time.

Generally we play dealer’s choice, which includes the standards like Texas Hold-em, several variations of Seven Card stud and the occasional gimmicky game like 7 – 27, Dimestore or Pass the Trash.

However we’ve found that the favorite game of the night for most of us is a variation of Liar’s Dice.

Poker Dice  

The game we play is pretty close to the ‘Individual Hand’ rules that’s listed under Liar’s Dice in the wikipedia.

The essence of the game is that everyone puts up 3 stacks of chips in front of them and the first player rolls the dice and declares the starting hand (i.e. Pair of Jacks with a Queen) and then hands the covered dice (in the rolling cup) to the player on his left.

That player has the option to agree to the hand, which obligates him to ‘make’ a better hand or to call him out on the declaration.  If you’re called on the declaration and you don’t have a hand at least as good as what you called, you lose a stack of chips.  If you do have at least that hand, the player challenging you loses a stack.  Whoever loses the stack gets to start the next roll.  Once you lose all 3 stacks you’re out and the last 2 players standing split the pot.

If you agree to the hand, then you get to the opportunity to roll none / some / or all of the dice either in the cup or up and then declaring the new better hand than you received.  (i.e. you roll 3 under the cup from the previous example and declare 3 Jacks and a Queen to the next player).

The beauty of the game is the amount of strategy, mis-direction and perception that are required to do well.  It’s often greatly to your benefit to treat your neighbor well and indirectly work with them to set up somebody on the other side of the table.  However to ultimately win you will need to compete with them directly as well, so partnerships can only go so far.

So what lessons does this game have for the business world?  Here’s a few ideas that I came up with:

  1. Strategy is critical.  If you’re going to succeed, you have to think ahead.  The ideal play is to try and squeeze the player that’s got the most chips left (or to get someone out), but you also don’t want the hand to come back to you.  In business, you must have a plan for what you want to do, otherwise you’re at the mercy of the rest of the table (i.e. the market).  If you don’t drive a strategy for your business, someone else will drive it for you and it likely won’t be a good thing.
  2. Perception is generally more important than reality.  As long as the guy next to you believes that you have 4 Kings and a Jack, it doesn’t really matter what you really have.  I’m not a fan of the “fake it ’til you make it” approach, but you must be aware of how you’re perceived.  If you don’t have a professional appearance, website, logo, email address then people are much less likely to take you seriously.  (and by professional, I don’t mean corporate/stuffy I mean well thought out, representative of what you want to convey to your customers and consistent).
  3. Trust is important, but in measure.  If you don’t trust anyone in the game, you’ll quickly be the first one out.  However if you always trust them, you’re also likely to be an early victim.  The key is to be generally trusting, but use your common sense and basic knowledge to know what to do.  As the stakes go up, your level of trust should go down.  If the guy on your left just rolled 3 dice and went from a pair of Jacks to 5 Jacks, you probably need to challenge him.  In business you can take a chance on a small purchase from a new vendor.  However if you’re putting it all on the line – signing that long term lease for example, you really need to be sure you know what you’re doing and that you trust that vendor.
  4. Awareness of what’s going on around you can make or break you.  Knowing that the guy that started the roll declared 2 Kings but the guy next to you just declared 3 Jacks and only rolled 2 dice is important.  Knowing that the guy sitting next to you will always believe you as long as it looks reasonable and that you’re giving him room is priceless.  In business you need to know what your competitors are up to and you need to be aware of what your customers are asking for if you’re going to win.
  5. Luck can be a game changer.  Actually hitting that 1 in 6 chance of rolling an Ace to give you 5 Aces makes up for any missed strategies, observations or other issues you might have.  When you just happen to run into your perfect customer by sitting next to them on a plane and striking up a conversation – that’s luck coupled with a friendly approach to life, another combination that’s hard to beat…!

I’m sure there’s several more – let me know what your insights and lessons are from the games that you play.  I’d love to hear them.

And if you miraculously roll the 2 Jacks with two dice – I’m going to challenge you on it, no matter how often you seem to roll it.

Shawn Kinkade

2 thoughts on “Poker Night Thoughts on Business”

  1. Chris Steinlage says:

    Well-established existing businesses (seasoned players) can capitalize on new businesses (rookies) inexperience during the initial ramp up stages. The closer an existing business is physically located to the new business, the more opportunities they will have to capitalize on the inexperience of the “rookie”…especially the seasoned business directly to the left of the new business!

  2. Chris – Great point, there is a learning curve but the new business is often better after getting the lesson! 😉

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