Playing the Hand You are Dealt | Life Lessons from the PokerStars EPT Barcelona

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Poker begins in the pocket. Unless you happen to be contributing to the pot through a Big Blind or Small Blind then it all starts from nothing. It’s up to you to play the hand you are dealt…

This week I had the pleasure of attending the Barcelona leg of the PokerStars European Poker Tour 2019. As a huge fan of both playing and watching this thrilling game of cards, the four days in the Spanish city provided me with some incredible insight into the mechanics of how both the hands and the minds of the professionals work. I also had the opportunity to sit down with PokerStars Ambassador Chris Moneymaker (yes, that is his real name) for a quick chat and so I have extracted every single strategy from some of the best minds in the world. This had me thinking; what if we applied these exact strategies to everyday life?


Playing the Hand You Are Dealt

Not everyone is dealt a fair hand, be it in life or be it on that particular day or in that particular moment. Seeing an off-suit 7-2 greet you on the felt is never an easy feeling but, to put a more positive spin on things, it can only get better. Furthermore, no one else at the table can see that 7-2, and so with every single shuffle of the deck you have an opportunity to play any cards you want to “play”. See that poker professional bluffing his way to a big pot win? He’s still just playing the hand he was dealt. The main lesson here is to project the image you want to project, and not necessarily show your actual hand in life. Visualise the end goal, without being reckless, and remember that confidence and self-belief is king (or preferably a pair of them). Just remember to stick to that goal and do things with a real purpose. In the words of Chris Moneymaker, “you have to make your bluff make sense, you know”.


Knowing When to Go All-In

Speaking of confidence, one of the biggest moves in poker is the all-in. It will almost always draw a gasp from the crowd and is seen as a strong, confident move in the game of poker. Disregarding the kamikaze attitude of players who go for an all-in bluff, sliding every chip into the middle of the table is the sign of someone who believes they have won. The lesson here is to fully commit to a winning situation and have the self-belief that you cannot possibly lose. The all-in is putting all of your energy into something with the end goal of taking everything. A power move, not used as a last resort, but rather as a show of force. We are often told “not to put all of your eggs in one basket”, but if that basket is a winning one then you need to commit and you need to go all-in.


Knowing When to Fold

On the other hand, figuratively speaking, a good poker player also knows when to fold. Pocket Aces become irrelevant when played against Three Of A Kind, and that Three Of A Kind crumbles against a Flush draw. You also need to know when you can’t win, no matter how good your hand might be. The lesson here is to cut your losses and accept what is in front of you. Time and money are precious commodities and, no matter how much you have already spent of either, it is never too late to admit defeat and fight the next battle. As Moneymaker said in his interview, “[poker] is about knowing who you are playing and reading the situation”. Look at the bigger picture and don’t be blindsided by hope or expectations.


These are just a few strategies in poker that I believe can be transferrable not only for work life, but also everyday life too. Poker is a game of psychology, discipline and confidence as much as it is the actual cards.


The PokerStars 2019 EPT Barcelona is wrapping up in a few days’ time, but you can watch the action on their YouTube channel here. On the blog I also have the full interview with Chris Moneymaker, PokerStars Ambassador and winner of the $2.5m prize for the Main Event at the 2003 World Series of Poker. You can read the full transcript here.

This post was written in collaboration with PokerStars. All views are my own.