What does poker teach us about living through a pandemic?

Image Source: Hiller Newspaper

Take a look at the year 2020. It feels like we drew a bad hand. Even though things are pretty uncertain and unpredictable still, we still have control over some things. And its possible to change your luck, when it comes to life and poker, simply based on how you play your cards.

In one of our previous articles, we talk about Maria Konnikova’s latest book – The Biggest Bluff where she relates real life decisions with poker, human behaviour and pulling the biggest bluff. Through her stories, we get to learn that poker is the perfect metaphor for life: “The game is a high-risk, high-reward environment where players make critical decisions based on incomplete information”, as quoted by the Human Behaviour Expert herself. Poker balances two oppositional forces we have in our life: chance and control. And understanding the rules of each can help you deal with life during the pandemic.

Here’s what we think poker has taught us about living through a pandemic:

TRIAL AND ERROR IS ALL PART OF THE GAME: Many a times we focus on things we can’t control. Indeed, it’s a natural response to uncertainty. Even if you’re expertly skilled and have immense knowledge, you can’t always control what happens. Chance is the cards that come to you that you can’t know. You can make a good decision and still get a bad outcome. Only focus on what you can control, which is your process.

MASTER THE PROCESS: Even if you can’t control the outcome, you can still master the process of getting there. Poker teaches you to tell the difference between the two, as long as you don’t go broke first. ‘The game has a mathematical foundation’, says Konnikova. ‘But with a dose of human intention, interaction, psychology – nuance, deception, little tricks that don’t quite reflect reality but will help you gain an edge over others.’ You have control over the information your focus on and the decisions you make – that’s skill. Calibrate probability based on what you know and don’t know; the more experience you have, the more information you have to draw from. ‘Focus on the probability that the next card can improve your hand or improve your opponent’s hand,’ explains Konnikova. ‘What are probabilities that will change the board? This is all knowable. That’s what being a good poker player is. The outcome is not a proxy if you did the right things.’

MANAGE STRESS: Poker not only teaches you the skills and tips required to learn the elements of a proper game but also teaches you who you are as a person, especially when you’re under a lot of stress and pressure when the stakes are high. You tend to get exhausted pretty quickly because you constantly have to be thinking about your next step – that drains you and gets cognitively emotional, all your issues and hang-ups, everything you carry with you, comes up. This pressure of a tournament can be compared to living through a pandemic. Right now, we are flooded with information from all ends. Everyone wants to know when we can go out, meet people again, have a vaccine. Our brain cannot comprehend uncertainties. Playing poker prepares you to take life one day at a time by playing one hand at a time.

If you make a good decision that doesn’t go your way, poker teaches you that things will eventually even out. Of course, it feels great to win, but if you can’t handle defeat and disappointment, you wouldn’t be able to become a great poker player.


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