A decade or so ago, the golf course was considered to be one of the best places to conduct business and to cultivate contacts. While a visit to the country club still ranks very high, close on its heels is poker. In just a few short years poker has become a major recreational activity for business executives. The game is perfect for networking for a variety of reasons; weather is never a factor and anyone can compete against anyone else with no regard to age, sex, or athletic ability.
Regardless of the reason you play poker – for enjoyment, to network or to make money (or even all three) – there are several aspects of the game to consider.
In poker, your actions and your style outside of how you play your hands can contribute to your success at achieving your goals.
A Friendly Game of Poker
Most people have no understanding what the term “friendly game” means.
Recently I was playing at a low stakes table at the Mirage in Las Vegas. This is a game I play in frequently for a couple of reasons; I enjoy poker obviously and over the years I have made some good business contacts. The players are generally talkative and friendly. Two new players joined the game, one a securities trader, the second a CPA.
The game immediately took on a new turn.
The CPA immediately started a non-stop barrage of talk. He gave “lessons” on how to play a hand, he talked about the cards on the board, he gave advice to players on how to play a hand while the hand was still in progress.
All of these things are a basic breach of standard poker etiquette; the equivalent of talking while a golfer is making his shot. Others are simply against the rules.
When he was called on his actions, his defense was that it was a “friendly” game. Here is an example of not understanding the term “friendly.” Regardless of the stakes, poker is usually played for real money. The only way to avoid the game turning ugly is to follow the rules. This is especially true in “friendly” games. In a friendly game it is okay to gently rib other players and to have a generally good time. A “friendly” game also means that the rules are followed.
My assumption is the CPA’s actions were the same in a home game as in the casino.
If you want to use poker as a way to network or grow your business, you have to act like a pro. A friendly game means the rules and etiquette are followed. Not doing so means you don’t get invited back.
If you are playing as a form of recreation, the other people at the table are probably doing the same. Showing that you know the rules, written and unwritten, is the best way to assure you will always have a seat waiting.
Strangely enough, this also has an effect on your bankroll. If your primary purpose in playing is to make money, observing the rules, smiling and engaging in friendly conversation are very important. For some reason, poker players don’t have a problem giving their chips to someone that is pleasant, whereas they will go to sometimes extraordinary lengths to defeat a player that rubs them the wrong way.
The Concept in Action
The all-time biggest poker tournament money winner is Daniel Negreanu, who has earnings of more than $30 million. In addition to being an incredibly skilled player, he is one of the most popular players with both fans and opponents alike, which has more to do with his personality than his skill. His sense of fairness and sportsmanship is unmatched. He is engaging and outgoing. He congratulates his opponents when they make a good play and the only player he is likely to criticize is himself. He wins or loses with equal grace. In live tournaments, amateur players are thrilled if he is seated at their table. When he plays online, the waiting list to join the game is huge.
His personality as much as his skill has contributed to his success away from the poker table. He has had cameos in several movies, a role in a Katy Perry video, authored several best-selling poker books, and is a sought after television guest. All in all, it could be said that Negreanu’s reputation as a class-act has helped him become the most successful poker celebrity of all time.
Dress Like a Winner
There is a scene in The Hustler that teaches an important lesson to any gambler. Minnesota Fats and Fast Eddie take a break during the middle of their marathon match. Fats changes his suit and freshens up, while Fast Eddie drinks. When the game resumes Fats looks and feels like a winner, and the Kid looks like a loser. Unsurprisingly, Fats wins.
This axiom is well known in the business world and is summed up in a number of clichéd, but accurate expressions; dress to impress, dresses like a winner, look good to feel good. This is one area where poker players frequently come up a bit short. Checking the table at any poker room would lead you to believe that in order to be a poker player you have to wear the “uniform” of large sunglasses, a hoodie, a baseball cap, and a pair of Beats headphones.
While it is not necessary to wear a suit at the poker table (although players like Tony Dunst and Anthony Zinno do at final tables), a sense of style and comfort can go a long way. Negreanu says he dresses to be ready for his championship picture. Johnny Chan prefers comfortable and colorful Versace shirts. J.J. Liu, one of the pioneering women in poker, always wears colorful and festive outfits. Former commodities trader Eric Seidel’s dress is basically business casual.
Simply put, you want your clothes to lend an air of confidence and style. You want to be comfortable but you also want your clothes to say that you are someone to be taken seriously. This is true whether you are playing for $100 or $100,000.
The Bottom Line
Social networking is becoming a must in the business world and poker is playing an ever increasing role. Hedge fund managers like David Einhorn and Dan Shak are frequent players and Bloomberg has produced several programs featuring Wall Street executives playing poker. Silicon Valley has an abundance of players including CEOs, software developers and start-up entrepreneurs. Harvard and MIT both teach classes in poker as part of their business curriculum.
To win at poker you do have to often have the best hand. However, acting like a winner and dressing like a winner can often mean that you’ll get more profit from good hands, and reap more benefits away from the table as well, no matter why you are playing.
The most important aspect to remember is that you can’t win, network, or have fun if you can’t get a seat at the table.