8 Ways to Learn How to Think Like a Poker Player at Work

Author: Zenresume Editorial Team
Updated on March 05, 2021

Everyone has a strategy for making their career as successful as possible. 

Some may have their career mapped out when they start, while others think of success as a day-to-day achievement. To be more productive and successful at work, people learn over time how to make better decisions. But— 

What if you want to come up with a real strategy for success?

One surprising way is… to start thinking about your work like a poker player does about a game.

Yes, you read that right.

What’s in it for you? Isn’t poker a game based on sheer luck rather than skills? Well, not at the highest level.

Top-tier poker players are master strategists, risk-assessment experts, and arguably one of the savviest decision-makers in the world. And all of the above skills can prove invaluable in the workplace, too.


Time to become better at your job by learning from poker professionals. Start with these 8 easy tips:

1. Practice Daily Patience

We live in a world of instant gratification. Today’s world made us think we can get anything we want the moment we want it. And that’s also true in poker (and your work life).

A game of poker can, and usually does, turn into a fold-marathon. After the eight or the night one in a row, even a seasoned player can be tempted to make a random loose call.

The best players never will.

They know that playing the game is about sitting and waiting, most of the time: garbage hands, bad positions, missed flops, all of that. Until—

The moment is right and you can pounce.

The same goes for your work life. During certain times of the year, work may slow down and it can feel even more frustrating than being overwhelmed with duties. You need to know that good things in your career won’t happen overnight, there are no magic solutions. You just have to trust your skills, training, and expertise and wait for the right opportunity.

Don’t rush business deals, be cool and composed in negotiations, always try to stay calm and in control—you can achieve that by practising daily patience. I can guarantee it will help you further your career. People will look to you as more of a leader, especially if you're patient in prolonged periods of stagnation.

As James Woods, an actor-turned-poker-player famously said: “Don’t get too nervous and don’t get too eager too fast. You have plenty of time.” Think about it the next time at work you want to rush into a decision just because something was taking too long.

Being known in the office as the person who stays calm and in control will further your career. People will look to you as more of a leader, especially if you're patient in prolonged periods of stress.

2. Bounce Back from Mistakes

The first thing everyone has to embrace in the workplace is that mistakes will happen. 

Whether you're an entry-level employee or a seasoned professional, mistakes are inevitable. One thing that poker players learn to do when they put a foot wrong is to bounce back quickly. They look at their own mistakes, as well as those of others, as something to learn from, not dwell on. 

This is so important in the workplace. Poker is about decision-making that's based on limited data and information, and our careers are often the same way. 

You'll rarely ever have all the information you could need or want to make a decision, but analyzing and learning from your mistakes will help you find repetitive patterns. Factors that led to a mistake in the past will likely do the same in the future.

3. Improve Your Concentration

Another key poker skill is concentration. The ability to keep watching your opponents at the table while staying focused on your next moves is often what wins or loses the game.

The same goes for the workplace. Concentration makes you more productive. 


Because being concentrated means having the willpower to focus your attention on a single objective: only worry about the one thing you’re doing at a given moment. If you manage to zone out distractions, unhelpful thoughts or bad emotions, you will devote more of your mental capacity to finalizing the task you’re working on—soon you’ll realize you’re achieving more and producing higher-quality output in less time.

You can try to use concentration techniques like taking breaks or creating a better work environment at your desk.

The key is to keep these efforts up over time. Concentration isn’t a talent. It’s a skill that will only improve if you exercise and refine it every day. 

4. Grow Your Confidence

Have you ever watched a poker game where someone was clearly losing, but seemed so confident that you still thought they could turn the game around? Confidence plays a huge role in success—both around the poker table and in the office.

A recent study showed that of all the characteristics that get people promoted, displaying daily confidence was the number one factor.

Even if you're new at your job or don't have as much confidence in your work skills as you'd like to, you can grow your confidence no matter what's going on around you.

Encourage yourself throughout the day and learn to cheer yourself on when you do something great. And most importantly, recognize your skills and how hard you've worked to develop them. That's an easy place for confidence to begin to grow.

5. Strategize Objective Decisions

There's an almost negligible amount of luck involved in professional poker. 

The same applies to the workplace (so don’t even think of explaining your failures by “bad fortune”). 

How to further minimize the role of chance in your success?

Take the right “objective decisions.”

Think about some recent work-related decisions you made to be more successful or productive. Were they meant to turn into good results in the near future or distant future?

Poker players make decisions that lead to the positive expected value, which means each decision helps them win the game, rather than prize money. 

Perhaps you’ve heard of Annie Duke. She’s a poker-champ-turned-author of the book, Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All the Facts

Her book is all about how she learned to become comfortable with the unknown and how that sharpened her decision-making skills. Upon reading her advice, you’ll soon learn that every decision you make at work should be easily explained and have an immediate goal in mind. Even if you're dealing with the unknown, goals can still help us move forward. Otherwise, the choices you make will be left up to sheer luck.

6. Think Like Your Rival

Maybe you're trying to get promoted to a certain role that's already filled or could be filled by someone else in your office. That's a good opportunity to think like your rival. What makes them potentially better for the job than you? What do they do differently in their work life?

Getting inside your rival's head is exactly what poker players do, and it's easy to replicate in the workplace to achieve the goals you set for yourself.

Imagine there’s an opening for a Team Leader of a regional team at your company. You think you’d be a great match, but you’re up against one of your coworkers.

You feel your subject-matter expertise is greater than hers, but—

You’ve noticed she spends more time mentoring others than you do. Higher management might notice that too and it will be her edge over you when it comes to a managerial position. 

This, in turn, should be a clear signal to you—in order to outperform your rival, you need to work on your people skills and prove you have what it takes to be a leader, not just a senior specialist.

Again—it might not happen for you now and you’ll have to wait for another opportunity. But hey, isn’t it what we already discussed in section 1?

Finally—Practice Every Day

No poker player gets very good without practice, which is why you should practice your workplace “poker” skills every day. Learn from who's around you, make decisions that have their own goals and learn from whatever mistakes you make along the way.

As your career continues, using these skills will help you become a stronger, more confident version of yourself and achieve more in the workplace. 

What Do You Think?

Can you think back to a moment in your career where thinking like a poker player could have benefited you?

What advice from this list did you find the most useful? Do you plan to use it, and how?



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