Life lessons from poker

Life lessons from poker

By Evan Lu, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Call, check, bet, raise and fold. 

These are the building blocks of poker, the popular card game associated with betting and gambling. To skeptical onlookers, poker conjures up images of Wild West saloons, smoky card tables and cigar-chewing mobsters. But does the game deserve its shady reputation? Not really. And could poker be a vessel for teaching important skills and life lessons to kids? The answer is yes. 

According to History, the game of poker boasts ancient roots crossing continents and cultures. Its origin can be traced back to a domino-card game played by a 10th-century Chinese emperor, while Persian and European variations emerged soon thereafter. Spreading to the Americas during the colonial era, poker eventually established itself as a popular entertainment mainstay by the First World War.   

Today, we know poker through the high-stakes casino tables frequented by James Bond and other cinematic desperados. However, contrary to popular belief, poker isn’t merely a game of dramatic gambling and luck. Rather, it’s a calculated tango of mathematics, economics and psychology. In the age of advanced computing, players must study game theory, number theory and statistics to best calculate their chances of winning each hand. At the same time, understanding behavioral psychology and economics is key to predicting how others at the table might react. Individually, these ideas each make a small difference – put together, they make winners and losers.  

Yet the magic of poker isn’t limited to fields of academic study. Poker is known to teach valuable life lessons to adults: creating friendships, solidifying social bonds, strengthening critical thinking and honing analytical and interpretive skills. What’s to stop these lessons from translating to students? By repacking boring old statistics lectures into a fun game with a hint of adventure, poker bears serious potential as a means of training academic and social abilities.

Anecdotal evidence seems to back up poker’s potential as an invaluable teacher: among poker’s greatest advocates are CEOs, Wall Street investors and successful entrepreneurs. Hedge fund managers Bill Miller and Bill Gross learned to manage risk and analyze options from playing hands – skills that would later come in handy as they built their respective funds. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates credits poker with building his information processing skills. Even Tesla CEO Elon Musk went all-in by hiring former high-stakes poker player Igor Kurganov to manage $6 billion of his philanthropic fund. 

To teach poker isn’t to encourage a kid to pursue a career in professional gambling. Kids shouldn’t be allowed near true chance gambling games like roulette wheels, slots machines or craps. However, poker is a game of skill when played right. That claim of skill is the rationale behind mounting efforts to legalize online poker across the United States.

Even without the legalization of online poker, students are bound to experiment on their own. Similar to how sex education in schools serves to expose kids to accurate information in a controlled environment, teachers and parents should introduce students to no-betting poker games in the classroom – bestowing valuable life lessons while avoiding the dangers of real money gambling. 

So let ‘em play. Put on your poker face: because it’s time to teach our kids to bluff their way to success, read their opponents’ body language and fold like a pro. 

Evan Lu can be reached at [email protected].