Several researchers have studied poker. Most of what they’ve concluded is that poker is a game of skill, not luck. Perhaps more interesting though is recent work that has been done on the transferability of the skills involved in poker. It appears poker players experience gains in other areas of life, particularly in employability and future life success.
Early investigation from ‘Can playing poker be good for you? Poker as a transferable skill’ (Journal of Gambling Issues):
Critical evaluative skills: The ability to appraise information and situations realistically, and to anticipate problems and difficulties, is vital in poker. To critically evaluate your playing decisions (“did I play that right?”) and those of others is common. These are also essential skills in the workplace— particularly in management.
Numerical skills: The ability to handle and interpret numerical and statistical information is an important skill in many areas of employability. In poker, there are many levels of numerical skill, such as the micromanagement of funds— every penny is important—or the cards themselves. Not many jobs require mathematical wiz-kids but many decision-making judgements can be based on the balance of probability or the ability to interpret data summaries.
Pragmatism skills: The ability to make the best of a nonideal situation and to work within preset constraints is a valuable skill in poker. For example, players need to accept what they cannot change (their cards) and play with what they have. Pragmatism is an undervalued skill within the workplace— most probably because it is more of an inherent skill than something that is learned. Success in almost any job will require good use of pragmatism.
Interpersonal skills: Knowledge of the mechanisms of social communication and the potential sources of interpersonal conflict can be the difference between a good and a great poker player. Being able to identify an opponent’s “tell” can pay huge (financial) dividends. Having good interpersonal awareness is not the same as being socially skilled (although it contributes). Interpersonal skills contribute to emotional intelligence, i.e., how to respond to different people in different situations. Interpersonal awareness skills in the workplace can make a difference in understanding and dealing with interpersonal problems. They may also help in telling whether colleagues are lying or trying to be economical with the truth.
Problem-solving skills: The ability to identify different strategies and approaches is of great benefit when playing poker. Problem-solving skills in the workplace are extremely important to anyone wanting to be successful in their career, especially when they are tied in with pragmatism skills.
Goal orientation skills: The ability to set goals and to formulate strategies to achieve those goals can be of benefit while playing poker. Being hungry and insatiable in the desire to achieve (i.e., winning) is a common characteristic of good poker players. Having goals gives people a purpose, which is very valuable in the workplace. It allows people to measure their success in some way, just as the poker player does when winning or losing.
Learning skills: The ability to continuously learn and not rest on your laurels is a valuable skill in poker (as it is obviously in almost all areas of life). In poker, being humble enough to learn from those more experienced and to take others’ expertise into future games is akin to other learning experiences in other environments—including the workplace. In poker, such learning can bring about objectivity. For instance, poker players should not act in haste but ponder and deliberate responses objectively. In essence, this is continuing professional development. It doesn’t matter what walk of life you find yourself in—learning from others is paramount.
Higher-order analytic and strategic skills: The ability to extract general principles from immediate or concrete situations and to formulate appropriate strategies can be very important while playing poker. For example, good poker players know not to let the cards get them frustrated or not to fight battles they can’t win. There are clear parallels in the workplace, including office politics.
Flexibility skills: The ability to adapt to any situation or to be opportunistic when a situation presents itself underlies skills in flexibility. In poker, adapting to your environment (e.g., who are you playing against, how big is your stack) comes with playing experience. The ability to look from several points of view is not something that can necessarily be taught but is certainly a valuable skill to an employer.
Self-awareness skills: The ability to play to strengths and acknowledge weaknesses is a common trait in many walks of life. In poker, such skills can be very important. For example, skilful poker players remember that bad luck doesn’t always last and good luck definitely doesn’t last. Poker players also know that there is no room for apathy or complacency (in winning or losing streaks). In the workplace, self-awareness skills will help employees succeed in areas of strength and delegate in areas of weakness.
Self-control skills: The ability to act with a cool head under pressure and to show the nerve and the mettle to cope under adversity is critical in good poker playing. Quite clearly, in the workplace, many team leaders and managers need such skills in order to get the most out of themselves and their teams. Such skills are also important in terms of stress management.
These skills form a useful basis for both epistemic and instrumental rationality. With so many potential skills to grow, poker seems like a useful form of training for a wide variety of people wanting to improve these capabilities.