Business, like most other things in life, is a game, which means that players with certain skill sets will generally do better than others. The question, then, is how the skills that make great entrepreneurs can be taught effectively.
The answer, according to Jenny Just, one of world’s few self-made female entrepreneurs (there are less than two dozen, according to Forbes), can be found in the classic card game of poker.
Ms Just started her career as an options trader before starting her trading and investment firms. Her most well-known company is Apex Fintech Solutions, which handles the back-end trading and technology for fintech operators such as eToro, SoFi, Ally and WeBull. She also owns the esports franchise Evil Geniuses.
Her recognition of the power of poker to teach fundamental lessons came when she picked up on her husband’s offhand comment following their 14-year-old daughter’s loss in a tennis match.
Matt Hulsizer, who co-owns investment company Peak6 together with his wife, was frustrated at their daughter’s performance, saying she was not thinking strategically in response to her opponent’s skills and gameplay.
“She needs to learn how to play poker,” he said.
Intrigued, Ms Just got a group of girls together to learn the classic card game.
“From lesson one to lesson four, it was like the skies had opened,” Ms Just told Entrepreneur. “It was like lightning in a bottle: In lesson one, the girls were all kind of whispering, not quite sure how to make a decision — if someone lost her chip, someone else would offer her chip. And by lesson four, they were sitting up tall, barely peeking at their cards. Nobody was going to take the chips — I was dumbfounded.”
The initial experiment snowballed and resulted in the creation of the Poker Power workshops, designed to introduce girls to the world of poker. Partners of the programme include the investment management and research firm Morningstar, which also provides credit rating services (including to the Government of Malta), and White & Chase, one of the top 10 law firms in the world by revenue.
Poker, as it turns out, is no mere game.
Ms Just explains that poker teaches strategy, risk, capital allocation, and most importantly – decision-making under pressure.
“You are the sole decision-maker at a poker table. Assuming you want to win and have all of the chips at the end, you have to figure out how to do that,” she says.
The same skills apply in the world of business and work, whether negotiating with an investor, partner, or boss, where owning the situation – just like your hand in poker – is crucial to success.
“I have to be aggressive,” Ms Just says. “If I’m not aggressive, the likelihood I win the poker hand or negotiation goes way down.”
For many women, who tend to be more risk-averse than men, the safe space afforded by the game of poker to take small calculated risks can be an excellent way of developing the skills needed for life.
A quote commonly attributed to Jack Ma, co-founder of China’s Alibaba Group and one of the richest men in the world, has him saying: “I like to play cards. I’m not very good, because I don’t want to calculate, I just play by instinct. But I’ve learned a lot of business philosophy by playing poker.”
Among the skills poker players can learn, that could come in useful when approaching business, there is the mental conditioning to be prepared to take on tough challenges, keeping cool under pressure, and the ability to read your competitors.
Poker players are also forced to think about their process, rather than the result – the best hand loses around one in five games, so set-backs are common. Good poker players need to be committed and consistent, and not let failure discourage them.
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