Will Learning to Play Poker Help You in Your Career?

Is learning to play poker worth it?: originally appeared on Quora: The best answer to any question. Ask a question, get a great answer. Learn from experts and access insider knowledge. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

Answer by Jeff Meyerson, software engineer, former professional poker player,


Learning to play poker is not worth it.

Poker is a negative sum game. More is lost at the table than is won. This provides damaging lessons for anyone looking to develop in the business world. The best businesses today offer win-win scenarios, and the market punishes highly competitive thinking.

Poker is a game of scarcity. Money is scarce, good games are scarce, and robots will soon be beating all but the very best players. These players will eke out a steadily worsening income if they can stand the variance. Games will get increasingly variant because robots are not emotionally impacted by the variance.

Today's business world is one of abundance. Compute power is cheap. It's easy to raise money. Individuals have leverage which grows at pace with Moore's Law. Many jobs will get increasingly fun and creative in the sense that more workers will be able to easily enter flow state with new productivity tools.

Segue to a few ways in which poker is a harbinger of the future and a seemingly worthwhile form of training. Workers of the future will augment their workflow with domain-specific heads-up displays like those used by poker players. Effective poker players also run simulations and build probability-based frameworks with which they see the world as a tree of potential futures rather than a linear path.

Today, every worker can apply the skills of the circa 2005 professional poker player. Chrome extensions, Slack customization, and IFTT offer infinite ways to incrementally improve performance. But outside of Wall Street, there seems to be no tech-worker analog to the poker player's practice of running simulations and compulsively building Markov models.

These probabilistic maps are useful to the poker players who learn how to build them, and apply them in their subsequent careers. Every startup wants a CEO who can map the decision points, weigh upside versus downside, and do the multiplication for how different decisions parlay down the Markov model.

Poker and Wall Street may be the only teachers of building maps of raw expected value with such repetition as to make it second nature. But learning the game is still not worth it.

The opportunity cost of dedicating lots of time to poker is immensely wasteful.

Poker encourages strategic rehashing and glorification of the same fifty-two card boredom we have been futzing around with for a century. In this way, poker mostly teaches tactics, not strategy. Poker players leave the game and find that much of their zero-sum strategic thinking translates poorly to the business world.

If you want a game to learn from, consider Dominion, Magic, or Pandemic. These games contain lessons that are more valuable away from the table. If you want to learn about risk and consequence, you can read about World War II. If you want to learn about Markov models, you can intern on Wall Street.

There's no reason to play poker.

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