Mind Games - Chess vs Poker in Strategic Thinking

"Many of the things you do in poker are very useful in politics and in foreign affairs." Richard Nixon

Chess is a game that requires structured thinking and deliberation and has become an analogy for organisational strategy. The game teaches one to create and press the advantage, to have a plan B and plan C and to think sequentially. Hollywood actor John Wayne, Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy and computer scientist Alan Turing played chess.

However it can be argued that card players make the better strategists. US Presidents including George Washington, Harry Truman and George W. Bush were poker players. Richard Nixon financed his first political campaign using winnings from playing poker while in the Navy.

Unlike in chess where you can see the whole board, in life much of the board is hidden from you. Card games like poker and bridge are social games which train players to think in a group setting, deducing information from repeated interactions with people.

Chess masters get exceptionally good because over time they are able to recognise pattern repetition. However poker players are more suited to the fast moving, changing and interdependent nature of the modern world, reading patterns in people’s behaviours and tendencies. Being able to steal market share from companies more vulnerable while avoiding costly confrontations with market leaders is often the way to get the best return on investment and conserve capital. These tactics which are essential for smaller businesses and startups are well understood by poker players.

The famous political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli had little patience for those who believed in patterns, structures and stability. A card player himself, he firmly believed that change is constant and often unpredictable and on the importance of information. He believed firmly in the role of chance, an important realisation in business and card playing. The contemporary scientific predisposition is to identify, measure and manage all variables to deliver stable outcomes however this is not always possible as Machiavelli understood well. Poker emphasises the importance of one’s decisions and self-discipline and the choice of when and how to commit capital.

Where chess emphasises to play the board and not the player, poker stresses the opposite.


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