Playing poker professionally isn’t for everyone, and most people who start learning the game have no dreams of turning the hobby into a career.
Still, it seems as though most people who study the game feel as though they can learn a little something that applies to everyday life, from improving their decision making skills to better understanding the math behind taking risks.
But not everyone shares that view, something that was made abundantly clear last week when the Huffington Post published the opinion of software engineer and former poker player Jeff Meyerson.
The article was a republication of an answer Meyerson gave on Quora after someone asked a straightforward question: “is learning to play poker worth it?”
Meyerson Says Lessons Don’t Translate to Business World
“Learning to play poker is not worth it,” Meyerson said. Despite the fact that the person asking the question wasn’t specifically looking to make money from poker, Meyerson also said that the benefits from poker weren’t enough to make learning the game a worthwhile use of someone’s time.
“Poker is a negative sum game,” Meyerson wrote. “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.”
The answer given by Meyerson touched on a number of ways in which poker could (and could not) be said to offer worthwhile training for the business world.
On the negative side, he notes that poker today is a game about scarcity: there aren’t as many good games as there used to be back at the peak of the poker boom, making it harder to find spots for win.
This, he said, was the opposite of the current business climate.
“Today’s business world is one of abundance,” Meyerson wrote. “Compute power is cheap. It’s easy to raise money. Individuals have leverage which grows at pace with Moore’s Law.”
Some Skills May Help in Specific Industries
On the other hand, Meyerson pointed out that in certain industries, the way in which online poker players have utilized heads-up displays and built complex simulations and probability frameworks to better understand the game could be translated into useful skills.
Still, Meyerson said that these benefits were limited, and that “the opportunity cost of dedicating lots of time to poker is immensely wasteful.” That led into his conclusion: that there were many better ways to spend one’s time if they wanted to develop skills that translated to the world of business.
“If you want a game to learn from, consider Dominion, Magic, or Pandemic,” Meyerson said, referring to three popular tabletop games. “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.”
Selbst Cautions Students Against Poker as a Career
While Meyerson’s take on the subject may have been harsher than most, he isn’t the only poker pro to suggest that maybe people shouldn’t consider poker as a career.
Selbst told the 85 high school seniors in attendance that her interest in math and probability did help her to become successful in poker.
However, she cautioned the students against taking up poker as a profession, due in large part to how much tougher beating games has become over the years.