The World Series of Poker No Limit Hold’em Tournament (NLHE) is being played at the Rio in Las Vegas this week (WSOP). A total of 6,844 players paid $10,000 each to win the top prize of $9,119,517. The total prize pool is over $180 million. This is the biggest poker tournament in the world.
NLHE is often considered to be the most exciting and challenging game because a player can go “all-in” at any time, putting his entire chip stack at risk. It is the ultimate bluff. Many of you may have seen James Bond play a rather incredible hand in the movie Casino Royale. He had a straight flush against four other opponents, everyone of whom had a full-house. The chance of this happening in a real casino is as good as you winning the lottery (did I cover that one a few days ago?) without buying a ticket.
(A little Poker Lesson here—In NLHE, each player is dealt 2 cards face down. They are called the ‘hole’ cards. The first round of betting follows in which players can call, raise, or fold. Then 3 cards are opened, face up. This is called the ‘flop’. All open cards make up the ‘board.’ Players share these cards to make the best hand along with the 2 they have in the hole. Another round of betting follows. A fourth card is opened. This is called the ‘Turn.’ Another round of betting happens. And finally, the fifth card, the ‘River’ is opened, followed by the final round of betting. Many hands are over pre-flop, after the flop, or the turn, without seeing the river because someone will be betting to collect the ‘Pot.’ The secret is to guess whether the person betting really has the hand or not.)
In real life gambling, I have witnessed players bet and call with nothing more than an Ace high, believing that their opponents were bluffing. The art of reading your opponent is probably one of the most crucial skills in the game. The pro’s look for what they call a “tell” –some move or habit of a player—that gives away whether he has a strong hand or not. But then, sometimes, even the pros can be fooled.
There is an old saying in Japanese. In order to fool an enemy, you must first fool your friends. I once hit a straight and confidently pushed all in. My neighbor folded quickly even though he had 2-pairs because of my strong move. When I looked at my cards again, I realized I made a mistake, and thought that my ‘eight’ was a ‘nine’. Which meant I had nothing. Perhaps there is a new saying that I should coin—that is, in order to fool an enemy, you must first fool yourself.
In my world of corporate communications, this rings true. I once stepped up to give a major presentation lasting about an hour in front of 200 of my colleagues. I was relaxed, my slides were meticulously prepared, I walked the stage with energy, and most importantly, I projected confidence.
After I completed my presentation and came down stage, my assistant looked at me, eyes-wide open.
“Your zipper is down,” she said.
I looked down, and almost yelled. But I was in luck. I was wearing a dark suit, and my underwear that day was black.
Another old Japanese saying came to mind—To be ignorant is to be Buddha. It simply means that you can be at peace if you have no knowledge of bad things.
So, whether you are a poker player playing for $9 million or a business person waiting to deliver your killer speech, learn how to bluff, and remember, if you don't show you made a mistake, no one will know either.
*a corollary to that lesson is don’t push your luck.