Can gambling help your career?
Ask any professional gambler what it takes to be a winner.
They might say money management, advanced analysis or psychological endurance. Perhaps they’ll credit their victories to a sharkish streak – an innate ‘killer instinct’. A bare few might even describe themselves as ‘lucky’.
Now, put the same question to your professional idols (or consult the internet if Bill Gates and Richard Branson aren’t available for comment.) Don’t be surprised if you experience a touch of déjà vu.
It has been argued that the tools to excel professionally – discipline, ambition, self-belief etc. – are the same qualities that help professional gamblers forge a living.
Furthermore, it is possible that certain forms of gambling might provide transferrable skills that can help you get ahead in your career. Experienced poker players have already demonstrated that gambling experience can help them ‘pull the trigger’ in the competitive world of trading.
So, are you better off in-playing than interning? Should you be attending jobseeker seminars or booking seats at pro poker tournaments? Can gambling really make you more employable and help you advance your career?
Betting on transferrable skills
Psychologist and gambling expert Dr Mark Griffiths has written extensively on gambling skills with value in the workplace. His first investigation (focusing on poker) identified 12 qualities, shared by successful poker players, with potential utility in a professional environment …
Poker players develop the ability to appraise information and situations critically. They weigh up risk and reward, and make decisions that they believe to be +EV (positive expected value). Positive and profitable decision-making is key in any line of work.
Poker players are well-schooled in pot odds and probabilities. This mathematical logic is sought after in many jobs.
The capacity to make the best of an unfavourable scenario is clearly applicable to both poker and the workplace, particularly when circumstances are at their worst.
Poker players often have well-developed social and communication abilities and sound emotional intelligence, allowing them to ‘read’ competitors. Skilled communicators also tend to excel in complex social environments like an office.
The ability to overcome obstacles is a bare necessity for a good poker player and has clear value in one’s career, where hurdles and setbacks can arise unexpectedly.
Goal-setting is essential to implementing long-term poker strategies and is naturally beneficial to career advancement.
Skilled poker players are always looking to develop their game by reading forums and analysing hands. Young employees need to display similar enthusiasm for learning and personal development.
Analytic and strategic skills
Strategizing comes naturally to experienced poker players, as does adapting systems to changing circumstances. These qualities can be invaluable in the workplace, particularly in a managerial capacity.
Every corporate employee should practice their ‘poker face.’ Rocco Brown-Morris of Brazen Life once assessed the risk/reward balance of lying in a job interview, and determined that doing so could be a sensible option for inexperienced candidates if it can be pulled off convincingly.
Successful poker players adjust their strategies in response to opposition tendencies. Finding this balance between flexibility and discipline is one of the most important ingredients for professional development.
Knowing oneself is highly operative in all avenues of life. You cannot hope to excel in any pursuit without honestly assessing your strengths and weaknesses, responding appropriately to a given situation.
Any poker player will tell you that avoiding tilt is fundamental to success. The ability to keep a cool head under pressure is also key to optimising one’s performance at work.
Ace in the hole
Many experienced poker players have drawn on this arsenal of skills to great effect in a range of pursuits. Poker professional, Annie Duke has styled herself as a ‘Decision Coach’ – schooling clients on the ‘science’ of decisiveness.
“We have a strong bias to take into account resources already invested in our decisions about whether to move forward,” she explains. “[Duke’s course] examines this decision bias, reveals the underlying cause of this irrationality and provides insights into avoiding this costly decision making error.”
Meanwhile, online poker ace Chris Fargis was offered a prestigious role as a Wall Street trader on the back of his gambling talents. Fargis’ firm, Toro, stated that the qualities sought-after in new traders (a quick mind, nerves of steel and a head for numbers) are already second nature to poker pros.
Toro partner, Danon Robinson commented: “If someone’s been successful at poker then there’s a good chance they could be successful in this business.”
Professional punter or punting professional?
It’s clear that experienced poker players can obtain transferrable skills that can provide an edge at work, but do other forms of gambling provide similar professional assets?
We contacted gambler-turned forex and stock trader, Jim Makos, for his perspective. He stated unequivocally that skills learned as a sports better and card counter “have been key elements of [his] life as an entrepreneur.”
In particular, intelligent money management and shrewd risk assessment have been central tenants of Makos’ career: “By being disciplined and respecting my capital and budget, I do not overspend,” Makos explains.
“I try to keep expenses as low as possible, while attempting to increase revenue. In gambling, we call it: “cut losses early and let winners run.”
Makos also admits that a certain bullishness picked up from the card tables hasn’t gone amiss in his career as a trader: “Risk-seeking gamblers will not be afraid to make a difficult decision. They are used to putting their money where their mouth is and usually they will have plenty of arguments to back their action too.”
At the same time, he suggests that some gamblers actually suffer in a professional context, particularly impulsive players, who are “much more prone to mistakes and do not like people questioning their decisions or performance”.
In contrast to Dr Griffiths, Makos argues that gamblers tend to be “mediocre” communicators. This is “due to gambling being a somewhat lonely hobby, where every other gambler is seen as an enemy or opponent” – this is particularly true of zero-sum games such as poker.
Nonetheless, he cites persistence, an eye for detail and self-confidence as gambling skills that have aided his career development, defining the latter as “the number one” transferrable characteristic for business people.
Nature vs nurture: are you born to win?
All of this raises a critical issue: how far can these qualities be improved through practice? Is it simply a case of ‘you’ve either got it or you don’t?’
Eileen Shapiro and Howard H. Stevenson summarise Dr Griffiths’ and Makos’ proposed qualities under a single quotient: ‘Predictive Intelligence’ (PI), which they define as “the ability to act in the face of uncertainty to bring about desired results.”
They argue that all human actions are based on intent, or “the desire to achieve results we think we will want when the results come to pass.” However, “not all humans are equally good at predicting which actions will leads to what results, what factors could intervene, and what results we will value in the future.”
The authors equate gambling and business success with a high PI, consequently: “Bill Gates has a high PI in his areas of focus, and so do Warren Buffet, Oprah Winfrey, and Peter Lynch”.
This is not to say that these successful individuals are luckier than the man on the street, rather “they take whatever circumstances they are in and create bets with the best odds for getting them closer to the outcomes they seek.” In short, they make their own luck.
Put bluntly, some people have an inherent advantage over their peers, owing to their higher PIs and ability to better assess risk and exploit their circumstances. The good news, according to Shapiro and Stevenson, is that “predictive Intelligence is a bundle of skills that can be improved, just like any other bundle of skills”.
Dr Griffiths takes this a step further, arguing that while a few “necessary skills” for gambling/professional success can be inherent (like emotional intelligence), “many of the more idiosyncratic skills are only acquired through experience”.
Makos is more sceptical, arguing that core qualities of “discipline, patience and capital preservation” tend to come naturally to some people and cannot really be learned.
“Even if I offered a risk-free, bulletproof strategy that would guarantee profits in the long run, some people would still deviate from the strategy, go on tilt sometimes and lose a lot of money, because they are not disciplined enough to stick to certain rules,” he says.
Harnessing your PI and developing your career
While not all men are created equal, it is likely that anyone can optimise their PI by consistently drawing on particular skill-sets.
However, it should be noted that your PI can only be developed through exploitable forms of gambling, i.e. games that have a positive expected value for experienced/talented players (e.g. poker and arbitrage.) House edge games like roulette and baccarat are unlikely to buoy your job prospects; although they might help some players optimise their money management skills.
Makos, Fargis and Duke’s professional achievements attest to the capacity of gamblers to harness winning attributes in their careers. Employers might actually be catching on: the BBC reported that Geneva Trading is actively approaching young card players, claiming that proven success at the virtual tables evinces a “star-quality” in potential recruits.
“It’s the discipline of not getting too emotional about your transactions, and also the mathematical ability to keep track of numbers, as in card counting,” said company director, Mary McDonnell. “Online poker practice helps traders to read the markets correctly. It helps to determine if people are bluffing, trying to make the market move one way or another.”
We still wouldn’t recommend citing your career tournament earnings on your CV. However, it’s certainly possible that all those hours spent racking up wins might have sharpened the underlying skills that will help you get a lock on the pot at work.
Originally published on 31/03/14. Updated 22/06/17.