The very thought of Texas Hold’em poker might conjure up images of card games played in smoky Wild West saloons, but the game of poker has come an awful long way in the last century. In fact, not only has it become a global phenomenon – both offline and online – it’s also being talked about in the same breath as mind games like chess in terms of the ways in which it enhances brain function.
More and more people are turning to poker as a way of alleviating stress and enhancing their cognitive function. A leading author and poker player recently spoke publicly about the way in which poker has improved the clarity of decision-making in all aspects of her life, not just at the poker tables. Maria Konnikova spoke at the NeuroLeadership Summit and said that playing poker helps to mitigate the bias that affects decisions we make daily. Poker teaches us to make decisions reliant on past experiences (hands against our opponents) and data to get a fuller picture.
Poker has already been proven to reduce the chance of developing degenerative neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, but what other cognitive benefits from our poker hobby can we enjoy in everyday life?
Improved risk assessments
Taking risks is an inherent aspect of playing and winning at the poker tables. It requires you to weigh up the probabilities of landing the card needed to make a winning hand against the financial outlay of adding chips to the pot. Becoming a successful poker player will certainly help you to become more risk-averse in your approach to everyday life. The ability to weigh up the pros and cons in pressurised decisions at the tables will give you the confidence to make big decisions in life and trust your own judgment.
Enhanced emotional intelligence
In order to become a good poker player, you must also be capable of acknowledging your opponents’ physical and non-physical ‘tells’. Reading their body language and thoughts expressed vocally at the tables can be the tipping point between winning and losing that all-important hand. This should also improve your brain’s self-awareness of people around you away from the poker tables. Whether this is in a workplace environment as a line manager or as a friend to your nearest and dearest, poker can enhance your emotional intelligence to help you find a sense of parity and synchronisation with your peers.
Adaptability and agility to new environments and experiences
Poker is an increasingly versatile card game. There are so many different variants of the game today that encourage you to diversify and add more strings to your poker bow. There are some poker formats that require you to think faster on your feet than others. For instance, Zoom poker sees your opponents change every hand, so every hand is a unique experience requiring you to reset your mentality and play the cards not the players. Poker’s ability to improve your problem-solving abilities is similar to the way video games help you become the champion of your own games.
Accepting the rough with the smooth
Not everything in poker goes to plan. You might have the best hand on the flop and the turn card but the fifth and final river card can sometimes make or break your hand, giving an opponent the card or suit they need to pip you to the pot. This is described as variance at the poker tables, with the most successful poker players able to develop a philosophical attitude towards losing, accepting it as part and parcel of winning long-term. This approach can also be embraced in real-life scenarios, giving us the strength to power through the bad times in order to enjoy the good times.
Many poker professionals consider the mental side of the game to be the hardest aspect to master at the tables. But by making better decisions under pressure when they hadn’t been able to in the past, poker players can benefit long-term from their ability to take a step back and look beyond the bias to make the right plays at the right time.