I recently played poker for the first time since I was in my twenties. I remembered that I had fun playing, which inspired me to join this friendly game. What I didn’t realize back then and discovered now was that poker is a metaphor for business.

The chorus of Kenny Roger’s celebrated song The Gambler sums it up well, “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away.”

The thing is, it’s not just about the cards I hold; it’s about the cards on the table, the cards the other players hold, and the cards left to be dealt. And, of course, we only know the cards we hold and the ones visible on the table, right?


If you are a card counter, you may be able to anticipate the cards remaining to be dealt giving you an advantage. And, even if you aren’t a card counter, you can get a sense of what others are holding by what they say, don’t say, and their body language. It’s the same in our business relationships.

The challenge with poker and the challenge with business (actually life in general) is effectively making the hold ’em – fold ’em – walk away decision. Often, we make this decision solely from the point of view of the cards we hold, forgetting about the table, the cards the other person holds, and the cards left to be dealt.

Recently, a client shared a story with me that, in telling, we both realized was a real-life poker table. A year or so ago, my client started a side business with a partner. As often happens with partnerships, my client came to realize that the partner wasn’t adding the value expected and the business was not taking off. My client had been talking for some time about how to unwind the partnership when suddenly, the partner provided an out. The partner apparently was also concerned and told my client, “We need to make a go/no go decision in 30 days”.

At first, my client was taken aback, didn’t see it as an out, and was inclined to confront her partner and force the issue of dissolution. That was until we talked about it, and we both realized this was a golden opportunity to hold ’em. The probability of anything changing in 30 days was low, giving my client, if she was willing to be patient, the opportunity to walk away a winner.

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