Poker Faces and Prosperity

Jul 28, 2010
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

I know many of you enjoy occasionally sidling up to the poker table to play a little Texas Hold’Em. There’s something about bluffing your opponents with a crappy hand and still managing to win the pot that is thrilling to anyone. The best poker players in the world know how to mask their ‘tells’ and read other people like a book. It’s this in-person interaction that makes the game enjoyable, challenging, and rewarding.

The World Series of Poker began in 1970, but poker has been around for much longer. Some trace its roots back to a 15th century German game called Pochspiel. Others liken it to a Persian game called Nas, recorded around the turn of the 20th century. One of the more commonly accepted stories is that the game of poker originated in the mid-1700s and was played widely throughout the Mississippi River region by 1800. Games were played by groups of men sitting around small tables, trying to convince each other that they had the best hand through bluffing and betting. Social skills were an important aspect of playing the game successfully – one had to know how to read his opponents in order to, as Kenny Rogers puts so eloquently, “know when to hold ’em, and know when to fold ’em.”

In 1998, the game changed with the launch of Planet Poker, the first internet poker room. People no longer had to play face-to-face and could challenge virtual opponents. The ‘tell’ factor was all but eliminated since players no longer had to worry about wearing a poker face when playing online. In 2004, a man named Chris Moneymaker (yes, that is his real name!) turned the world of poker upside down when he won the World Series of Poker. Moneymaker was the first person to become a world champion by qualifying at an online poker site. This ignited the world of online poker and produced what the industry called “the Moneymaker Effect”.

However, traditional poker players say that those who play mostly online never get very far in live tournaments because playing live poker allows players to interact with each other, whereas online poker has very little social interaction. You’re limited to faceless chatting with those who choose to engage you. Not exactly the nice social experience that many players enjoy in live casinos. 42-year poker veteran and award-winning author Ashley Adams writes:

“There’s often a negative impact on one’s bottom line because of this loss of personal interaction. Getting to know people is one effective way of learning about and manipulating their behavior. If you make friends with the player to your left, I’ve found, he’s less likely to play aggressively against me. This in turn is very useful when it comes to getting a read on them when they are playing – as you try to figure out the hands they have and how you can play against them. Since this information is not available to you when you play on line, if you are good at building relationships with players in the card room, you’ll be depriving yourself of this profitable and, for many, pleasurable activity.”

Online poker has brought a lot to the game. But it cannot replace the live experience. It has involved more and more people by making it easily accessible, but the true test of skill is when one is placed face to face with other players staring across the table, trying to read tells and predict moves.

This same thought process is true with the boom of online recruiting. Sure, information on people is readily available on a multitude of websites. Sure, it’s easy to reach out to someone on Twitter, through Facebook, or via a LinkedIn Inmail. Sure, you can make ‘friends’ easily by making social network connections. Sure, you can take someone virtually through almost the entire hiring process. But how fleeting are those ‘relationships’ really? Do your new online connections really know you? Or more importantly, do you really know them?

Let’s face it – in the grand scheme of things, we never achieve anything of significance without other people being involved. And arguably, true relationships, both business and in person, become solidified when offline interaction is established. Even if this interaction is only over the phone – it humanizes us to our clients, candidates, and colleagues. How many times have you won business because of an existing relationship you had with someone, even though your competitor may have charged a lower fee? By sitting at the table with our hand and learning the tells of our colleagues and clients, we develop personal relationships with them. We understand their personalities and learn to predict their moves. When ‘relationships’ are strictly virtual, it’s much harder, if not impossible, to determine these things.

No matter how many ‘poker sites’, i.e. social networks, job boards, and other online resources, continue to pop up, there is nothing that will replace the time-tested phone call or handshake. These online social technologies are merely communication portals, not to be mistaken for replacements of basic human interaction skills. Those who will win and be prosperous at the game of recruiting are those who acknowledge the usefulness of these tools as time progresses, but who will never forget the importance of sitting down at the table and getting dealt in.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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