How Poker Can Sharpen Your Cognitive Skills

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By JeffreyThurber

Chris Moneymaker, one of the most famous poker champions of all time, highly recommends applying poker strategy to real life. Techniques like bluffing, picking up on a tell, or recognizing the right time to call are valuable outside poker — they can be used in careers, relationships, and other personal encounters. “The game of poker is much like the game of life – you develop your abilities, build strategies and learn from your mistakes,” observed Chris Moneymaker. “Over time you start to understand that the techniques used at the table transcend beyond the cards.”

Poker is a game of skill. You’ll exercise memory, math, and logic throughout, and this is vastly transferable to all parts of life. Moreover, it’s a cognitive skill that helps you feel great as you age. After all, aging well doesn’t rely purely on managing the physical aspects, but brain activities like sudoku or other puzzles can keep you sharp. Here are three ways poker can sharpen your cognition:

It sharpens our decision-making skills

When playing poker, we have to take all the information we receive in each moment and process it into an informed decision immediately. This real-time play forces us to think on our feet, making the best choices at the right time based on calculated risks. Rather than solely relying on emotions and intuition, poker pushes us to evaluate factors — the strength of our hand, our position, the stack — and weigh different options.

Poker also trains us to reduce cognitive biases, which are systematic errors in thinking. Cognitive biases simplify information processing in the brain, as they work as rules of thumb to make decisions faster. For instance, a newbie poker player may have a self-serving cognitive bias, where they blame external factors (like a bad hand) when they lose, but credit their skills when they win. More experienced players eventually outgrow this mindset, and work against similar biases in real life.

It builds our mental resilience

Although poker is a game of skill, there may be days when you won’t always win, no matter how good you are. Someone better could be playing the table, or you miscalculate a move, or you do get a phenomenally terrible hand. One of the best cognitive skills from poker you can develop is resilience. In both poker and life, things don’t always go your way and you will make some mistakes. As you continue to play poker, you’ll develop mental toughness so you can shrug off failures and learn to be a better player.

Professional poker players are calm, cool, and collected. They accept that losing is part of the game, and they don’t dwell on failure. Instead, they review their mistakes and try again so their skills continue to improve. Most successful players are similarly successful. Maybe you did your absolute best at a job interview, but you were up against a dozen other amazing candidates, one of whom got the job. With a poker pro-level of resilience, your next move should be moving forward and preparing for the next opportunity.

It develops our social and emotional intelligence

Humans are complex beings to deal with. We need to read other people through actions, gestures, and facial expressions to find out information they ordinarily won’t readily give away. Having this sense of social and emotional intelligence is critical in the real world. Case in point, people with high levels of EQ are less likely to be susceptible to “fake news,” as they are able to disregard the emotionally-charged content of such items, therefore being more equipped to assess the veracity of the information.

Poker players read each other all the time, and take pride in being good at observing people. They keep an eye on subtle social cues from their opponents so they can figure out when someone is bluffing. The more you play poker, the better they get at reading opponents’ patterns and monitoring their style of play. And this cognitive skill of working out others’ intentions is necessary in life, so you can anticipate their moves and plan ahead as well.

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