Poker Life Lessons: Getting Your Money in Good

By Max Li | Published: April 19, 2015

One of the most important life lessons that you can learn from poker is how to measure success. One completely theoretical way to determine the quality of a player would be to hand them a truckload of money and see how well they do after an infinite number of hands (or tournaments). Unfortunately, this isn’t possible (if it is, let me know and I’ll gladly be your guinea pig), so we can simply take another approach - ignoring their results and looking at how they play.

In the game of Texas Hold’em Poker, even if you have the best starting hand (two aces), and you’re up against the worst possible hand (7-2 of different suits), you’re only a 89% favorite to win when all the cards on the board have been dealt. This means that even you are a fantastic poker player who can induce someone to make the worst possible decision and risk all their money in this most unfavorable situation, you’ll still lose about 11% of the time. But this of course does not make it a bad play if you can somehow accomplish this, even if you do lose a small amount of the time. Poker players will sometimes refer to this situation as “getting your money in good”, that is, putting your money in when it is a mathematically favorable situation for you. This is what you should strive for, in both poker and life - to make the best possible play at any given point. Even if you fail, it doesn’t mean you necessarily made the wrong move (though that is certainly a possibility to keep in mind). In the long run, your results will converge to the expected probability of success.

One caveat to adopting this mindset is that you may start blaming all your failures on bad luck or you may attribute all your successes to your own ability (i.e. you think that you got your money in good but you really didn’t). This is referred to by psychologists as the self-serving bias. Unlike in poker, it’s not possible to mathematically calculate your probability of success, so it’s quite an easy rationalization to arrive at. However, this clearly would prevent you from improving your ability at playing the game of life. One should be mindful and carefully analyze how well you “played”.