10 Life Lessons I Learned From Playing Poker

Written by Charles Ngo
Written by Charles Ngo

I started playing poker around a decade ago in college.
All I knew back then is that I wanted to be rich one day and getting a normal job wasn’t the path. Unfortunately there’s not plenty of opportunities for a 19 year old to get rich, and I didn’t know about internet marketing. The poker boom was in full effect and it seemed as if every Asian guy I knew was trying out poker. I figured I’d give it a shot since I’m good at math.
It’s easy to get attracted to the poker lifestyle. You could play at home and make tons of money. I watched all the TV shows and it seemed every poker pro was living a baller lifestyle. There was also this level of manly respect you can earn if you’re good at poker. There’s nothing like the high you can get when you’re on a winning streak.
I’m not pretending as if I was the next Scotty Nguyen, but in that short time period I was able to learn quite a bit. I quit when I realized internet marketing was a far better option for me. I didn’t just learn how to play poker but I dissected the information and applied it to my life.
Here are 10 lessons that I learned from playing poker that I still use today. The best part is you can learn these through 5 minutes of reading than grinding it out like I did.

1. Emotional Control

Emotions can fuck with your decision making process.
It’s easy to get pissed off in poker if you’re dealt bad hands, another player is shit-talking you, or you lost a hand you had only 1% chance of losing. The word for that is tilt and all your good decision making goes out the window.
I get on tilt sometimes from life and work and it’s important to recognize it. Sometimes I’ll get on tilt and my immediate reaction is to get revenge or payback. I’ll realize my emotions and just back off. I’ll sleep it over and not make any decisions I regret.
I’ve also worked on ways to control my emotions better. I meditate and workout. Every two weeks I’ll get a massage. If I’m in the heat of the battle then I’ll focus on my breathing.
You’ll never see me say or do anything rash. Everything I do is rational and calculated.

2. Firing Bullets

Firing bullets is when you make an aggressive bet pre-flop. Maybe you had an amazing hand. But when the 3 cards are shown, you have nothing. You can either leave the game now and take your losses, or keep betting to bluff people into thinking you have an awesome hand.
All I know is that it takes balls to fire the 3rd bullet.
What does firing 3 bullets mean in the context of life? It means being scared and doing it anyways.
I was scared as shit when I was about to quit my job, but I fired the bullet and quit.
I was in a bidding war against another guy. We were both bleeding money. I kept pushing and he left. I was #1 on that placements for months.

3. Look for Your Poker Leaks

A leak is a weakness in your game.
Maybe you call too much or you’re overaggressive when you have a pocket pair. They are bad habits and they’re the holes that can cause the boat to sink overtime.
Fixing the leaks requires you to analyze your own game plan. You can use software to help or bring in a coach that can spot them.
That’s great, but how can we apply this to our own lives? Well I’ve applied the concept to productivity where I’m always looking for leaks in my day.

  • I played DOTA 2 last year for fun but the numbers showed I spent 8 hours over the weekend. That’s when I realized I needed to quit half a year ago. That was a fucking big hole in my ship so I quit cold turkey.
  • I can work 25 minutes no problem, but then I saw I was taking long breaks. Now I do 50 minute work cycles, and use the timers in my Pomodoro apps for breaks.

You can have leaks in money as well. I checked my Credit card statement yesterday. I saw a software I paid $99/month for that I haven’t used in months. That was $400 I lost so far. I plugged that leak before I lost even more money.
Whatever situation you’re trying to improve in your life, look for the leaks.

4. Play the Hand You’re Dealt With

It’s easy to blame your cards or to blame luck for why you’re losing. But in poker you have to play the hands you’re dealt with.
Phil Ivey could turn your shit cards all night into magic.
Some people waste so much time and energy complaining about the cards they were dealt in life. Their parents weren’t rich, they were born ugly, or whatever. The point is don’t worry about the things you can’t change. How can you work with what you’re given?
Weaknesses can also be blessings in disguise.
I had to work my fucking ass off in college at the gas station. When I was 19 I wish that I was like the other rich guys who didn’t have to work in college and had nice cars. Now? My work ethic is on another level. Some of the other guys are almost 30 are losers now. They never developed the work ethic and they’re far too comfortable relying on mommy / daddy. (I’m generalizing guys to make a point)
Instead of wishing you had better cards, learn how to play with what you’re given.

5. Bankroll Management

Don’t blow your bankroll on stupid shit.
Bankroll management is essential in poker. if you don’t have money then you can’t play.
The first step to bankroll management is you need to keep track of your money. I have detailed profit / loss sheets of all my campaigns. I also use software like Mint.com to keep track of my spending. I can account for every single dollar so there’s no surprises.
Don’t play for more than you can afford to lose. My bankroll with affiliate marketing with $500 a month. This was money I earned from working and side gigs. I didn’t fund my affiliate marketing with money I didn’t have. (I’m looking at you guys who are newbies and want to fund your campaigns with credit cards).
When I increased my bankroll, I used that money to re-invest into the business to make the bankroll larger. Wasting the money on stupid shit is permanently decreasing the bankroll. Let your money help you make more money.
One more tip is not to live a lifestyle that you can’t afford either. You made $1k last night? You need to account for taxes and living expenses. Put part of that into a savings account that you can’t touch.

6. Dealing with Failure

You’re going to lose a lot in poker if you want to improve. Poker helped me develop a healthier way of looking at it.
Failure is feedback. If I lost that hand, did I make the right decision? What could I have done better? Sometimes you go on losing streaks because of variance, and you can’t let it suck the motivation out of you.
Here’s a big holy shit moment I realized. The more experience I get, the faster I will improve. At first I was spending most of my time playing in person. I wasted time driving there and there’s a limit to how many hands you can play in an hour.
I took things to the next level when I started playing online. Rather than playing 1 table, I could play 6 tables at a time now. Experience ++
You have to lose now to win later.

7. Win in the Long Run

Who cares if you won a big tournament over the weekend. People care too much about the big wins, and how much you win in the long run.
If John wins $10k in a weekend, but loses $20k over the next month, he’s down -$10k
Steve’s largest win the next month is only $1k, but over the entire month he ends up +$5k
Who’s the bigger winner? John will probably get more attention / facebook likes, but isn’t $ the most important?
People don’t value consistency enough. I know plenty of guys back in 2009 who could do $10k profit a day and some of them disappeared and went back to 9 – 5 jobs.
My friend started affiliate marketing the same time as me. He’s never been a whale, but he’s always had consistent profit. 7 years later he’s still earning 6 figure profits a year.

8. Analyze All the Variables

Beginners play poker as if it’s just them against a computer. They see the cards and make a decision based on just math. Being a good poker player means you’re able to look at ALL the variables to make a decision.
Poker is a game of incomplete information. In chess all the pieces are on the board. In poker you can’t see the other players cards so you have to make the best guesses.

  • One is to look for poker tells.
  • Have you played this person in this past? Do you remember any patterns they have?
  • Are you playing in a tournament? Then that could require a more aggressive play style since there is a time limit.

This is an important part of decision making in general and how life works. We don’t always know the entire picture and people always have ulterior motives. We have to be able to read and guess correctly what the real situation is.
A few months ago I had an advertiser who wanted to work direct with me and they were offering me an absurd payout. I had a bad feeling about the guy and asked around some other affiliates. Apparently he owed cash to a few people.
The math was nice, I would get a higher payout if I went direct. But I decided to go with the network since I was almost guaranteed to get paid. A few months later I was right. The offer got shut down because the advertiser stopped paying.

9. Choose the Right Game

It’s easy to get over confident in your abilities and start playing games “above your level.” When that happens the sharks will eat you alive and humble you.
Are you going to make more money playing in a game full of Phil Ivey’s or a game full of drunk rich guys on a Vegas trip? You also have to find a table or a website that fits your playing style better.
How does this affect life? Too often I’ll see people pursue businesses that are either too competitive, or they’re not a proper fit for.
I see too many newbies that go after games that are too hard for them. An example is the amount of newbies that get redboxed on Facebook and want advice on how to beat it. They are playing games too hard for them.
I’m going to start offering affiliate training next year. There are a million other things I could do such as startups, app development, etc. But going into this business is a natural fit and takes advantage of my strengths. I’m choosing a table that’s perfect for me.

10. Discipline

You need discipline if you want to be successful at poker.
When you’re not playing at your best then you need the discipline to end the game before you lose too much. If you win then you need the discipline to not spends all your cash that night on hookers & blow.
Don’t “call” just because you have to see what the other guy’s hand is.
The need for discipline is all around us. I could be surfing Reddit or playing video games right now instead of writing this article.
People tell me they “wish they had my discipline.” I wasn’t born this way. Nope. I was the guy who only studied for tests the night before in university.
Willpower and discipline is a trait that can be developed. Some easy ways include exercising, meditating, and developing new positive habits each day.
Bonus: I’m not sharing the biggest lesson I learned in Poker which is the concept of Expected Value. Anyone that understands the power of EV knows I can’t do it justice with just a paragraph. I’m going to take some time and make a killer article on it in the future.

Why I Left Poker

I quit poker as soon as I discovered internet marketing. Even though I enjoyed my time in poker, it was not something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Here’s a few reasons why.
a) Trading time for money.
I didn’t like how I always had to play poker if I wanted to make money. if you have to be present to make money then you have a job, not a business.
What would happen if I got injured or sick? What if I wanted to just take a year off and travel? The money would stop.
With affiliate marketing I liked the thought of being able to make money while I slept.
b) Being the Best
When I compete, I don’t want to be average. Trying to be the best is in my nature.
Poker has been around for decade (Just look at Doyle Brunson).
Internet marketing is much newer. I wanted to compete in an arena where I had a higher chance of being successful.
c) Non-transferrable skills
Does poker teach you about life? Absolutely?
Are most of the skills directly transferable though to another trade? Not really.
I noticed most poker pros were in it for life. What happens if you get burned out or just don’t want to play anymore? It’s hard to leverage your poker skills directly into other areas.
I figured that internet marketing at the end of the day is marketing. I could take the skills and build legit companies if I wanted to.


Poker helps you think better.
Even though the imagine of a poker pro is a degenerate, there is a touch of genius behind each one of them. The best players can manage their emotions, they can calculate odds instantly, and they have the discipline to endure the grind.
Sometimes I do think about playing again for fun because my discipline and learning abilities are 10x what it use to be. But the problem is I’m too competitive. It’s hard for me to play something just for fun.
For now I’m just going to keep building my blog and my affiliate business.
It’s a +EV decision.
Anyways I know there’s a bunch of ex-poker players reading this blog, let me know what you think of this article.

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                The posts published by Charles are prepared and analyzed, including the author’s own experience…

The posts published by Charles are prepared and analyzed, including the author’s own experience…

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