When to Hold ‘Em, When to Fold ‘Em: Practical Investing Tips from a Poker Champion

While competitive poker and investing might be completely different worlds at first glance, one woman is on a mission to bridge the gap between the blinding lights of casino fervor and financial viability.

Annie Duke, a former professional poker player and one-time World Series of Poker champion, frequently shares the strategic and psychological parallels between winning poker players and successful investors at industry events for financial planners and advisors.  If her resumé as a master of the felt-topped table is not convincing enough for such a role, rest assured that Duke is no one trick pony.  She also spent time as a Ph.D. student in psychology at the esteemed University of Pennsylvania.

According to Duke, both poker and sound investing require the participant to make present-day decisions in anticipation of future outcomes.  Although the exact market dynamics and returns of years to come are always an unknown, developing a poker player mentality by learning common moves and patterns of play can be a great benefit to the investor.

Fortunately, it is easy to find help when staking out your financial future.  Professional financial advisors have local offices just a phone call or short drive away.  There are also a wealth of financial tools available online, ranging from monthly budget calculators to electronic stock trading platforms.

Not every poker hand is a winner, and neither is every investment.  Duke cites a concept in the poker world known as “tilt”-the tendency of a player to become frustrated and overly reactive when using a less than optimal strategy-as a condition for savvy investors to avoid.

Too often, investors develop emotional connections to an investment and unnecessarily cling to losing positions, or they fear reversing course on a previously made decision.  It is typically in investors’ best interest to cut their losses and regroup when an investment goes south without a clear path to recovery.

A professional financial advisor should be your first line of defense to identify and fix any underperforming investments in your portfolio.

Displaying the type of gutsy determination that made her a pioneer in women’s poker, a game that has seen a surge of resources encouraging female participation, Duke encourages investors to take calculated risks that maximize the value of their positions.

While some degree of risk is inherent in every investment, people tend to manage volatility by gunning for only small wins, and conversely, limit themselves to only small losses.  The psychology behind this method instills a false sense of success in the investor by shifting the focus from financial gains to mere “win” collecting.  Duke points out that optimizing returns on investments needs be the goal of investors, and a sensible, ironclad strategy should follow.

Duke may offer a number of tips and tricks on how to succeed in poker and investing, but she cannot account for every possible scenario.  No one can.  Great investors are those who understand probability, and who make timely, corrective adjustments when the markets behave unexpectedly.  Just beneath the surface of every stock plunge, market mishap, or untimely sell-off lies lessons learned and improvement opportunities for the investor who dares to seek.

As Duke’s brother, also a professional poker star, once advised her: “winners are comfortable admitting to themselves what they do not know.”