Mantra Motivation #6: "There’s a Fine Line Between Brilliant and Bankrupt"

By: Danielle Striker, Chief Guru and CEO of Poker Samadhi

Kenny Tran, 2008 WSOP Champion Heads-Up No Limit Hold’em, and professional high-stakes poker professional

Poker is a game where you can play perfectly - and still lose. Conversely, you can make glaring mistakes - and still win. 

Poker, like life, includes the “luck factor”, which is the great equalizer.

The following is a story about one of my recent poker tournaments and why poker reminds me of business.

I was in a tournament and was “running like God” (as they say) – hitting every out and completing every run out for the best hand. I was scooping up all the chips that day. Of course, I was playing well that day, but I know I was also running even better – luck was on my side. Being rational about how I played and acknowledging the luck I had that day is important. 

The lesson here is that there is a fine line between brilliant and bankrupt.  Never underestimate the power of getting  lucky and being in the right game at the right time with the right players.

Be aware that:

  • Just because you won a big tournament one day and went on a winning streak doesn’t mean you are a genius player.  It also doesn’t mean that you can repeat that same performance at will. 
  • Luck plays a big part in your game play - as do other circumstances – especially in tournaments.
  • Analyze your mistakes, even if you won.  Make sure to note the times you “got lucky” while making errors.
  • Be grateful and thankful for the win.
  • Check your ego at the door for the next tournament – and don’t believe your own hype.

I have been in the technology industry for a long time. I have been fortunate to be with one company that was sold for $275 million dollars, and another that was sold for $400 million.  Both times all the employees were highly compensated for the acquisition. We all had stock options and when the deal closed it was like a big payday – kind of like winning first place in a tournament. 

But many people think because you were in one successful acquisition, or even in two high-tech start-ups that were sold for millions of dollars, you’re brilliant. Just like in poker you have to get lucky, and you have to be in the right game (company) and at the right time (market) with the right players (team). And you have to have the skills to negotiate the best deal at the end of the run.

So, be careful that you don’t believe, especially early in your career, that every company you start will be successful, because it’s just not true. So many things have to come together to create and sell a successful company. It’s always about the people and the deals that are negotiated, along with luck.  

In addition to my technology “wins”, I have also been in a few silicon-valley failures. One company was “fire sold” for its assets, and two other companies failed early in their inception and went bankrupt! These companies had great technology, great people, but the market timing was bad. Many things have to come together to get the right valuation for the business and to close a winning deal.  These are the situations that make you appear to be a genius when you win -- just like when you get paid off big based on your good poker hands! 

So, when you ”run bad” – or have bad luck, realize you can go bankrupt. On the other hand, the next time you play, your luck can turn around just as easily. 

Luck is a double-edged sword that has a way of humbling us all.

Danielle Striker
Chief Guru, Poker Samadhi

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