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What Work Taught Me About Poker

A while ago, I wrote a post about What Poker Taught Me About Work. With all this recent chit chat about the disproportionate amount of lawyer poker bloggers, it got me thinking about how being a lawyer has helped my poker game. This is a very different discussion than why there is a disporportionate amount of lawyer poker bloggers, though, so let me touch on that topic first.

The issue isn't that there is a disproportionate amount of poker players who are lawyers. It's a disproportionate amount of poker bloggers who are lawyers (or at least, that's the concept before us, regardless of its veracity). Poker bloggers are a very specific lot, with the major characteristic that defines a poker blogger rather than a poker player being, naturally, a blog. I would argue that there probably is not a disproportionate amount of lawyers who play poker, any moreso than financial professionals, tech guys, or construction workers. Poker attracts people from all walks of life. But its the convergence of poker and blogging that seems to attract lawyers, and the reasons, to me, are quite simple.

Lawyers, by their very nature, are usually competitive people. Getting into law school is a competitive process, so to make that first step, you need to have a competitive drive. Also, the law is a profession that is provided a certain amount of respect and reverence in our society. Watch TV and you'll see that TV shows are either about cops, doctors or lawyers. Plainly put, the profession of the law is held in high regard, so those of us who go that route are likely looking for that level of respect (subconsciously or otherwise), albeit for some its the respect that comes with money and for others its the respect that comes with the title "Esquire."

This is not to say that I wanted to be a lawyer because of social status, but it was a factor. I wanted to be able to provide for a family and I'm a naturally competitive, argumentative person. Law just seemed like the right fit for me. But apply that all to poker. I'm competitive, argumentative, and I want to be on top. That's poker right there.

The blogging aspect, though, is key. There was a saying at law school that every lawyer is a wannabe writer. In fact, you'll see that a lot of novelists are/were attorneys by trade. Plainly put, most lawyers are writers. We do it daily at work. We are used to expressing ourselves and arguing our viewpoints. And we generally always think that we are right and everyone should hear and agree with our opinions. That's blogging right there.

So, to make it simple, there are a disproportionate amount of lawyer poker bloggers because the same people who are attracted to a career in the law are attracted to the competitive aspect of poker and the narcissistic argumentative nature of blogging. Tada!

Okay, so enough of that crap, which is all just theory and has been argued ad nauseum by a slew of bloggers in posts and comments. What I really wanted to address is how working as a lawyer has affected my poker game. Here goes:

Everything is Zero Sum. I am a litigator. Basically, if I win a case, the other side loses. Even if we settle, whatever I get, they lose. Poker is the same way. There is no compromise. It's just you and him. Either he gets your money or you get his. Being a lawyer has taught me that there is no two ways about it. And this leads us to...

Aggression is key. As a plaintiffs' lawyer, specifically with high value cases, I have one simple mandate from the Big Bossman, "Keep cases moving." Defense attorneys have it easy. They can sit on their asses and react. Me, I have to act. I need to ride these fucking defense attorneys to get the documents I need, or the depositions I am entitled to receive. I need to constantly attack because there is no impetus for defense attorneys to work. I've always said defense work was easier. As a plaintiff's lawyer, I have to set up my case. All they have to do is look for flaws. I often use this analogy: "Being a plaintiff's lawyer is like building sandcastles; being a defense attorney is like kicking over sandcastles. It's a shitload easier to kick them over." My poker game is very similar. I am aggressive because its how I get people to do what I want. You want them to call your bets, bet hard and fast and they won't have time to think it out before they hit the call button. You want them to fold, raise big and scare them off. But the key is aggression. Nothing happens with passivity.

Start off as friends... Even though I might be aggressive in law and in poker, my first goal is to be friendly. You get more flies with honey than vinegar, although I hate that quote because you get the most flies with shit. But I digress. In the legal profession, I am constantly dealing with defense attorneys who are stupid, or dishonest, or lazy. They'll tell me one thing and do another. They'll promise me things only to deny it later. Because of this, I used to start off on a very defensive stance. I didn't trust anyone and I brought down the hammer with reckless abandon (not that hammer). I have since learned that I was holding myself back. Even though I am competition with my opponents in law or at the poker table, I benefit myself by starting as friends. Sometimes my opponents are not jerks. Sometimes they are, but I can get them to work with me if I can find some common ground. For example, at a recent court appearance, I played the role of the overworked underling because it seemed to fit the situation. It started off because on that morning I was slightly flustered by the time I met my adversary, a young guy. I made some half-assed comment about how busy I was (I was hardly overwhelmed, but I was busy) and my opponent shared my lament. It became clear from our conversation that he was just a day-laborer sort. It wasn't his case (he was covering for a colleague) and he just wanted to be done with it. So, I remained friendly and gently guided him into a deal that worked for me (read: railroaded him into the deal because I had learned he did not know the case well and we "shared" a common ground as attorneys who just wanted to be done with it).

Whether at court or in the poker room, being friendly with your adversary can provide a lot of opportunities. Information is more freely shared. The other side might be a bit softer on you, since, hey, you're a nice guy. In the poker room, this may mean learning, through friendly conversation, that your opponent played in a WSOP event, and therefore probably has money and/or experience. Likewise, you may learn that the person is a newbie or is just playing for fun. Being friendly could mean that your chummy status with the shark next to you results in less clashes on the felt. Any of this information or influence is invaluable.

...And end as friends. Ideally, no matter how much you fight over hands or over court orders, you want to end as friends. You never know when you are going to see your opponent again, so it doesn't hurt to keep it cordial. This will also keep the losing players from quitting the game altogether, and keep you from getting banned from the homegame you destroy every week. It may even get you invited to new games if you make friends with the right people. And this is all on top of the inherent benefits of meeting new people.

Reputation is key. This one is fairly obvious. My firm has a reputation for aggression, and I have built up a little reputation myself with other attorneys and other players. That reputation can often pay off, even when it is not true. Some firms know we are aggressive, so they take that into consideration when it comes to settlement discussions. If you lead them to believe that you are 100% fine with going to trial, they'll buckle. If you demonstrate that you are going to push the case to trial as fast as possible, they'll buckle faster. Once you get that rep, though, they'll immediately start off with the thought that they will eventually have to work out a deal. The parallel is obvious. In poker, an aggressive reputation is something I utilize regularly. You need people to think that you are willing to go all-in, even if you are not. That expectation will often pay off in dividends. Players will go more passive, or be willing to give up on hands easier. The key is building a reputation and exploiting it.

Know your rules. This one is simple enough. Nothing is more important than knowing the rules in your arena. When I first started practicing in NJ, I had to learn a lot just to keep up with my opponents. Lawsuits in NY and NJ are both lawsuits, but its the little nuances, rules and customs that are crucial to success in either venue. The same is true in poker. You must know the rules of the game, and more specifically the rules of the place where you are playing. When I was in Seattle, I was lambasted for playing a straight-flush draw too hard. I was shocked at the reaction, but my opponents were right...if I played softer, I could've taken the chance of hitting my straight flush and winning the big jackpot. Unfortunately, I jumped into the game so quick, I didn't even know there was a jackpot. When I was in Puerto Rico, I didn't know that you could raise the $5 blinds to $15 preflop in a $5/10 game, so I only raised to $10 when I was dealt aces, probably leaving money on the table. Knowledge is key.

Frankly, I could go on for hours about the parallels, but I think I got most of the big ones done.

Until next time, make mine poker!

Jordan, Esq.

posted by Jordan @ 11:45 PM,

5 Comments:

At 6:20 PM, Blogger Booby Stealz said...

hey, its Rob from Tuesday. It was good to meet you and your friends...

i started a blog, but have yet to post. speak with you soon.

www.boobystealz.blogspot.

 
At 7:18 PM, Blogger RaisingCayne said...

Enjoyed the post. Some significant similarities indeed.

And yes, I can confirm for you, in Seattle and anywhere in the Northwest, playing any draw to a straight flush in any way other than totally passive weak tight is considered a mortal sin! Bad beat & Monte Carlo jackpots abound around here, and most all players consider them a BIG DEAL. (H*ll I got chastised once for betting my flopped set, 'cause I "...could've made quads."!!??)

I should refrain from detailing any parallels between poker playing and financial analysis, (or to any other career I've held for that matter,) as the only thing I can think of that equates is the "hours of boredom followed by moments of shear terror."

Take care...

 
At 10:44 AM, Blogger localhobbes said...

Great post. I'm considering a career in law, and am very interested in a similar line of work. Any helpful pointers/tips?

 
At 11:14 AM, Blogger Schaubs said...

Nice post you long winded lawyer writer. Now get back to work and start writing about legal shit.

 
At 10:03 PM, Blogger TripJax said...

thanks for chiming in on the subject. when i wrote my post, i was definitely hoping you would give your take...

...good points man...

 

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