Skip to content
Subscriber Only
Opinion
James McManus

Why CEOs Ace Poker

The boardroom and the poker table both require very particular skill sets.
I'll see your $50 and raise you a ride on my corporate jet.

I'll see your $50 and raise you a ride on my corporate jet.

Photographer: Mehdi Fedouach/AFP/Getty Images

Texas Hold'em tables often serve as less-genteel clubs for blue-chip businessmen. Instead of walking down fairways 30 yards apart from each other, or quietly hunting pheasant or muskie, poker buddies are elbow to elbow all night, competing and talking. The experience can tell them a lot about the other fellows' ability to make sound decisions under pressure. The quantitative and psychological acumen required by their day jobs also serve them well when a tight player check-raises them $2.50 or $25,000.

Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer aren't the only entrepreneurs to have honed their business-planning skills in dorm-room poker games. "In poker," Gates has written, "a player collects different pieces of information -- who's betting boldly, what cards are showing, what this guy's pattern of betting and bluffing is -- and then crunches all that data together to devise a plan for his own hand. I got pretty good at this kind of information processing." While Gates seems to play mainly bridge now, David Einhorn, Alexandra Lebenthal, Bill Perkins, Farshad Fardad of GlobalWide Media and Michelle Smith of Source Financial Advisors are just a small sample of executives who play poker for fun and often for charity.