Do Poker Players Possess the Best Critical Thinking Skills?

Lizzie Pauker (the co-author of this blog) and I have spent hours trying to think of jobs that do not require critical thinking skills.  We can’t think of one.  Every job requires some level of critical thinking ability.  However, I wonder which jobs require the most superior level of critical thinking?

Yesterday on, a blog post actually featured an infographic for the Top Jobs for Critical Thinkers.  Check it out to see which jobs require the strongest critical thinking skills.

Tonight I spent a few hours watching the World Series of Poker (Texas Hold ‘em) Tournament on TV and I realized how much critical thinking is necessary to be a successful poker player.  Poker players must not only be cognizant of the odds, but also the styles, tells, and thought processes of the other players at the table.  In poker, adrenaline, stress, and excitement run high.  For someone who lacks critical thinking, it would be easy to let emotions run wild and make poor decisions based on hunches or feelings of luck.

In amateur tournaments, poker players lacking critical thinking skills will take huge risks and when asked why they made such a poor decision will say things like “I just felt like I was going to win” or “I’d had a string of bad hands, so I thought the next one would be a winning hand.”

Aside from making smart strategic decisions about a hand (based purely on numerical odds), a good poker player would study his opponents and gather as much detail on him/her as possible.  He/she would know if the player takes risks or plays it safe.  He/she would know the nonverbal cues the player gives when he/she has a good hand (do they become suddenly calm or fidgety with excitement?).

However, watching the cues from the other players is just the first step, one must also try to think the way the opponent thinks.  All poker players know and try to hide their tells.  A tell is a nonverbal cue that indicates a change in behavior (likely signaling the quality of that poker player’s hand).  Poker players wear hats, sunglasses, hoodies, headphones, etc to hide as much of their body’s natural reactions to the poker hand (sweating, enlarged pupils, etc).  If my “tell” is shaky hands, then I would try to hide my tell by folding my hands tightly to avoid movement.  Then again, if I know that my opponent knows my tell, then I might try to use that same behavior on a poor hand to confuse  the other players.

As you can see, poker an intense game and is as much about psychology as it is about strategy.  You not only must be aware of your own thinking, but also the way your opponents think.  To stay one step ahead, remove emotion, and avoid gambler’s fallacies, one must be a strong critical thinker.

Do you think poker players possess superior critical thinking ability?  What job do you think requires the most superior level of critical thinking skills?

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Editor’s Note: Breanne Harris is the Solutions Architect for Pearson TalentLens.  She works with customers to design selection and development plans that incorporate critical thinking assessments and training.  She has a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology and has experience in recruiting, training, and HR consulting.  She is the chief blogger for Critical Thinkers and occasionally posts at ThinkWatson.  Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter for more of her thoughts.

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