What Poker Can Teach Us About Life

Winning in life and the 7-2 offsuit

Let’s talk about poker.

There is so much we can learn in life from a simple card game, even if you have never played it. What does a game typically known for high stakes gambling have to do with life? A lot actually. The methods players use to win the game can give us clues about life.

Playing and winning poker is part luck and part skill. The luck part: You don’t get to choose the cards you receive or the cards on the table. The skill part: You do get to choose whether you fold or you keep going.

Those of us who know poker know that not all hands are created equal. The beginning cards you are dealt are very important to your chances of winning. Will you be dealt King/Ace suited (Known as “Big Slick”) or a pair of Aces (“Pocket Rockets”)? Those are great starting hands.

But what about if you were dealt the dreaded 7-2 Offsuit? This hand is a Seven of one suit and a Two of another. Of all 169 starting hand combinations, this is widely considered the worst hand with which to start Texas Hold ‘Em Poker. Most people would get one look at those cards and fold.

I felt like folding a few years back when my husband and I realized the depths and consequences of our financial mistakes. Honestly, we had mortgaged our lives on student loans and the shame, hopelessness, and darkness we felt were overwhelming. 

Maybe life has dealt you a hand that made you feel like folding. Maybe a divorce or a lost job, or the estrangement of a child. Maybe COVID-19, the pandemic, and the unrest of 2020 made you feel like the hand you were dealt is the worst hand you could be dealt, and it’s time to fold.

But life is not just a  game of chance and luck. Our experiences are not the pure result of drawing a random card. Our experiences largely come from our skills, decisions, character, and disciplines. Every day we make decisions both large and small that over the course of our lives, impacting ourselves and the lives of those around us. Deciding to eat well and exercise every day will result in a healthier lifestyle. Making a point to invest in relationships with our spouses, children, and family members will result in better relationships. Sticking with practice to learn a new instrument or language or skill is will take us to new heights in our abilities.

Today I watched two poker masters duke it out over a half a million-dollar bet. When you watch professional poker on TV, you can see what each person holds in their hand. One guy had a pair of aces and a pair of sixes. The other guy had… you guessed it. The 7-2 offsuit. But he didn’t fold. He took what he had and worked with it. And he stuck with it long enough to make his opponent believe he had the better hand. In the end, it didn’t matter what he was dealt, because he stuck with it and won the pot. 

I have known times in my life, truly difficult times where I knew my starting hand was worth folding. Many negative voices both in and around me told me to fold. 

However, I decided to lend my ear solely to the positive voices that added to me, including encouragement from Financial Peace University, affirmation from believers in the church, and from the ancient scriptures that guide me. My husband and I overcame our $195,000 debt that at the time weighed like an economic death sentence. We all know people who have overcome job loss, depression, miscarriage, divorce, financial death sentences and endless other traumas. Those experiences are not to be overlooked or minimized, as they are part of you, the obstacles you have faced, and the hand you were dealt. But more important than the random luck of the cards you were dealt matters what you do with that hand. 

You owe it to yourself to see how the last card is played.  Stay longer in the game of life, even when you have been dealt a 7-2 offsuit, and you will find that your disciplines, character and decisions have created for yourself a winning hand.