Play Poker Or Do Business

Play Poker Or Do Business

Carlson, Will

THERE has been a tremendous increase in card playing. In the last two years, cable television stations have featured a poker game called “Texas Hold-em.” Because the viewer is allowed to see all the players’ hands, it becomes interesting to see how each player attempts to win.

Because the players only know what is in their hands, they have to calculate the odds of their hand winning compared to those of all the other players at the table. The number of players can be as many as 10 or as few as two. In the old days, the person who was the best cheater was usually the winner; that is if s/he wasn’t killed!

As the game developed and became more popular, the players became more skilled and the game became more attractive, not only to the gambler, but also to people interested in mathematics, card counting and psychology. It became a matter of not only calculating the odds of winning, but also practicing the art of reading how various people react to different types of hands. How do they react when they have the best hand? How do they react when they have a mediocre hand? How do they react when they have a poor hand and are just bluffing?

The Thrill Of The Game

I have been very interested in watching these championship poker and blackjack tournaments. While I still have difficulty in determining the odds of winning on every hand I see, I enjoy watching how the various people react – not only to the cards in their hands, but also to the other players at the table.

There are three styles that seem obvious to me:

1) The Social Players. These players seem to get along with everyone. They appear to be friendly, but at the same time they try to read what everyone at the table is thinking.

2) The Competitive Players. They want the opportunity to show that they are smarter, braver, luckier or sneakier than everyone else.

3) The Gamblers. They thrive on their belief that fate, luck, destiny and a divine light shines on them.

Gambling games like poker or blackjack are a lot like our industry. You not only have to know your business, you also have to know the people you are playing with. In poker, bluffing is okay. It can even make you money sometimes. However, other times it can cost you all your chips – and a lot of money. Likewise in business, bluffing may work once in a while, but if you get caught, you can lose everything.

Here are 10 points that I have observed watching poker players that can be applied to our industry.

1) Trust is a must.

Only play with people who are honest, who can afford to play and who agree to and abide by the rules.

2) Don’t play with people who cheat.

In other words, be wary of people who change the rules and then take your money after they change the deal you mutually agreed upon. If you can’t depend on their word and handshake, don’t deal or play with them.

3) The deal isn’t done until you get the money.

In a poker game, this usually isn’t a problem because the money is on the table. In our business, this can be a big problem because we trust the other person to give us the money if we do our job and deliver the promised product. I’ve seen how the amount of bad debt has increased in our industry. There is a sizable amount of money lost because of people who don’t pay for what they get or what they say they -wanted. It’s a very bad sign when you can trust a poker player more than someone you do business with. Maybe we should have everyone put their money on the table before we deal our cards or sell them our product.

4) The bigger the pot, the higher the risk.

Again in poker, if you play for high stakes, the risk is also high but you can see each player’s money on the table. In no-limit “Texas Hold-em,” a player can put all of his or her money into the pot on any hand. The other players either have to match the bet or fold. In our business I’ve seen customers make large orders in January only to cancel them in April or May if the weather looks bad. All the risk is carried by the grower who put time and money into the crop, while the other players – the retailers or big box stores – don’t have to put anything on the table. For some growers who were owed more than a million dollars by retail companies that went bankrupt, poker would be less of a gamble than playing floriculture.

5) Don’t play in a game with stakes that are too steep.

In poker, the one rule is don’t play for more money than you can afford to lose. I believe that this is also a rule that should be followed in floriculture. I’ve seen big box stores that owe growers a lot of money and haven’t paid them anything in more than 60 days, while the agreement was that they would pay in 30 to 45 days. It is difficult to lay that kind of money on the table when the other player has no intention of sticking to the deal.

6) Don’t play against a person who has all the chips.

I believe this is the greatest problem in the floriculture industry today. Several large retailers control the distribution network that is responsible for the sale of much of our product, but they don’t know how to or can’t handle it. Many of these retailers don’t know how to display or maintain living products. Some don’t even have the physical facilities to handle plants, but they have all the chips. You either play the game with them on their terms or they put you out of business. They can make you put all your chips on each crop. If something goes wrong, you can go bankrupt. If you play the game with these retailers, make sure you have enough chips to survive.

7) If you don’t have the best hand, wait it out; let the game be played by others at the table.

Poker players know if you only have a mediocre hand, it is best to sit on the sidelines and watch the others play. In floriculture, if you have to sell a product below the cost of production, let another grower get the bid. S/he will probably lose the hand and be out of the game before you are.

8) Find another game and play to win.

Poker players don’t like to bet all their chips on one hand – unless they know they can win. In floriculture, growers should not put more than 35 percent of their chips (total income) with one retailer. Then, if they lose a hand (one crop or one contract), they won’t be out of the game.

9) Plan to make the final table.

In a poker tournament, 2,000 people may start but only nine or 10 will make the final table, and only one wins the top prize and the championship bracelet. In floriculture there are about 11,000 growers. The ones who survive use a well-thought-out strategy and all their skills to stay in business.

10) Have it all together.

In poker, it takes the best cards, the right understanding of the competition and luck. In floriculture, it takes the best product, the right understanding of people – and luck!

Business Is Often A Gamble

Pop culture icon Andy Warhol once said, “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”

Playing poker is just like running a business. One grower told me he would never gamble with cards, dice or roulette because he might lose his money. I told him that, in floriculture, we gamble every day, not with chips but with plants. Poker players know how to play with chips; floriculturists know how to play the game with plants. The top prize won by a poker player in 2004 was $5 million. In floriculture, some top players sold more than $500 million in plants.

Remember Kenny Rogers’ song, “You have to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run.” And good luck playing the game in 2005.

Will Carlson

Senior Editor

About the author: Will Carlson is a consultant and retired Michigan State University professor. You can e-mail him at

Copyright Meister Media Worldwide Feb 2005

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