In high-stakes poker and in business, it pays to know exactly who you’re playing against.
A version of this article first appeared on the ManageRisks blog.
They call him Jungleman. He is one of the top seven poker players in the world right now. Remember that number.
I am a very good researcher. I like to think of myself as a good poker player. I only make a living at one. And I don’t yet have a cool moniker like Texas Dolly, Kid Poker, Timex, The Mouth, or Jungleman*.
Many people say that poker is an excellent metaphor for life — or at least, an excellent teaching tool. Maybe that’s why I’ve immersed myself in the world of high-stakes poker. The game, and its life lessons, have long fascinated me.
There are various books out there making the analogy between poker and life or poker and business. Two high-profile poker players, Liz Boeree and Annie Duke, have leveraged their poker success into life coaching businesses. Here’s Ms. Boeree’s TEDX talk on thinking with probabilities, as learned via poker. And here’s Ms. Duke’s book, Thinking In Bets, where she also applies lessons from the poker table to life writ large.
I firmly believe that much can be learned from playing poker. Or even in reading about poker players.
Sometimes the lessons come from unexpected quarters. Last month I learned, like a lot of other poker geeks, that a “top seven” poker player was cheating. As one poker podcaster said later, it was good to be considered the eighth best. The allegation was thrown out on Twitter by a guy named Bill Perkins, who seems to be living my dream of being a successful businessman who runs with poker immortals.
It came out a day or so later that the player in question was Dan Cates. Jungleman.
The crime Cates was accused of is called “ghosting.” Not the kind of ghosting where you go on a few dates and then never text back. This ghosting is when you play online poker under someone else’s account. In other words, the online avatar could say “ManageRisks,” but the person playing would not be Rob Gardner, but rather Dan Cates. The thinking would be that Cates and I could sandbag the crowd, that they would not expect ManageRisks to be a shark, and we’d take them for a bundle.
As Bill Perkins explained in a podcast about the scandal, he’s not against playing with sharks; he just wants to be aware when he is.
A concerted effort by people you trust can wreck the best of systems.
Which brings us to the lessons of the day. This ghosting scandal took place in a “private club,” via an app with passwords. The players had to be vetted, and there were certain controls in place specifically to protect against ghosting, such as having your computer camera on. Cates and his cohort gamed the system by exploiting a flaw in the remote PC access program. The lead — the person named on the account, the one not supposed to be a top seven player — sat in front of the laptop and appeared to be playing. Cates hidden away, made the smart moves.
You can see where I am going with this. On one hand, anyone who bought into the game knew there were risks involved. Not just anyone was allowed to play, and there were controls in place to protect the game. But the players still got duped.
A concerted effort by people you trust can wreck the best of systems. Due diligence fail?
My whole point, way down here at the bottom of the article, is that it’s a jungle out there. You may think you’re playing poker with friends, and it turns out you’re not.
Here’s the shift to metaphor: In business, you may think you are doing business with friends. You may feel safe enough to skip the homework and move ahead with the deal. I’ve seen a lot of people decline business background research because they thought they were playing with friends they could trust. Sometimes, they were.
But it’s a jungle out there, and sometimes you are not. Sometimes friends aren’t who you think they are. Some people will not hesitate to lie or try to alter a deal, not just because it gives them an economic advantage. They just want an advantage. They skipped the chapter in Seven Habits where it said “seek win-win.” Yes, there are people out there who are not satisfied unless they win and you don’t. That hidden character trait is the ghost in the game, hiding behind the person you trust.
Do your due diligence.
*Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson, Daniel “Kid Poker” Negreanu, Mike “Timex” McDonald, Mike “The Mouth” Matusow, Dan “Jungleman” Cates
About the author:
Robert Gardner likes to think he has been performing research so long, credit reports came on stone tablets. Over a long career, Robert has worked with private investigators, forensic accountants, fraud auditors, litigators and others who need vital information to make decisions and react to unforeseen problems. Robert works in all aspects of business research including due diligence, litigation support, fraud investigations, asset searching, and competitive intelligence. He has made inquiries in nearly every part of the world. Well versed in a variety of data collection methods, especially online and Internet searching, he has transformed public record findings into reports, charts, schedules, timelines, and databases to assist in many situations.