Poker, Business, and Life: It's Never Too Late to Change Tables

(This is a follow up to my previous blog post p-4186 .)

In poker, people spend a lot of time learning the best strategy to play once you’re sitting down at a table. One of my biggest “ah-ha!” moments came when I learned from a poker book a long time ago that the game starts even before you sit down.

When you’re in a poker room, usually there are many different choices of tables that you can sit down at. Each table has different stakes, different players, and different dynamics that change as the players come and go, and as players get excited, upset, or tired.

As a poker player, the most important decision you can make is which table to sit at. This includes knowing when to change tables. An experienced player can make 10 times as much money sitting at a table with 9 mediocre players who are tired and have a lot of chips compared to sitting at a table with 9 really good players who are focused and don’t have that many chips in front of them.

In business, one of the most important decisions you’ll make is what business to be in. It doesn’t matter how flawlessly you execute your business if you’re in the wrong business or you’re playing in a small market.

You could be the most efficient manufacturer of 7-fingered gloves and offer the best selection, the best service, and the best prices for 7-fingered gloves. But if there isn’t a big enough market for what you sell, you’re not going to get very far.

Or, if you decide to start a business that competes directly against really experienced competitors such as Walmart by playing the same game they play (for example, trying to sell the same goods at lower prices), then chances are that you will go out of business.

In a poker room, you can only choose which table you want to sit at. But in business, you don’t have to sit at an existing table. You can define your own, or make the one you’re already at even bigger. (Or, just like in a poker room, you can always choose to change tables.)

Whatever vision you have for your business, there is a bigger vision that makes the table bigger. When Southwest Airlines first started, they didn’t see their target market as limited to just existing airline travellers, which is what all the other airlines did. Instead, they imagined their service as something that could potentially serve all the people that travelled by Greyhouse bus or by train, and they designed their business around that. They offered short flights at cheap prices, instead of going with the more prevalent “hub and spoke” model that other airlines were using. They made it easy for customers to change flights without paying huge penalties. And they turned their planes around at airports as fast as possible.

At * *, our original vision was to just to try to sell some shoes online. But after a few years, we realized that we wanted and needed a bigger vision. We decided to make our table bigger by envisioning the Zappos brand to be about the very best customer service and the very best customer experience. The customer service vision enabled us to expand beyond just selling shoes. In fact, today we also sell clothing, bags, housewares, electronics, and even kitchenware.

But because our vision is about building a brand around the best customer service, the future of our company isn’t even limited to just e-commerce. We’ve even had customers ask us if we would start an airline. We’re not going to do that anytime soon, but maybe 30 years from now, there will be a Zappos Airlines that’s just about delivering the very best customer service.

For your business, have you thought about what you can do to make your table bigger?

Have you thought about whether you should be changing tables?

Whether in poker, in business, or even in life, it’s easy to be so engrossed in what you’re doing right now that you forget that you always have the option to change tables. Psychologically, it’s hard because there’s a lot of inertia to overcome.

If your business isn’t growing, or you’re not passionate about your job or what you’re doing in life in general, don’t be afraid to ask yourself: “Should I be sitting at a different table?”

Just remember, it’s never to late to change tables, and it’s never too late to ask yourself whether you’re playing the right game.

I’m working on writing a poker/business book titled p-4186 .

I’d love to hear your comments as well as any real-life stories about poker, business, or life as it relates to this post! Please share your story by commenting below or emailing me at tony(at)




43195646's picture
Jan 6, 2010 at 4:55 pm Adrian Bye said:

As I see it, there are 3 types of businesses:

- total failures - total succeses - zombies (walking dead)

The first two are easy. You either dump them or run with them. The last one is the hard one, because it often seems like that big success is right around the corner if you give it a bit more of a chance.

But sometimes its better to just cut your losses, shutting down that zombie and trying the next thing or as you say, move to a different table. Life is short - all entrenpreneurs deserve to be running wildly successful businesses.

467383545's picture
Jan 6, 2010 at 4:55 pm ZC28229 said:

Great post. I definitely changed tables about 7 months ago when we decided to buck the "norm" and open a PR agency in Northeast Wisconsin. While PR agencies are common in major metropolitan areas in Wisconsin and throughout the country, they are not so common in Northeast Wisconsin. In fact, there are two pure PR agencies in this area. The vision, the passion that I have and the unbelievable potential we have is enough to make me shake in my boots or should I say red shoes? Not only did I change tables but in this area the playing field was changing.

The name of our company also speaks to our brand, which is: Not following but leading the way for our clients' needs in PR. Thanks for the thought provoking post. Re-confirms me yet again that now I am sitting at the right table!

468640892's picture
Jan 6, 2010 at 4:55 pm ZC28235 said:


I had this thought the other day too! Life's like a card game. I can't wait to check out your book which will hopefully draw on a more in depth analogy.

Some thoughts that came to me. Your stack of chips are like your talents, acquired skills, and money. Some people come to the table with more, some with less, but that doesn't necessarily mean you are going to walk away from the table with the most. You may squander it all in one foolish hand.

The cards that fall are like the circumstances in life. An Ace may represent an up stock market, a big break for a new product, etc. And vice versa.

But it's not like life is over after each hand. More hands will come and more card will come to be dealt.

I'm sure I could go on and on, but I'm sure you have already considered these things!

Best of luck with the book!

42184993's picture
Jan 6, 2010 at 4:55 pm ZC27545 said:

Great blog Tony. I happen to love my poker table and wouldn't change it for the world. Just like casinos, both opportunities and choices can be found in all directions.


468792625's picture
Jan 6, 2010 at 4:55 pm swanwick said:

I would love to collaborate with you on your book. I have been playing poker for about 20 years and have a blog called Future Business (

About 7 years ago I was paid to assess the opportunity of funding a poker bot development project. My conclusion was that at the then current market size the risks barely outweighed the opps. So, the potential funder decided not to move forward. Unfortunate, because soon after online poker completely exploded. Couldn't resist the bad-beat story. :)

Anyway, here is an extension to your analogy: The addition of poker bots to online poker is in essence the equivalent of commoditizing. The margin on the low stakes tables has become so tight that one needs to find parts of the market (other tables) where there is more $ value per hour.

468792625's picture
Jan 6, 2010 at 4:55 pm swanwick said:

Oh, one other thing to stretch the analogy. I have actually physically built poker tables. Poker is that much more satisfying when you crafted the table yourself.

Business is that much more appealing when you are the architect of an idea or a company.

468794245's picture
Jan 6, 2010 at 4:55 pm ZC28281 said:

Tony - good idea methaphors are an excellent way to explain business theory. Couple of years ago I read a book forgot the title sorry about sports and business strategies. Strategies and tactics were compared with different kind of sports so for example organisation were a baseball, a basketball or a football team. Good luck with your book thanks for the do and dont's I really like them.


468905200's picture
Jan 6, 2010 at 4:55 pm ZC29856 said:

I only play tournaments, therefore, table selection is taken out of my hands, for the most part, unless I know the people that are giving the seat assignments, and even then it's still a crap shoot, if you don't mind mixing metaphors.

There's also tournament prep to deal with. Are you ready to play the game? Choosing the right game to play should be your second decision.

469150992's picture
Jan 6, 2010 at 4:55 pm brucemcc said:

This article is very timely for my business. We are a small web design company that is currently considering entering the online retail marketing world ourselves.

One of the big things that we have been very conscious of is making sure that we are not just entering a market because we think it is cool. We also want to make sure that we sit down at the right table. We certainly wouldn't enter the online shoe market because then we would have to compete with Zappo's, and even though we are pretty good, we would have a tough time.

Unless you are completely self sufficient and have money to throw away, you goal in business should be to win. You absolutely must choose the right poker table to sit down at. If you choose a table that you can not compete at, you will lose.

Bruce McClellan Faster Digital Web Management "Web Sites for Business That Really Work"

469150992's picture
Jan 6, 2010 at 4:55 pm brucemcc said:

I wrote a quick review of your post on my site applying the thoughts to web design...

Bruce McClellan Faster Digital Web Management "Web Sites for Business That Really Work"

470268143's picture
Jan 6, 2010 at 4:55 pm ZC51523 said:

That's a great comparison between poker and business. Too often I see new companies getting in at a table, instead of creating their own table. Don't join the same game, create your own market and niche.

470651824's picture
Jan 6, 2010 at 4:55 pm ZC56995 said:

I have always wanted to learn poker, but I find it difficult. Also I never win in such things, anyway good post.

(+spam+) (+spam+)

43634876's picture
Jan 6, 2010 at 4:55 pm ZC21659 said:

your right! I agree totaly with you.

43634876's picture
Jan 6, 2010 at 4:55 pm ZC21659 said:

Everybody wants to sell something. Only Service Supply does notincrease the value of business. Why can´t an employee with Zappos becomes a silent partner in the company.

43634876's picture
Jan 6, 2010 at 4:55 pm ZC21659 said:

is there a webseite like Ebay or where i can share, buy and sell Patents,intellectual property,ideas and Blueprints all over the World? If I have a an Idea or have developed a tool fot example...hmmm

=Robert the German=

470912385's picture
Jan 6, 2010 at 4:55 pm ZC60240 said:

Sometimes you're dealt a lousy hand but you can win if you're a good player and can bluff your way to some winnings. You don't always have to show your cards, but you can win with a 7-3 off-suit.

In playing poker, like business, you can't always wait for the "pocket rockets" (Aces), otherwise you will lose all of your money in the blinds. Sometimes you need to play the hand that your dealt and hope that your opponent will fold.

-Jeff Tomczak President / CEO Show Your Colors Flag Co.

472793715's picture
Feb 20, 2010 at 6:13 am KarenG3150 said:

I am a poker fan and I am searching for online sites where I can get good tips, news and bonuses. This is a cool online poker site. Glad I found it.

510649751's picture
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