On poker's comparative disadvantage

Poker can teach you a lot and has a bunch of comparative strengths. But it has comparative disadvantages, too. As I did with the advantages, I think that poker's actual comparative disadvantages diverge from what poker people think they are.

Here are a few:

  1. Many real-world edges are much bigger than poker players are trained into thinking, whether for domain-specific structural reasons or because many other environments are simply less competitive. Very often you can be a lot more than 2.3% better than the baseline. This manifests itself both in not looking for large edges and not believing they're there.
  2. It's a lot easier to know the difference between zero-sum and non-zero-sum environments than to know how to behave cooperatively. Yes, there are many cooperative aspects of poker, especially at high levels of the game. But to think in terms of cooperative value generation, and especially to think in terms of advancing an industry instead of beating the competition, can seem unnatural against a poker background. And actually behaving this way requires skills that might be underdeveloped.
  3. Performing badly is so damaging to long-term poker results that successful players have necessarily developed the skill of not performing badly. It's very easy for the expected losses hour of unfocused play to negate the expected wins from ten to twenty (or more) hours of focused play. To have thought about this and developed these skills is great. But in other domains, mediocre performance can be valuable, or at least not damaging. When I'm tired and confused, I don't do my best programming--but the total output of my tired-and-confused work sessions so far this year is valuable. In all disciplines there are mistakes so damaging it's better to quit than to risk making them--but poker is a lot less forgiving in this respect than almost anything else. (That said, poker players who have developed the meta-skill of turning C performance into sustained B+ or A- performance will have helped themselves in almost any endeavor.)

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