Why poker players have lots of other talents

Chess, trading, MMA, Jeopardy, DJing and even Scrabble. Why is it that top poker players often excel in other domains?

David Eldar poker and scrabble player
David Eldar

We became aware of a fascinating story this week (one which we missed at the time) and that was of poker player David Eldar winning the World Scrabble Championship. This was the latest in many examples of professional poker players showing they are anything but one trick ponies.

In fact, it is quite remarkable how many elite professional poker players have found they have talents in other domains. The list is endless but off the top of my head we have seen poker players thrive in MMA, chess, trading, sports betting, Magic The Gathering, pool, Hearthstone, StarCraft, Jeopardy, bridge, DJing, business, TV presenting, politics, reality TV and all manner of grueling physical prop bets. Then you have players like Liv Boeree who have shown to be talented in about 40 fields all by herself.

Of course you also get the players who the only seem to be good at poker, but by and large I think it is no surprise that poker players thrive in other areas.

A broad range of skills

Liv Boeree playing the guitar
Some poker pros can do everything

The likely biggest factor in this is IQ and it would be shocking to discover the top poker players having anything other than very high IQs. When you mention IQ it is quite common to hear people dismiss it by suggesting that IQ is only good for measuring how well you do on IQ tests, but this is not the case. IQ is actually one of, if not the best, predictors of life success we know of.

What makes poker particularly interesting in this regard is that it is a game of General Intelligence, which is the ability to think reflexively across a number of domains. Quite simply there are so many more moving parts in a game like poker than even a very mentally taxing game like chess. There are way more unknowns, there is a great deal of psychology involved and then of course you have the volatile nature of variance.

You need an incredibly broad range of skills to do well in poker. As such the skills in poker are much more transferrable than in games like chess, or video games, or trading.

Problem solving skills

libratus poker
AI finally beat the top poker pros this year

This is precisely why it took another 20 years after the AI Deep Blue beat chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov before it could do the equivalent feat in poker. There are not many games with as wide a set of parameters as poker. Obviously this doesn’t mean that poker is harder than chess, just that versatility and improvisation play a much bigger part.

I’ve written about this before and almost every player I speak to says the same, once you start to take poker seriously, it arms you with skills and problem solving heuristics that you use in other parts of your life. Poker has helped me in the rest of my life from money management, dealing with grief and helping my wife find a job.

The reason top poker players do well at other things is almost certainly their high intelligence (and maybe the freedom poker gives them to try other things). However, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that poker is also a brilliant foundation for developing logic, improvisation, game theory and mental toughness which you can apply everywhere else.

Has poker improved other areas of your life? Let us know in the comments:

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Comments (4)

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  • rompas


    i think its attitude, as a top achiever in any area need to have the right attitude to develop the right skills and habits to come to the top, talent or IQ alone is never enough to get to the top. And compared to many other areas poker players have more time to try and develop skills in other areas so that can be one reason why we see ''more'' poker players successful in other games..
  • VorpalF2F


    attitude + effort pretty much gives you everything
  • GrindingNajra


    Enough reason to suggest they miss a lot of talent that the average person does have (since they might be more social akward, geeky/nerdy).
  • luckyme44


    There is not one day that goes by in which I do not think of how profoundly grateful I am to have found poker (or should I say poker found me).
    This article is TRUE as TRUE can be. I never knew how to truly learn until this subtle and beautiful art/discipline entered my life and started to reveal layer upon layer (like a gigantic onion) in the game of poker itself, but even more importantly is the way it has shaped my life and way of thinking.

    Couldnt be more thankful!