What Poker Can Teach Us about Web Development

March 6, 2008 Posted by Solo Programmer

I’ve noticed that a lot of web entrepreneurs (myself included) also seem to be into poker. Perhaps it’s the risk taking excitement that draws people to both. Maybe it’s the independence that both require and reward. But I couldn’t help but wonder if there were deeper similarities between the two. What are lessons that a poker player knows that a web developer can apply?

It’s Hard to Make a Good Hand

In poker it’s way more difficult than you first expect to make a truly good hand. This has two consequences in poker that are also applicable to the entrepreneur.

  1. You have to have patience. A hugely successful website is never built overnight. Even the guys that seem like overnight sensations have likely been at the game for a long time. In poker you spend a lot time waiting patiently for a situation that will yield a big reward. In web development you do a lot of work – building links, establishing your reputation, writing content – but you have to wait patiently to see the reward. Traffic is generally slow to come, it takes time to rank well in the search engines and you’ll see a lot of drive-by visitors before you can establish a loyal core.
  2. You need to be able to take small wins along the way. In poker there is a cost to just sitting at the table either through antes or blinds. As a web entrepreneur you’ll also face some expenses even when you have little traffic – domain name, web hosting, design work. While it may take you a long time to build your site into a big winner you can take small gains along the way. For a blog it might be a one time review or ad deal. Or perhaps you find an opportunity along the way to make a bit with a CPC campaign that isn’t really related to your primary project. These small wins along the road to success can be the difference that lets you keep going and can provide a great motivational boost while you work to grow into a monster.

A Smart Risk Isn’t Really a Gamble

People who aren’t familiar with poker often associate it with gambling, but to a poker player it’s different. A casino game like roulette is pure gambling – there’s no skill involved. Poker requires the player to make many decisions and while it does involve a large element of luck, the skill element cannot be ignored. The smart poker player spends his time looking for an opportunity where he has an advantage – putting money in only when it’s most likely that he’ll win much more than he risks.

Don’t let people fool you. Any type of entrepreneurial activity (web development included) involves a large element of luck. The luck of getting that right bit of content that goes viral or hits the front page of Digg. The luck of meeting that right person at a convention that can make a key partnership happen. But it’s not pure luck. You need to be in the right place at the right time and that involves a lot of skill and research and plain old hard work. When you get the right idea, research it to prove it’s viable and position yourself to take advantage. You’re risking the time and money you spend to startup but that smart risk isn’t really a gamble.

Book Learning is Great, But You Have to Play the Game to Really Learn it

There are approximately 3 billion books, forum posts, blogs, magazine articles, videos and seminars that will promise to teach you poker. That’s just behind the 8 billion books, forum posts, blogs, magazine articles, videos and seminars that will teach you how to make money online. There’s a ton of great information out there and it’s certainly a good idea to read and listen and absorb as much as you can. But really there’s no better way to learn than by doing. Build that website and you’ll find that there are situations you never thought about before. Certainly you should turn to your available resources and see what they recommend but don’t be afraid to experiment and learn from your own experiences. At the end of the day the guy who does nothing but read about web development makes the same amount of money as the guy who does nothing but read about poker. Zero.

Extracting Maximum Value is Key

So you’ve finally done it. You studied up and then got in the game. Patiently waited for your work to payoff and jumped on that opportunity when it finally presented itself. Now is the time to reap your reward. You have the flush and your opponent can’t fold his two pair. Or your site hit the front page of Digg and got a good review on TechCrunch all in the same day. Sit back and enjoy, right? Wrong. Your work is just beginning.

In poker when you finally do hit that great hand you need to extract maximum value. How you do that depends a lot on your opponent. When you build that great site on the web you’ll need to figure out how to extract maximum value and how you do that will depend on your niche, your reputation and the nature of your visitors. Too few ads and you’re leaving money on the table. Too many and you’ll loose your customers. If your reputation allows you might make a lot with paid reviews but if your audience is too sensitive that may drive them away.

Monetizing your site is at the same time the most difficult and most important task that a web developer can undertake. It’s far easier to double the amount of money you make from a visitor than to double to number of visitors but if you push too hard you can find yourself with nothing.

Class Dismissed

I’m not sure if poker players necessarily make good entrepreneurs or if entrepreneurs necessarily make good poker players. The two do have some overlap in the skills and temperaments required and the kinds of techniques that will make you successful. Hopefully you can take some of these ideas and make your own success story. And someday I’ll see you at the World Series of Poker. Or perhaps just at the top of the Alexa rankings.


Solo Programmer is a poker player and a dot com millionaire. You can follow his thoughts on web development, entrepreneurship and the state of the Internet on his blog. And if you ask nicely he may throw in a poker tip or two.

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Posted: March 6th, 2008 under Guest Posts  

14 Responses to “What Poker Can Teach Us about Web Development”

  1. Andrew says:

    I honestly thought this was written by Tyler until the end line. But props to ‘Solo Programmer’!

    Tyler, this is the kind of post you, yourself, need to make once in a while, even if it’s only every week or two (or even just every month) now. Call it your ‘feature article’ or whatever, but stop altogether and risk losing your audience.

    Not that I don’t like the site in general, but an article like this from you would put it back through the roof again!

  2. “Book Learning is Great, But You Have to Play the Game to Really Learn it”

    Excellent point, it is one thing I tell people over and over who ask me for programming and computer advice. Nothing beats experience.

    • Definitely. the best way to learn is to do. Find out for yourself what works and what doesnt.

    • Aaron Rivera says:

      Poker I cant stand it it is gamish and money gets lost over the edge reason I never bet on my future it is not a guarantee.
      I play around with blogs and write articles for many companies that need the advertisement I enjoy blogging and networking it is awesome 😉 cheers”

  3. Nice comparison- I can relate to those tips on both sides!

  4. Starting off on the web has little risk in my opinion. I paid $85 for 2 years hosting and $7 bucks for a domain. To me that is next to nothing.

    • You’re right that the $$$ invested can be small but don’t forget to account for the time and effort you spend. If you undertake a project (hoping to make money) in an area where there’s little chance of success then you are risking wasting your time at least.

      • Aaron Rivera says:

        I agree above you could be wasting time in the market! but if you know youre niche and you’ve partners in the biz it should go smoothly thats what friends in internet marketing are for. partner with a good group of social marketers online.

        Aaron Rivera Hawaii 😉

  5. hehe im also a blogger and poker player, but im more into playing card flourishes, i love to showoff both in my blogging business and real life games.

    Drop by and learn some card stunts to amaze your friends!

  6. In our business, it’s all about doing… If you want to make a change to become succesful read less on blogs, forums, IM less with your online buddies, but work harder by doing things!

  7. Flimjo says:

    Great analogy and excellent analysis.

  8. good findings on poker and the web

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