Card games are one of the most popular pastimes in the world. The card game market in the United States alone grows by an estimated 5.18% each year, with millions of people purchasing and enjoying a wide variety of games. Poker is a popular variant, with around 100 million regular players worldwide.
There are many reasons why people choose to play a game such as poker. A competitive nature, desire to profit from playing, social interaction, learning a new skill – these are all valid reasons why people enjoy the game. However, there are also multiple hidden benefits to playing poker, including increased cognitive ability and improved mental health.
One of the primary hidden benefits of playing poker is boosting self-confidence. Poker is all about learning how to make the right decisions. This means regular players, although they will never win every hand, quickly come to have faith in their own ability to make snap decisions and to weigh the odds to work out what move to make next. Poker players utilise their skills to create a gaming strategy and to hone and adapt that strategy as they learn or depending on the type of other players they are facing. Creating a working strategy and flowing through with it, even if it does not always result in a win, can be a huge boost to self-confidence.
Developing Cognitive Skills
An active mind is a mind less likely to succumb to the pitfalls of old age, including conditions such as dementia. Multiple studies have shown that people who engage in activities that improve their cognitive skills are likely to retain a sharper mind for longer. Poker is an excellent choice for developing cognitive skills as it requires the player to strategies, think ahead and make decisions based on mathematical probability. There is also skill in figuring out what opponents are thinking by picking up on subtle body language and other “tells”. Using the brain in this way, which involves a combination of logical and creative thinking, has been shown to help people maintain good mental health and avoid conditions of cognitive decline.
While the basics of most variants of poker are relatively simple to remember, a large part of the game is in reading opponents. This involves memory skills on an almost constant level. Great poker players remember every facial expression, hand gesture or other aspect of body language their opponents display. They can then use this knowledge to make strong decisions based on the cards they believe their opponent holds. Good poker players will also remember the details of hands played and the strategies used so they can evaluate their own game and make adjustments to improve their chances of winning.
Learning Maths Skills
Making rapid mathematical calculations is a large part of a successful poker strategy. Players need to know what the potential financial gain would be for staying in a hand and be able to balance that against their percentage chance of getting a hand good enough to win the round. Having the mathematical skills to calculate pot odds and equity can mean the difference between going all in with a winning hand and losing an entire stack of chips. The faster players can calculate their chances, the more time they have to study the reactions of other players to learn what they might be up against.
Regular interactions with other people are known to be good for mental health. Isolation can lead to depression and other mood disorders, while those that have an active social life are more likely to feel engaged and content. Poker is a social game played with a minimum of two people and creates myriad opportunities for interactions. Even when playing online, poker players have the opportunity to chat with their opponents or even just to indulge in small interactions such as saying “well played” after a good hand. As part of the game requires players to observe and read their opponents, the social aspect of poker can be quite intense.
Being mindful is all about being in the present moment, without worrying about the future or raking over the past. Each poker hand represents a new moment and an opportunity for players to focus on the cards in front of them rather than anything in the past or future. Many poker players claim to enter a meditative state when involved in a game, which has long-term benefits for emotional health.
Practicing Logical Risk Assessment
Risk assessment forms a large part of most key business decisions. Poker players are experienced at making logical risk assessments in the moment on a regular basis. Players use logic skills and their memory of prior performance to judge what cards they think their opponents hold, alongside the mathematical calculations that determine whether they should make a play. Experienced poker players are able to take emotion off the table and make decisions based purely on logic and strategy, which typically gives them an advantage over less experienced, more emotional players.
As well as being able to read other people, good poker players are very self-aware. Poker players will occasionally have to bluff and knowing how to do so without displaying any giveaway tells is the mark of a great player. Poker players also spend time learning how to manage their own emotions and react to any given situation calmly. Being this self-aware in a game often translates to being more self-aware away from the table, which can lead to more productive personal relationships.
These are just a few of the reasons why playing poker can be good for people. Of course, the main reasons people choose to play are to have fun and hopefully make a little money. However, improving mental health at the same time as playing a favourite game is an added bonus that cannot be overlooked.