Training Your Brain With Poker

According to some historians, the game of poker can be traced back to 10th-century China. Others believe it derives from a Persian game played in the 16th century. We can’t be entirely sure, but what we do know is that the game we play today hasn’t changed for about a century, save for that rules have become standardized (and decks regulated). And these changes have come about as a result of poker’s popularity, and the need to support the game as both a casino activity and –– essentially –– a competitive sport.

Following some of this standardization, we witnessed poker’s prevalence gain huge traction in the ‘70s, when tournaments first started to be televised. And since then, with the advent of the internet age, the game has exploded onto the scene across the globe, with players of any ability able to play virtually at anytime, anywhere (and on any device). For the most part, this expansion in poker interest and availability has served two purposes: It’s given people another way to entertain themselves, and it’s opened up gambling opportunities. But there are also other benefits that some have realized from playing poker. And one is that the game functions as an effective method of brain training.

Indeed, given that poker requires a lot of mental skills, there are opportunities for those who play to learn and form some positive habits, outlooks, and thought processes –– some of which we’ll expand on here.


Without a doubt, poker can help you to improve your decision-making skill. In fact, top-ranking female poker player Maria Ho has discussed some of the valuable insights the game has taught her, and specifically how she has honed her decision-making skills and capabilities and utilized them in her day-to-day life. She talks specifically about making decisions with intentionality, and always knowing (as you must in poker) why you would make a given decision. She also describes poker as being “a kind of negotiation,” and notes that success in those negotiations has informed her in business decisions.


Whenever you’re playing regular poker –– or even within an individual game –– you can experience fluctuating success and disappointment. For this reason, it’s vital for any player to develop skills to manage this type of volatility –– which is ultimately why resilience is considered to be among the mental skills you can draw from poker. It’s argued that players “shouldn’t be focused on the results of any single session,” but rather should look past those results (even the bad ones) and focus on the big picture. This very practice teaches resilience, which you can in turn apply to many of the disappointments you might experience in your day-to-day life.


There are several elements to keeping your memory sharp, and one of them is cognitive stimulation. And while poker is not explicitly a memory game, it does involve some of that stimulation –– largely in that it requires you to regularly retain shifting information, whether that means recalling an opponent’s tendencies, tracking cards, or remembering your own strategies throughout a game. It’s also possible that sort of indirect memory training may be more effective simply for the fact that it’s happening through a game. Doctors have theorized that you can benefit from increased learning and memory ability through playing games, on the grounds that you’re more likely to learn while having fun. Indeed, statistics show that when an element of fun is introduced to the task, a person’s information retention and skills increase by up to 40%.


As we’ve discussed in the past, you can keep on track for positive life changes in part by prioritizing time to self-reflect, noting habit-forming actions and sticking to those that help you be your best self. And while this practice is quite different in the game, it’s another general skill you can learn from poker. Poker players have to consistently and honestly assess themselves in order to identify potential areas of improvement and recognize successful or unsuccessful playing strategies. This can instill a tendency to look inward for self-improvement opportunities, and that tendency can carry over into everyday living.

As alluded to at the outset, poker has been played for many years, and for many reasons. With the game so widespread and accessible today though, it’s worth considering a bit of brain training as one of those reasons. Being able to absorb skills and learn good habits through gaming can only help you to lead a richer life, and in this regard there’s quite a lot anyone can learn from poker.

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