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Win at Your Career with Five Poker Strategies

How is poker like your job? For the answer, check out five tips from Isabelle "No Mercy" Mercier, the highest-placed woman in the 2005 World Poker Tour (WPT) Championship, for using the game's techniques to win at work:

Go All In

Betting everything is called going all in. "Going all in is a big risk," notes Mercier, who practiced law before joining the WPT. "When I do it, it's either because I have a really big hand and I'm trying to get paid off for it, or it's because the all-in move has been dictated by heart."

The key is evaluating the potential rewards versus the risk, Mercier says. "In real life, if the direct consequence of taking a risk is your own happiness or fulfillment, then my advice is to go for it, and you won't be disappointed. Even though it can be stressful, you're better off jumping without a safety net and trying instead of just wondering how it would have been if only you had tried." Russ Carr of St. Louis took a calculated risk -- and lost. He quit a job he liked, sold his house and entreated his wife to move to Florida, all to take a new position. After about three weeks, he knew he'd made the wrong choice. "But then with nothing left to lose, I was a far more ambitious player, and I got a better job and new career as a result," he says.

The couple returned to St. Louis, and Carr got a job with The Sporting News -- and a sizable raise. "It was 50 percent more than I was getting in Florida," he says. "About a year or so later, I got promoted, and my salary took another huge jump." Carr is currently the publication's prepress manager.

Size Up the Situation

Most good poker players sit back, observe and wait a few hands before deciding to enter a pot. "This gives you time to evaluate your opponents and determine their basic style of play," Mercier says.

When you're applying for a job, promotion or project, size up both the other applicants and the decision makers. "Find the weaknesses, and use it to your advantage," she says. "Creativity is never an obstacle, and the element of surprise always has a tremendous impact."

Bluff

"A bluff has to be constructed on viable foundations in order to be believed," Mercier cautions. "You have to be consistent and find a bluff that makes sense."

Bluffing can help you get bigger projects that might be a stretch for your skill set. Dan Gonzalez of Columbus, Ohio, frequently uses what he calls the semi-bluff. "If I'm around 80 percent certain that I have the goods, I usually go all in and guarantee delivery," he says.

In other words, you can act like you're qualified -- even if you're not -- as long as you know you can pull off the project. This ploy got Gonzalez juicier assignments than his similarly qualified colleagues as well as helped advance his career. As a result, he's grown his credibility and abilities and been promoted to senior systems engineer with an IT consulting firm.

Check and Raise

In some poker games, you can check -- essentially making a bet of zero -- and then raise the amount later. "With your experience, you should know the strength of what you hold in your hand and what it's worth," Mercier says. "If you have a chance to observe your competitors, you might also get some insights on their strengths."

Mike Millar, an operations and tech support specialist for a Los Angeles production company, uses this tactic regularly. "I am of the firm belief that income gains are really only achieved between jobs," he says. "So I prefer to play my cards immediately while the employer is in the market to bring me on board."

For instance, when Millar was interviewing with an online brokerage firm, he researched the salary ranges for his position. "Their initial offer was the same salary I had made at my previous job," he says. So Millar rejected it, giving a target number he'd need to accept the offer. "It was reasonable, and they responded by revising the offer to meet my demands exactly. I started the next week."

The Big Con

"I think the most valuable skill in poker is self-confidence," Mercier says. "When you believe that your poker move will be successful, others will believe it, too. When you enter a pot with the definite intent to win it, you've almost already won it. When you take yourself seriously, your opponents will, too."

This could easily translate into real-life situations or work situations, Mercier concludes. "Self-confidence is often a characteristic you find in successful people."

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