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Phil Gordon

Professional poker player and commentator Phil Gordon is coming to Seattle this week, and he’s really looking forward to taking your money.

Gordon, a computer scientist by training who retired from the tech industry in 1997 after the sale of Netsys to Cisco, will be a special guest this Thursday at Startup Poker 2.0 event. And he’s not just coming to talk about winning strategies in poker and business.

Gordon wants to win.

Competitive and intense, Gordon chatted with GeekWire about the six tips for success at both the poker table and in the board room. The 41-year-old Newport, Washington resident will be putting many of those lessons to work in the coming months as he jumps back into the business world with Jawfish Games, a new startup that’s setting out to develop online tournaments for skill-based video games.

“There are not a lot of games that I like to play on my iPhone or Facebook, and the reason is that I like to compete. You may find that hard to believe,” said Gordon with a laugh. “Put me in a bracket of 64  players, I don’t care what the game is –whether it is rock, paper scissors or anything — that is instantly interesting and compelling to me.”

Asked whether he was looking forward to taking on some of the startup CEOs and founders at Startup Poker 2.0, Gordon said he’d very much like to add to his total career poker winnings of $3.5 million.

“Let’s just put it this way: When I am in town, I am not only scouting for potential partners for Jawfish, I am also scouting for easy money at the poker table,” said Gordon.

For those who are trying to compete against Gordon — either on the poker table or in the business world — here are some of his key tips for success.

1. Be aggressive: “Aggression at the poker table takes the form of betting and raising, and being the person who constantly puts pressure on your opponent. But you have to couple that with patience. The two keyword phrase that I like to preach when I am teaching poker is ‘selective aggression.’ You want to be very selective about the hands that you choose to play, but once you choose to play a hand, you play it very aggressively. And it is basically the same thing that I see in the business world, and it is one of the reasons why I am excited to get back into the world of startups because I think I’ve been very patient in looking for the right opportunity, but once that opportunity came along, I am all in. And that’s basically the same philosophy I have at the poker table.”

2. Be patient: See above.

3. Have courage: “When you are facing a six-figure bet from some of the best players in the world, and you have a mediocre hand, it takes some balls to call that bet. And the only way to win is to bluff, but by bluffing you are putting you life at risk, but you think it is still the right play, not a lot of people who play the game, have the ability to make that play. So you have to have the courage to make difficult choices, choices that can have startingly bad ramifications. But if there are right positive expectation play, than you have to suck it up and find the courage to make that play. And it is the same thing in business. If you are sitting on the fence, and you have a great idea, and a great team lined up, but you just can’t force yourself to quit your day job, you are not going to make it very far in the startup world.”

Phil Gordon

4. Be observant: “At the poker table it is obvious, you are looking for ‘tells.’ You are looking for betting patterns that your opponents are giving off with their hand and you are looking for profitable opportunities to steal or to isolate a weak player. In the business world, you are observing your opponents, you are looking for a market niche or an opportunity to get in their and exploit a hole that other people haven’t done.”

5. Be resilient:  “It manifests at the poker table all of the time because even if you have a great hand — like pocket aces and you are up against two random cards you are only going to win about 80 percent of the time. So, 20 percent of the time you take a bad beat. What you have to realize is that is perfectly fine to make a positive expectation play and fail. You are not always going to win, even if you get your money in with the best of it. But a lot of people will — what we call in the poker world ‘go on tilt’ — and they are so upset about losing what was a positive expectation move or hand that they start playing all sorts of negative expectation hands in an effort to change those losses. The truly great players are able to be resilient, and they are able to bounce back from unfortunate bad beats, and keep trying again. The best statistic I can give you is that nine out of ten startups fail, so unless you get lucky and are one of the ten, it is most likely that you are going to end up with nothing. But that’s OK, you can get back on your horse and come up with another idea, and try again. Successful entrepreneurs need to be tremendously resilient in order to survive in a winner-take-all ecosystem.

6. A desire to improve: “That includes seeking out mentors that are more knowledgeable than you, and understanding and acknowledging that something that you don’t know is oftentimes more important than knowing the stuff that you do know.”

Gordon said he looks for players with those characteristics, and is always on the lookout (remember, be observant) to exploit those who are missing one or more.

“My theory is if you have all six of those qualities at the poker table, you are going to be a champion player,” he said. “If for some reason, you are not a champion poker player, you are missing at least one of those, probably more. And likewise in the business world, if you have all six of those — I don’t care if you are running your own company or you are a venture capitalist or you are a blogger — if you have all six of those qualities you are going to be world-class in whatever you are doing.”

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