Inside the mind of a pro poker player – what life skills you can learn from playing the game | The Sun

IT'S no secret that being successful in poker can be very, very lucrative.

And while the money on offer is great at all levels, it's not solely the financial side that you can benefit from in life.

PokerStars ambassador Jen Shahade is a world chess champion and top poker player.

Despite her successes in both, Jen remains one of the most grounded and approachable players on the circuit, with her bubbly and infectious personality making any interaction a delight.

She has a real passion for ensuring inclusivity rates – particularly in female participation – in poker rise.

And she's keen to highlight the vast array of life skills that playing the game can aid with, alongside the money aspect.

Jen is also on the advisory board at Poker Power, a community aiming to teach one million women how to play poker.

That allowed her to introduce the idea that both PokerStars and Poker Power shared an interest in increasing female player numbers, which saw the birth of the Women's Bootcamp.

This year saw the second bootcamp run for eight weeks, with 10 successful women from training going on to compete in an all-expenses paid to Cyprus.

Speaking to Jen at the event, she said: "Initially, I made an introduction to the idea that both organisations [Poker Power and PokerStars] had very similar goals.

“Poker Power want to teach one million women poker, while PokerStars have, for many years, tried to make the game more inclusive.

“So after that I helped with some of the coaching of the 40 women who were involved in the camp and I’m now here to help inspire them and speak to them while giving out moral support.

“The Poker Power instructors did the bulk of the coaching and they do a fantastic job, particularly teaching someone that arrives with absolutely no knowledge of poker at all."

On the recruits this year, she added: “This group of bootcamp finalists have brought so much energy, intelligence and many different things this year.

“I’m pretty keen on this group – as I was last year! But it just seems that they’re all very grateful for the opportunity and are making the most of it.

“I think that’s one thing you notice from an opportunity like this. All the women that took it have sought an opportunity like this and have grabbed it.

“They say that about getting lucky, that most of it is grabbing as many opportunities as you can and eventually you’ll get lucky. I think all the women that are here have all exhibited that and one will get an even greater opportunity.”

As mentioned, she has made a conscious effort to ensure the women take more away with them than just an experience.

Alongside the main aims of Poker Power which are to help build confidence, challenge the status quo, learn strategy and assess risk, Jen has revealed the one main life skill she wants people to take away from the game.

She continued: “The number one life skill I want them to take away from this is that if you’re never getting called in your bluff, you’re not bluffing enough!

“So in life if you’re not asking for things that people are saying no to you for, you need to ask for even more things.

“Of course, that’s the name of the game in poker. Sometimes you’ll bluff and get called but that shows you’re playing the game right.

“It’s the same in life. Ask for that raise, ask for that greater opportunity. Yeah, you might get told no, but that means you’re going out there and searching for these opportunities.

“Some of these women on the bootcamp are showing just that and I reckon they can be a huge inspiration when they go home.”

That follows her simple mantra of playing aggressively and keeping the game simple.

For novices playing the game, that is the way she would encourage you to play – in order to take that into everyday life.

“Aggressive and simple – that’s a really good way to play", she said.

“Playing that way, you put pressure on other people and make life so much easier for yourself – the perfect combination!"

Reflecting on her success in both spheres, Jen reckons having a successful career in poker is easier than doing so in chess.

Again, it's the transition in life skills that helps with that and she reckons holding those skills can benefit the poker game greater than it would in chess.

She also namechecked new PokerStars pro, Maria Konnikova, who rose to stardom in the game having played for just one year by using her skills in day-to-day life to help progress her poker career.

Jen added: “It’s easier in poker than it is in chess to be reasonably good at it. It’s easier in the sense that you can beat people as long as you have the right mindset. But to become excellent, it’s honestly very similar.

“I think chess is a game that requires an awful lot of knowledge just to be at a level where you’d feel comfortable to play at a tournament.

“But poker is so fun and you can just start even if you don’t know that much and that’s the nice thing about poker.

“Poker takes on a few more life skills, too. I’ve noticed some of the women in our bootcamp, especially without having played much or any poker, they’re very intelligent and very good at reading people. You can directly apply those to playing poker, whereas in chess there’s nothing really like that.

“You can’t really use your other skills from life and be able to use them in chess, similar to music.

“You have to study music, you can’t just be good at the violin just because you’re a smart person.

“One of our PokerStars pros, Maria Konnikova became exceptionally good at poker after just a year because she had leveraged all her skills from outside of poker. I think that’s pretty cool.

"But it also shows it can be done and I hope that inspires more people – especially women – to give the game a try."

Remember to gamble responsibly

A responsible gambler is someone who:

  • Establishes time and monetary limits before playing
  • Only gambles with money they can afford to lose
  • Never chase their losses
  • Doesn’t gamble if they’re upset, angry, or depressed
  • Gamcare –
  • Gamble Aware –

Find our detailed guide on responsible gambling practices here.

For help with a gambling problem, call the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133 or go to to be excluded from all UK-regulated gambling websites.

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