My two favorite games when I am in a casino (which is not as often as I would like it to be!) is poker and blackjack. Poker combines simple math with extremely complex human nature to create a thriller in every hand. Blackjack though is purely logical at every hand. While it lacks the sheer thrill of poker, it has the most even odds in a casino; so if I have to play any other game at the casino, it would be blackjack. However, even in this game, where you could write an algorithm to make the most optimum decision at every hand, human nature adds drama. There are always a few people who seem to make the most outrageous decision and still win hands. Sometimes I wonder if they are counting cards but eventually when I see them lose all their winnings, I am convinced they got lucky for a while there. The beauty of blackjack is that long-term success requires you to focus on input – the quality of decisions – rather than the output – the winnings. It’s something we should practice in our jobs and more generally in life. It starts with resisting the temptation to tell your kid ‘well played’ or ‘well done’ just because the final outcome was good (or indeed criticizing her only because the outcome was bad).
Blackjack can also teach you to distinguish between risk and stupidity. Very often in life, we mistake stupidity for affinity to risk but it’s not. Someone who ‘hits’ when he has 17 and the dealer’s open card is 5 is stupid. Someone who doubles when he has 10 and the dealer’s open card is 8 has a higher tolerance to risk. And that distinction is also very important – in business and in life.