Not Just a Game: The Cognitive Benefits of Poker

An illustration of a blue brain being hit by blue signals and hitting the front of the brain which has a red tint.

When you think of poker, chances are that you see it mainly as a gambling activity. It’s a game of chance, where players are dealt their cards and then have to hope that theirs are better than their opponents. For generations, people who don’t play poker have considered it a game based on a lot of luck and only a bit of skill.

However, recent studies have brought the cognitive benefits of poker to light. Whether you are a professional poker player or simply enjoy playing online poker with friends, you are working on your mental skills whenever you play (whether you know it or not.) Playing poker online or in person can help you exercise your inherent cognitive skills as well as read your opponents – and their cards – better.

How do the mental benefits of playing poker help in “real life”?

Poker is a tough and mentally stimulating game that requires players to have a deep understanding of their opponents. Various studies have shown that people who regularly play poker develop “real-life” skills that can benefit their everyday decision-making. It teaches players to read people more effectively, strategize and think creatively.

These are just some ways that the skills you develop by playing virtual poker (or in-person poker) can benefit your everyday life.

Poker is great for your business

We can all agree that operating a startup business or getting your business off the ground is a pretty high-stakes operation. You have to assess potential risks, analyze your competition, take opportunities when they are presented and control your emotions when things aren’t going your way. Ultimately, you need to understand when you can hold them or when you should fold up and walk away.

There are several parallels between playing poker and running or owning a business – particularly when it comes to startups. Poker is an excellent small-scale model that can teach business owners how to train their brains to make difficult decisions, weigh risks and run their businesses effectively under extreme pressure. Some ways in which poker benefits business owners include:


Business owners and players alike rely on confidence in their own ability to identify potential opportunities or losses. Poker and business are both examples of high-pressure environments that require the player (or owner) to make decisions when they may lack critical information that others may rely on. Poker helps them build up confidence in their own judgment and forces them to put together the crucial missing pieces they need to make important decisions.

Assessing risks

Taking risks is an inherent part of starting a successful business, as it is in a good game of poker. If you’ve got a two-pair and your opponent is not looking great either, then going all-in could be a great bet. However, taking the bet would probably not be the best idea if there are four hearts on the table. Poker teaches you to look at what’s in front of you and assess the risks. With experience, you’ll understand the signs without having to think about it too much.

Get through a losing streak

Not everything in business goes according to plan; often, it can feel like you’re just getting hit with failure after failure. In poker, we call this a losing streak. Poker is about playing hand after hand in the hope of turning the tables and getting back into your stride. It teaches us that in business – and often in life in general – we also need to push through the bad patches to succeed. However, it’s also important to know when to walk away and call it a day, especially if you’re not in the best frame of mind to make good decisions – and this can take even more strength.

Emotional intelligence

Whether you own or run a company or are just in charge of a team of people, playing poker games online or in person will undoubtedly make you a better manager. To play a good game of poker, you have to be able to read people’s physical and non-physical cues, such as facial expressions and body language. This helps players develop the emotional intelligence to “read the room” and work well with colleagues, employees, and partners.

Practice makes perfect

Too many people think running a business or playing poker is easy. They fail to understand that it will come with a lot of hard work, ups and downs, and there will be times when they will lose. Yes, poker can be about luck, but the more you play, the less luck you’ll need to win because you’ll improve your game. The same goes for business. The more experience you gain, the better you will get at decision-making, identifying opportunities and making your company successful.

Poker teaches you to control your emotions

Poker players are renowned for their ability to recognize when they should hold or fold. Part of being a successful poker player is being able to control yourself at the table, and it’s something that new or inexperienced players can struggle with. Self-control is a massive asset to have as a poker player and when you spend time playing poker games online, you develop emotional self-awareness and mental resilience that can help you in many other facets of life.

Experienced poker players know that by chasing losses, they could lose more than they can monetarily handle. They know when to step away, take a break and reset with a fresh mind to be on top of their game for the next one. Whether you’re playing in a casual online poker tournament with friends or taking part in one of the biggest poker tournaments around the world, you can improve your cognitive maturity and apply it to real-life situations. By playing smart, you’ll learn to identify which games are worth the effort and which you’ll end up losing. You can use this as an asset in stressful situations that allow you to keep a calm head and make the right decision so that you don’t regret it later down the line.

A man in the middle wearing a shirt being shouted at by people either side of him whilst he stays calm and ignores them.

Poker benefits your concentration

Texas Hold’em poker rules may be relatively easy to learn, but they’re certainly not easy to master. Mastering any variety of poker not only requires years of experience and studying but concentration as well. Fortunately, it’s one of the cognitive benefits most commonly associated with poker. Players need to be highly focused to win a hand. It’s a mentally stimulating activity that gives the brain a workout. Consistently performing a single activity can help your brain to rewire itself with newly created neural pathways and nerve fibers. Online poker tournaments and competitions are particularly beneficial, as they require players to concentrate and focus for long periods.

Playing poker helps players to develop longer concentration spans – but this isn’t the only impact it has on their focusing abilities. Being a successful poker player means concentrating on your own hand, your opponent’s hand, their cues, the dealer, the bets that are called, the community cards on the table and the players who have already folded in the game. This all means that a longer attention span is also complemented by the multitasking ability to concentrate on more than one thing at a time.

Poker and degenerative diseases

As you’ve seen, playing poker can help you with everyday decisions right now or in the immediate future, but what most people don’t know is that poker could actually help to delay degenerative neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Dr. Jeffrey Cummings produced a study that showed that people who play poker could reduce the chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 50%. The mental stimulation and function required to play poker are critical when it comes to battling the development of these diseases.

Poker teaches you how to deal with loss

No matter how lucky or good you are at something, there will be days when things just don’t go your way. Whether it’s an important pitch at work, a game of soccer or just a conversation with your partner, loss and failure are an inevitable part of life. It’s how you deal with it that will have the biggest impact. 

How you cope with failure in life is incredibly important, just as it is in poker. A good poker player won’t chase a loss or throw a tantrum over a bad hand. They will simply fold, learn a lesson and move on. Being able to take the hard knocks is an essential aspect of everyday life. If you can learn how to handle failure and take a lesson as part of it, then you’ll be able to pick yourself back up quickly, and actually learn how to do something better the next time around.

It helps you develop a poker face

Everyone, at some point in their lives, will find themselves in a situation where they don’t want to give away too much – whether that’s something as serious as negotiating an important business deal, or as lighthearted as keeping a secret surprise party from a loved one. 

In poker, players must learn how to bluff to hide their tells and keep their hands’ contents a mystery to other players. The less opponents know about your hand, the better chance you have of outplaying them. Learning this skill can help you put on a real-life poker face whenever you need to.

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Play online poker in the USA with Borgata Online

These are just some of the ways that playing poker can benefit your mind and help you in real-life situations. If you’re looking for the best place to play live poker online, Borgata Online has got you covered. Our platform is the leading site to play poker online for money. With a top selection of individual games, hot tournaments, promotions and welcoming specials, you’ll soon find your poker skills start to improve. What’s more, you can pick up poker tournament tips and learn poker tournament rules from our renowned poker blog, where you’ll discover a range of poker variants that should get more love

To play poker online, along with all the other online casino games we offer, register with Borgata Online.