Phil Ivey is considered by many to be the best poker player in the world.
Getting his start as a teenager in the Atlantic City casinos, he was known as “No Home Jerome” by local players because he was always there. Later he was named The Tiger Woods of Poker.
In studying Ivey’s life, there are some takeaways for tech founders on how to be at the top of your industry.
Whether you believe in Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule or not, most self-made successful leaders who are at the top of their industry put in more hours of hard work than their peers. Ivey has said all he wanted to do as a teenager was play poker and he was fanatical about the game as a teenager. Ivey has been playing poker for more than two decades now.
If you want to be one of the best in your entire industry, you have to be willing to put in the work and become fanatical at reading about and practicing your craft. Regardless of what some people tell you about “working smart”, you are unlikely to be the best in the world without putting in very very long hours at your craft.
You can have big industry connections, you can come from a family with a big wallet, you can cheat, but if you are self-made, you will need to put in more hours than at least 90 percent of the people you are competing with.
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Ivey has the classic poker face. He holds his emotions in check and is able to have the same face whether he is winning or losing, whether he has aces or pocket or 2s.
Many overconfident entrepreneurs make the worst decisions when they are winning. They start to get loose and begin to lose discipline. Everyone is praising you. You’re getting media coverage and you start thinking you are the next Steve Jobs.
Other entrepreneurs struggle with terminating friendships or losing staff members who are loyal but are no longer the right people for the job. Emotions lead them to rationalize making bad decisions and keeping people on the payroll that shouldn’t be there.
At times, you need a killer instinct that allows you to make good business decisions with little or minimal emotion. Ofen, emotions paralyze tech founder and they don’t play their cards like they should.
Ivey became the best in part because he has the ability to hold his emotions in check, allowing him to make world-class decisions at the poker table.
Ivey spent at least a decade focusing on one thing: poker. He became known for “advantage play,” beating out a few casinos for more than $10 million. But he mastered his craft before moving into a more advanced and riskier side of his industry.
You will often see entrepreneurs make critical mistakes diversifying their product mix and line of businesses too early, or trying to grow too big, too fast, in an effort to satisfy their “big-or-bust” VC investor base.
The core idea may have had a shot if they had given it 100 percent of their time. But investors and founders decide to be many things before one thing is really proven and profitable.
Ivey demonstrates the power of focus. He wasn’t trying to master many things during the first 10 years of his professional career. He focused on one thing and became the best at it.