It was Las Vegas’ answer to the tent revival, only the sermon espoused cool, rational thinking and the preachers included two celebrity poker players. The topic at hand last Friday: how you can apply poker strategies to everyday negotiations, from buying a car to arguing for a raise. The few hundred who gathered at Cox Pavilion for the panel discussion spanned the gamut of age and means, echoing the come-as-you-are ethos of Southern Baptists and seeking some of the same answers—namely, the keys to prosperity.
The panel was headlined by reality TV firebrand Annie Duke and her poker-playing brother, Howard Lederer. Both testified to the advantages of thinking in terms of odds and “expected value”—what a given proposition is likely to yield. The difficult part, they said, is assessing that value. Which is why the first rule of both poker and negotiating is to glean as much information as you can about the other side’s hand. Fellow panelist and former casino owner Jack Binion explained, “In poker, a guy’s talking with his bets, and in negotiation, he’s just talking. If you really listen, he will start giving you a lot of information.” Lederer confided afterward that he’s never not playing poker.
One of the best ways to “put your opponent on” a hand (or a price), the panel agreed, is to make sure you go last. This is known as “position” in poker and often determines whether you’ll pursue a pot. “Be smarter than my 7-year-old,” Duke advised, recalling a pseudo-negotiation between her daughter and a classmate. Asked whether she likes Hannah Montana, the young Duke said: “I don’t know ... do you?” After a few audience members posed irrelevant questions, Duke circled back to a basic negotiating tip we’d all do well to remember: “In general, when people say, ‘Well, this is my final offer,’ it usually isn’t ... and when people are really trying to act strong, they’re usually not.”