Winning Even When You Don’t Have a Winning Hand

In a recent episode of the School of Greatness podcast, Lewis Howes interviews Price Prichett, the author of the book You2, better known as You Squared. During their conversation, Prichett shared an interesting study where researchers compared the quality of a poker hand vs. how often that winning hand actually won.

Doing a bit of digging, we found the study. In 2009, software security and research firm Cigital released the findings of a report that analyzed 103 million hands of poker. Approximately 75 percent of the hands played never reached a showdown, where one or more players had to reveal their cards to win the pot. Of the 25% that were left, only half of those showdowns were won by the best hand.

The study’s authors, Paco Hope and Dr. Sean McCulloch concluded that poker is won by skill rather than luck. It has less to do with the cards and more to do with the player.

That may be some of the best news ever. Think about it for a moment. Just because you don’t have a “winning” hand doesn’t mean you can’t win. If you play your hand right, the odds are actually in your favor.

You may want to call B.S. on this right now – we get it. We’ve all had moments where we weren’t holding a winning hand. Talk to any entrepreneur, or someone who recently lost a job, and they’ll tell you all about it. Challenges come up every day, and often, those challenges make us feel like we’re holding a bad hand. Those bad hands can make us feel like we’re going to lose, and over time, they can get in our heads.

Often, it’s in that moment when the seemingly bad hand gets in our head that we give up. Based on the research above, we find ourselves wondering how many times we’ve given up too early and folded on a hand that could have won.

In these moments, right when we’re about to give up, we need to channel our inner poker player.

Winning with bad hands is an essential skill that the best players possess. With that in mind, here are three poker skills we can all leverage when the hand we’re holding feels weak…

  1. Read the table. Solid poker players are constantly analyzing their surroundings and looking for open doors that will allow them to turn weak hands into winning hands.
  2. Understand that your bad hand might be alright. At first glance, a poker hand might look bad, but there may be enough in there to win. Only when the hands start to get played does a player begin to see the true power of what they’re holding.
  3. Pick your spots. Not every bad hand is a winner or worth trying to win with. Some bad hands are just that – bad. Others are worthy of taking some risks. Knowing the difference is key.


Play poker long enough, and you’ll pick up a bad hand. Start a business, step into a leadership role, or simply live your life, and you’ll find yourself holding a few bad hands as well. Here’s the good news. No matter the odds and the hand you’re holding, you can still win. Don’t let a bad hand make you fold. Play the cards you’re dealt, and make the most of the opportunity, and you can still come out on top… as long as you don’t give up.

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