Women learn career lessons at poker table

The Association for Corporate Growth, LI chapter, invited Ellen Leikind of Poker Prima Divas to teach local businesswomen the basics of playing poker, and how those strategies can help them in business. Videojournalist: Jessica Rotkiewicz (Oct. 24, 2011)

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Women seeking a seat at the corporate table might want to grab a seat at the poker table first.

That was the message delivered to about 50 Long Island women -- accountants, bankers, attorneys -- who gathered recently to learn the basics of no-limit Texas Hold'em, as well as how principles of poker apply to doing business deals.

"Poker is the new golf," says Ellen Leikind, who led the training at the Westbury Manor.

A former marketing executive with Pfizer and L'Oreal, she founded Manhattan-based PokerPrimaDivas in 2005 to help women learn to play to win, as she says men tend to do, not to avoid losing. She's done poker sessions for the likes of Credit Suisse, IBM and Hearst Magazines.

Which poker lessons apply to business? Tony Hsieh, chief executive of Zappos, has written of the value in both endeavors of going "for positive expected value, not what's least risky."

Also, spotting a fellow player's proclivity for risk allows you to tailor your approach in a business scenario, says Lorraine C. Sullivan, director of marketing at Farrell Fritz, P.C. in Uniondale. She helped plan last month's Westbury event, sponsored by the New York chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth, a group for deal-making professionals.

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Add to that the ability to analyze risk and odds -- to know when to be assertive and when to fold, Leikind said. Winners over time, in both business and poker, are "not the bullies or the reckless risk takers -- they're those who maintain a missile-like focus on their goals," she writes in her book, "Poker Woman."

Her own lightbulb moment came several years ago when asked to take on a freelance project -- one calling for a specialty few people have -- at a discounted price. Thanks to her weekly poker game, she says, she realized she had "pocket aces," so she held firm at her price.

Texas Hold'em, a poker variation that has surged in popularity via television and the Internet, has been on the rise at charity functions, and business networking and team-building events, said Dawn Strain, president of DJS Events, an event planning firm in Bethpage. "It used to be considered a man's game," says Strain, an avid player. But, "the barriers are breaking."

Women have been invited to join a monthly game started five years ago by Jamie Austin, a senior vice president at Austin Travel in Syosset. So far no women have become regulars, he says, adding, "We play for fun, so the stakes are purposely kept low."

Betty Wall, a certified public accountant who won the tournament that followed the PokerPrimaDivas training in Westbury, says she followed Leikind's advice to bet aggressively when you have the right hand. (Players used practice chips; they weren't wagering for money.)

Wall, of Margolin, Winer & Evens Llp in Garden City, says the event was a nice change from more traditional networking evenings. Poker is "an alternative for people who don't play golf," she said, "and it can be done in the winter."

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