If you flip a coin 20 times and it comes up ‘heads’ each time, the odds of getting another ‘heads’ on the 21st flip is still 50-50. In a pure game of chance, past results have no effect on future outcomes. There is simply no way to change that.

But when a game includes strategy and you’re competing against others – as in poker – that’s an entirely different story. Chance still plays a role, but players who consistently make the right bets on the right cards will still win over the long haul.

It’s the same in business and in life: Make the right moves over and over and you’ll ultimately win. That’s all there is to it, sort of. The rules of the game may be straightforward, but winning is by no means a slam-dunk. Here are some helpful tips.

You can’t win if you don’t play.

And by “play,” I don’t mean a game or two here or there. You have to be in the game consistently for a long, long time to win. There’s no quick fix and no shortcuts. If you try to win big with a few quick high-risk bets, there’s a very good chance you’ll lose your shirt and everything else.

It’s a game of attrition and you have to persevere. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and that’s how you have to play it if you want to win.

You learn from experience.

In poker as in business, there are rules, strategies, nuances and lessons to learn. The thing is, everyone knows the rules. Reading will only get you so far. The only way to outperform the competition is from real-world experience. Pay attention. That’s how you figure out what works and what doesn’t. That’s how you develop your own skills, strategies and tactics.

There simply is no substitute for the lessons you learn the hard way. You gain confidence from winning and wisdom from losing. And over time, you develop your own unique way of playing the game.

It’s a zero-sum game.

Every poker match has winners and losers, but the game always nets out to zero because you’re playing against others. Granted, markets are elastic. They can grow over time. But every sale, every transaction, every opportunity has one winner and a bunch of losers. Competitive markets are essentially zero-sum games.

You have to win if you want to be successful, and the only way to do that is to be consistently better than the competition.

Blow your reputation and you’re done.

Get caught cheating at poker, word gets around and you’re done. That’s all she wrote. That goes for anything.

Your reputation is everything. If you’re known for playing clean, for being a good sport, for showing up and meeting your commitments, you get asked to play again and again. Opportunity comes your way. If not, you’ve got to find another line of work. End of story.

Never bluff yourself.

Short-term success can be a dangerous thing. When you start to think the deck is stacked in your favor – that you’re lucky, that you can’t lose – that’s when you make risky bets you shouldn’t make. That’s when your ego writes checks that the laws of probability can’t cash.

You can sometimes bluff others, but never bluff yourself. No matter how successful you are, never forget the odds. Never forget your limitations. Keep your feet planted firmly on the ground. Keep it real.

The most important thing to remember is this: To win at poker, make the right bets on the right cards over and over. Winning in business and in life is exactly the same: consistently make good decisions. Simple as that.

A version of this originally appeared on entrepreneur.com.

  • “Competitive markets are essentially zero-sum games.”

    They are also enervating nil margin games. Which is why “libertarian” Trump supporter Peter Thiel hates them. He argues for the putative Big Picture Beneficence of monopoly power. His book “Zero to One.” Shall I cite the passages? We could begin on page 23.

  • LeviMeow

    Great down to earth article.

  • LeviMeow

    Is it worth making a comparison between consistently being in the game and not always making the best moves but doggedly being in the game vs being in the game and making the rght moves? I hope this makes sense?!

    • Steve Tobak

      Makes sense to me. Actually, the post is aspirational. In reality, none of us consistently make good decisions, the right moves, whatever. You just sort of have to do the best you can with the hands you’re dealt, right?

      • LeviMeow

        Thanks very much for your answer. I guess making the best out of everything and not whinging abt what could have been. For me I am frightened of being in the game… its like a vicious circle… I have business ideas but I am frightened to do it. (My ideas are not frightening for anyone else). I think I have narrowed it down to having a fear of success which stops me from entering the game.