Playing the Long Game

Later tonight, I'm headed to the neighborhood dads' poker game. 

Each of these guys has a different playing style. 

  • Some are conservative betters; others are aggressive. 
  • Some play the intellectual game; others get overly emotional.
  • Some get drunk; others capitalize on their competitors' drunkenness. 
  • Some play the short game; others play the long game.
The long game is the collection of small decisions and their resultant successes and failures over a duration. Months. Years. Decades.

When it comes down to success, I wholly believe in the consistency of good decisions is what matters.

I'm probably a below-average poker player. Yet, it's possible for me to sit at a table of world champion players... and win. 

How? By getting lucky enough times when I make bad decisions.

If I sat down against those same players for another 100 games, I'd get crushed in 95+ of them. These guys are stacking good decisions on top of each other. For them, getting lucky means maximizing on an already good decision, as opposed to bailing them out of a bad one. 


I work with detective teams that always seem to build the great cases and make the big arrests. I also work with teams who have much less consistency and much less success - but still seem to pull out huge criminal indictments every now and then.

Over time, those detective teams are all being dealt similar hands. We all see the same types of cases, crimes, variables, and clues. The best teams are methodical, precise, adaptive, and intellectual with their process. They don't get hung up on losses, but are still reflective on them. 

I'm attracted to these detectives who continue to stack up good decisions. I love learning from them about their attitudes, behaviors, decision-making processes, philosophies, and influences. 


In poker, it's easy to see the winners. Poker is a repetitive, consistent domain with clear objectives for success, that over time, allows the professionals to rise to the top... and send the amateurs to the bottom. 

The working environment for police investigative units operate in a domain that is not nearly as measured or consistent. It's considerably more ambiguous and complex than any structured game, and success can be a matter of subjective perspective.

Regardless, I believe there are lessons that can be transferred - especially an appreciation for and a commitment to the long game.


While I fully acknowledge the limitations of comparing "closed-loop" games to "open-loop" life, there are still lessons to be learned. 

I've previously written on learning by playing cards with my grandma and passing along similar to my own kids. Most of those posts focus on developing a strategy within the confines of the game's rules, holding multiple theories in your head, calculating rough odds, making predictions, and adjusting decisions based on feedback loops. (You know -- typical stuff that school never really teaches you.)


Lou Hayes, Jr. is a detective supervisor in a suburban Chicago police department. He's focused on multi-jurisdictional crime patterns & intelligence, through organic working groups compromised of investigators & analysts from a variety of agencies. With a passion for training, he studies human performance, decision-making, creativity, emotional intelligence, & adaptability. In 2021, he went back to college (remotely!), in hopes to finally finish his undergrad degree from the University of Illinois - Gies College of Business. Follow Lou on LinkedIn, & also the LinkedIn page for The Illinois Model***


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