Friday, June 17, 2005

Taking Poker Into The Workplace

A recent report stated that poker was now being used as a differentiator by recruiters as they appraised CVs.

The report suggested some companies were actively seeking poker players, as an interest in poker suggested an aptitude for a variety of useful business skills, such as numeracy, strategic thought, people skills, etc.

My initial reaction was although this did seem to have a degree of rationality behind it, in all likelihood it was nothing more than a passing fad. Mind you, it didn't stop me adding poker to my CV. Just in case!

An event this week suggested my initial reaction could be wrong, as my own poker attributes were put to full use in the most unexpected of circumstances.

To make sense of the event requires knowledge of two facts.

Fact 1. The Div staredown has become my trademark in our homegame. Usually on TV I see the pros giving their opponent the big staredown BEFORE they act. After acting they will then generally go into frozen mode, while they wait for their opponent to react.

For some reason I tend to take the opposite approach, and face down my opponent AFTER I've bet or raised. Almost daring them to call. I'm told the look is fierce, and I'm inclined to believe that. I can be pretty intense in some circumstances.

Fact 2. Our previous home was in the centre of the city. A flat within walking distance of our respective work locations, all the shops, dozens of bars and restaurants. The perfect location for a young(ish) childless couple.

When we decided to start a family it was time to move on. Out to the suburbs and a house with a garden.

The Scottish way of selling homes often leads to a blind bidding outcome where interested parties submit a sealed bid by a given deadline, and highest bid wins. In our case, we received five bids. The highest of which was from a guy called Mark Hubbock.

The nature of the legal process tends to mean all the contracts aren't signed until several weeks after the bid is accepted. This was the case with our sale. Initially this didn't concern me, but when it got to two weeks before we were due to move home and things still hadn't been concluded, I started to get concerned.

At this point we got indications from our solicitor that Mark Hubbock was showing signs of pulling out of the deal. This would be unfortunate to say the least, as it would leave us stuck with a shortfall of roughly £120k (~$200k) on our new mortgage.

The game he was playing became clear soon after, when he submitted a revised offer on the flat which was £8,500 less than what he had initially agreed to pay. He appeared to be hoping we would be desperate enough to accept the reduced price, as it was so close to our moving date and too late to remarket the flat.

This is extremely unusual in Scotland. Not illegal, though certainly immoral. He was certainly a trailblazer in his field, as the practice was practically unheard of when it happened to us, but is now more common and has become known as gazundering.

Obviously he didn't know me very well. There was no chance we would make a deal on his terms. Cue two weeks of massive stress as I frantically reshuffled our finances to cover the shortfall. Ultimately we were hit with a few thousand in legal fees and interest charges that should never have been necessary, but Mrs Div and I did get things sorted out.

Mark Hubbock disappeared from the scene. No phone call, no letter, no expression of regret from his solicitor. Nothing.

I was absolutely seething, but there was nothing I could do.

Two years later, imagine my reaction when I walked into the office I'd been dispatched to this week, and there, seated in the same area I'd be working in, was Mark Hubbock!

The situation is - I work for a small company(SC). We are doing some work for a big customer(BC). The work is being done in the offices of a big supplier(BS) to BC - who are collaborating with us for the duration of this piece of work, but are effectively one of our biggest competitors. Mark Hubbuck is working as a freelance contractor on behalf of BS.

Still with me? If you are, you will see this is a delicate situation. Consequently my preferred option of strolling up to his desk and punching him hard on the nose had to be ruled out. I decided to simply go for the pretend he isn't there approach.

This was fine until the BS team leader decided to do the sociable thing and introduce me to the rest of the team.

Ugh. I had to shake Mark Hubbock's hand. Now I know how Prince Charles felt when Robert Mugabe approached him! I guess being polite to people you despise is a daily hazard for politicians, but it's not in my nature.

I played it straight as an arrow. Pretended to the team leader that we hadn't met. My poker face in full effect. I did make sure he got the Div staredown. Manoeuvring so my back was to the team leader as I did so. He didn't look terribly happy to see me. Let's just say he had a tell or two.

It doesn't get me back any of my cash, but seeing the discomfort writ large across his face certainly made me feel better. In an ideal world I'd like to at least 'have words' with him, but I don't want to harm the reputation of SC. Sometimes you need to put other considerations before your own needs.

It looks like I'll be settling for moral superiority, rather than the grim satisfaction of direct retribution.

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