Making the Correlation Between Poker Tells and Funeral Service Reading Abilities

I know, I can already feel your puzzled look at me. Hear me out though. For this article, I am going to make the correlation between playing poker and funeral service. There are ways they go hand in hand (pun intended).

When you are playing poker, you are reading other poker players. A way to set yourself apart from the others and to take your game to the next level; you need to be able to read people. In funeral service, when meeting with families as the funeral director; you need to be able to read people.

Let’s start with the less morbid one, just to keep you around (wink). When one sits down at a poker table, a player is playing against everyone else at the table. It’s you and them. The poker chips are your ammo and means of currency (you cash your money in for chips to play). Let the chips fall where they may, but you can certainly help your cause in gaining those chips (money).

I remember when I first learned about the game of poker. I was young, I was just about to turn 21 years old. I didn’t head to the casino, but rather to a friend’s house. I had no idea how to play. None. Didn’t know the rules of the game. Didn’t know hand rankings. I had no clue what to do. As luck would have it I won that night (beginner’s luck obviously). But, when I did learn about the game thereafter, I started as most: I played my cards as they were.

Tyrell James via Unsplash

If I had good starting hands, I would play them. If I was holding bad cards, I would not play them. Very straightforward right? You either have a good hand or you have a bad hand. You’re either happy or you’re sad. The cards are what they are, and your emotions then are what they are. This is where having a “poker face” comes in handy.

Having the ability to hide your excitement when you have a good or even great hand, is a sign of a good poker player. Another level beyond that even, then becomes being able to “bluff” your opponents in hands and then winning. When you bluff in poker, you do not have a good hand. In fact, your opponent actually has you beat. They have the better hand. Being able to bluff them off of that hand and handing you the chips (money), is how you play the player, and not your hand.

To be able to do this, one has to be able to read well. I don’t mean just the player either. I mean the following: board textures (cards on the flop, turn and river), betting patterns (way someone bets their chips), and of course, physical “tells” people give off. 

When I learned to play poker and got better that year, I learned how to read all of those things. I became really good at reading people. I still think that is my best asset in life and in poker. I can pick up on the way someone answers a question, what an eye look a certain way means, or even how someone is breathing.

By using those tells, I can then use that to my advantage. I can basically use that against you, and outplay you at the poker table. It’s to my benefit to be able to read people. At the tables and as I will lay out for you now, at the funeral arrangement table.

As you can surmise by now, I am also a funeral director. I have mentioned this numerous times in previous articles, that in a past life I was a semi-professional poker player, and in a current life, I am a funeral director. Being able to read people at the poker table has made me a better funeral director.

To now take a little bit of a morbid turn, when someone passes away, their family and/or friends have to then come into the funeral home to make funeral arrangements. It absolutely helps in this process to have your wishes known to said family, friends or even the funeral home ahead of time. But, whether one does or not, funeral arrangements still need to be made.

Outside of planning a funeral regarding dates, times, no service, burial, cremation, etc. what happens inside of the funeral home is in a lot of ways similar to playing poker. Being a funeral director, it is my job to be the one in control and lead the arrangement. I have to get this aforementioned information from the family and help them plan the funeral. 

In most cases, I am just meeting this family for the first time. Just as they are meeting me for the first time. You have times when you know a family already through previous funerals or it’s your friend’s family, just as in poker, you get to play the same players from time to time. A familiarity is struck between the two, but for now, let’s focus on being strangers.

I have to strike up a rapport with this family, as they are trusting my funeral home to care for their loved one. I have to be able to decipher really quickly, on what their personality is. Are they showing their hand? Are they showing their emotions? Are they sad? Are they upset? Are they accepting?

You’d be surprised at the various emotions that are displayed during funeral arrangements. I’ve had families that come in crying hysterically, in denial of death. I have to then proceed with caution, until they open up. I’ve had families come in proud, ready to share stories of a life, more accepting of death, if you will. Either way, it is my job to tread as I’m shown, or if a family does not show emotion, then I have to proceed in a different manner.

If a family (or friend/s) are not giving me much to go on (and again, they just lost a loved one, everyone grieves differently), I have to use my reading ability to figure them out. It’s my job to please them. I’m here to serve and honor their loved one’s final wishes. It’s not their job to show emotion or be easy on me (though it certainly helps). I have to be the director. I have to do my job.

Just as a poker player, it’s my duty to win the most money I can at the table while also having fun. I’m not some stone-faced player who gives nothing away, doesn’t talk, doesn’t share stories, etc. That type of player is not fun, and therefore, not invited back to future games. I give action and get action. I like to have fun when I play because playing poker to me is fun. But, internally, I am doing everything I can to win your money. I am trying to win.

In terms of funeral service, I am there for you and your family, but I need to gather information from you during your worst moments in life. I need to be able to read you, and then proceed as read. That’s my job at the poker table, just as it is at the funeral arrangement table.

During the process of a funeral, losing a loved one is a cost no one can ever pay to return. In poker, you can always rebuy. You can always come back tomorrow. That’s the cost of playing. I’m pretty sure everyone would agree there is no cost to a life. We’ve all lost someone or will lose someone so important to us, that no amount of money will bring them back or replace them. No moment in life will be greater than having them with us again. 

Before I leave, I just wanted to let that sink in. Yes, I play poker for money and to win, but life is more than money. I can use what I have learned in a past life in order to lead a more prosperous future life. After all, life is life. Death is death. Poker is poker. And funerals are funerals. Never forget that.