Using poker to teach risk management

Nick Moore, Strategic Planning

Risk management is an important element of project management. Playing cards and gambling definitely is not. However, in the delivery of an undergraduate project management module, to construction students, I used playing cards to introduce the topic of risk management.

Risk management is a dry subject and finding ways to engage students in the session can be hard. As other topics covered in the module had been quite interactive in design, it was important to find some form of ice breaker for the session to aid in getting the students thinking and meet their expectations. In this instance, stacked cards were used (deliberately played in an order), ready for four willing, but unknowing, students to play poker.

I requested four volunteers who knew how to play poker to make it easy. The rest of the class were asked to observe what took place; how the four reacted to the cards, what they drew, how much they would bet with the counters provided and the differences in approach.

I had set up a table ready at the front for the game to take place. The players sat around the table and the rest of the students congregated around. I gave a brief introduction to the rules of the game, for those who did not know it. Most have at least previously heard of poker, so broadly it was easy to grasp in terms of gambling on the strength of a hand of cards.

The stacked cards produced two good, and two strong hands, one unexpectedly so.

After the four students played the fictitious hand, and there was a bit of banter about the obviously set up stacked deck of cards, the discussion moved to what the game involved and what they observed.

We discussed the chance of getting the cards to make a good hand or the odds of something occurring. We asked what if someone else’s hand may contain a certain card (s) and the probability of this. We looked at what cards are needed to have a good hand and the impact that this would have, were it to occur. We questioned how much to gamble, either to reduce loss or mitigate against potential loss. We asked how each player looks at the opportunity to win or take advantage of it as a positive risk. We looked at what is too risky, what could you miss out on by not carrying on, the chance you might be lucky and what would you need to pay to stay in, all relating to opportunity costs. We also explored what approach different players might take to play cards and their risk management or control approach.

As the key concepts were brought up, I wrote them on the board at the front, with the promise/guarantee that similar things would come up as we looked at risk management surrounding construction projects.

The effect of the icebreaker was to introduce the key concepts that make up risk management in a fun interactive ice breaker for the session. The concepts discussed later in the session reflected the ice breaker key ideas. This neatly built upon their previous knowledge and experience while keeping them engaged and interacting throughout the session.

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