By Marci Alboher Nusbaum

The New York Times

February 9, 2003

Carl C. Icahn financed his first investment on Wall Street with $8,000 he won playing poker in the Army in the 1960’s. Bill Gates says he spent more time playing poker in his first year at Harvard than attending classes.

Larry Flynt plays for up to $200,000 a night while sipping herbal tea. Even William H. Rehnquist and Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court justices, have a regular game.

Whatever their wins or losses, there is a compelling reason why so many corporate executives and government titans indulge in this great American pastime, and it’s not the hope of increasing their net worth. The game is entertaining, but one element sets it apart from other leisure pursuits: the opportunity for players to hone skills of their trade, like assessing risk, reading the faces of business rivals, leveraging their strengths, and masking themselves.

Wendeen H. Eolis, 58, the chief executive of Eolis International Group, the legal consulting firm became, in 1986, the first woman to reach the final event of the World Series of Poker with chips to cash in. She says there are always the macho players who attribute women’s winnings to luck. But she doesn’t mind male vanity. “Women actually have a multitude of advantages if they use their femininity wisely,” she said. “And there is an absolute parallel between the poker room and boardroom for me as a woman. Often, all I have to do is exceed the expectations to make a home run.”

Ms. Eolis, who has advised Gov. George E. Pataki of New York and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, says she often applies theories of poker to business and political strategy. For example, she conducts a seminar for her clients on how overrated bluffing is as a strategy in business, politics and poker. In her opinion, honesty has an element of surprise that can throw an opponent off guard.

The dynamics of the game may confer a business advantage, but so can the mere act of playing in it. “It never ceases to amaze me how people’s ears perk up when they hear you’re a poker player,” said Mr. Tedesco, the banker.

That has been Ms. Eolis’s experience, too. She has received much publicity, including a profile in GQ magazine, for her poker exploits, and she says clients are intrigued by them.

Deleted Graphic: photo of Wendeen Eolis

Graphic Caption: Wendeen H. Eolis who has played in the World Series of Poker, says that bluffing is an overrated strategy, whether  it is used in poker or business.

(This feature has been translated into Spanish. See Epoca, February 28, 2003)