“KIRK: Not chess, Mr. Spock. Poker.”

In one of Star Trek episodes, Kirk and his “Enterprise” crew face unknown vessel calling themselves the “First Federation”.

Warnings from this vessel escalate until it seems that the destruction of the Enterprise is imminent. Kirk asks Spock for options, who replies that the Enterprise has been playing a game of chess, and now there are no winning moves left. Kirk counters that they shouldn’t play chess – they should play poker.

He then bluffs the enemy by telling them that the Enterprise has a substance in its hull called “corbomite” which will reflect the energy of any weapon back against an attacker. This begins a series of actions that enables the Enterprise crew to establish peaceful relations with the First Federation.

In chess you have to take several options into account before you finally make your move. That’s why it’s considered as a metaphor for leadership strategy. For all of its complications, chess is a game of defined rules that can be mathematically determined. It’s ultimately a game of boxes and limitations.

A much better approach to strategy is poker, not chess. Business life is a game of probabilities, not defined rules. And often understanding your opponents is a much greater advantage than the cards you have in your hand.

(It was knowledge of his opponent that allowed Kirk to defeat Khan in Star Trek II by exploiting Khan’s two-dimensional thinking).

Bluffs are a big part of real-life strategy. Playing that strategy with an eye to the psychology of your competitors, not just the rules and circumstances of the game, can often lead to better outcomes than following the rigid lines of chess.

You need to play each product, sales, or business development decision as a hand that exists now. You can be influenced by the historic play of your partners, employees or counter-parties. You’re also smart to consider how your play in this hand will influence the perception of you by partners, employees or counter-parties in the future. You also do need to play each hand with consideration of long term ethics and reputation.

Star Trek: The dialogue at the bridge of “Enterprise” related to the above leadership lesson:

SULU: Four minutes, thirty seconds.
SCOTT: You have an annoying fascination for timepieces, Mister Sulu.
BALOK [OC]: Four minutes.
KIRK: What's the matter with them out there? They must know we mean them no harm.
SPOCK: They're certainly aware by now that we're totally incapable of it.
KIRK: There must be something to do, something I've overlooked.
SPOCK: In chess, when one is outmatched, the game is over. Checkmate.
KIRK: Is that your best recommendation?
SPOCK: I regret that I can find no other logical alternative.
MCCOY: Assuming we get out of this, Captain
KIRK: Nobody's given up yet.
MCCOY: Well, then about Bailey. Let me enter it in my medical records as simple fatigue.
KIRK: That's my decision, Doctor.
MCCOY: And your mistake. You overworked him, pushed him, expected too much from him.
KIRK: I'm ordering you to drop it. I have no time for you, your theories, and your quaint philosophies.
MCCOY: I intend to challenge your actions in my records. I'll state that I warned you about Bailey's condition. Now that's no bluff.
KIRK: Any time you can bluff me, Doctor.
BALOK [OC]: Three minutes.
KIRK: All right, Doctor. Let's hope we have time to argue about it. Not chess, Mister Spock, poker. Do you know the game? Ship to ship.
UHURA: Hailing frequencies open, sir.
KIRK: This is the Captain of the Enterprise. Our respect for other lifeforms requires that we give you this warning. One critical item of information that has never been incorporated into the memory banks of any Earth ship. Since the early years of space exploration, Earth vessels have had incorporated into them a substance known as corbomite. It is a material and a device which prevents attack on us. If any destructive energy touches our vessel, a reverse reaction of equal strength is created, destroying
BALOK [OC]: You now have two minutes.
KIRK: Destroying the attacker! It may interest you to know that since the initial use of corbomite more than two of our centuries ago, no attacking vessel has survived the attempt. Death has little meaning to us. If it has none to you then attack us now. We grow annoyed at your foolishness.
SPOCK: However, it was well played. I regret not having learned more about this Balok. In some manner he was reminiscent of my father.
SCOTT: Then may heaven have helped your mother.
SPOCK: Quite the contrary. She considered herself a very fortunate Earth woman.
KIRK: Doc. Sorry.
MCCOY: For having other things on your mind? My fault. I don't how the devil you keep from punching me in the face.
SULU: One minute. I knew he would. (Bailey enters) If anyone's interested, thirty seconds.
BAILEY: Request permission to return to post, sir.
KIRK: Permission granted.
SULU: Eleven, ten seconds, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.
SPOCK: A very interesting game, this poker.
KIRK: It does have advantages over chess.
MCCOY: Love to teach it to you.
BALOK [OC]: This is the Commander of the Fesarius.
KIRK: Here it comes. Is it raise or call?
BALOK [OC]: The destruction of your vessel has been delayed. We will relent in your destruction only if we have proof of your corbomite device.
KIRK: Hold on that. Let him sweat for a change. Ship to ship.

UHURA: Hailing frequencies, sir.
KIRK: Request denied.
SPOCK: I have visual contact, Captain.
BALOK [on viewscreen]: We will soon inform you of our decision regarding your vessel. And having permitted your primitive efforts to see my form, I trust it has pleased your curiosity. And now, another demonstration of our superiority.
MCCOY: I thought the power was off in the galley.
RAND: I used a hand phaser, and zap. Hot coffee.
SULU: Something's going on, Captain. (Something leaves the Fesarius)
KIRK: It's a small ship.
SPOCK: About two thousand metric tons.
BALOK [OC]: It has been decided that I will conduct you to a planet of the First Federation which is capable of sustaining your lifeform. There you will disembark and be interned. Your ship will be destroyed, of course.
SPOCK: Engine systems coming on, Captain.
BALOK [OC]: Do not be deceived by the size of this pilot vessel. It has an equal potential to destroy your vessel.
SPOCK: Tractor beam again.
BALOK [OC]: So that you may sustain your gravity and atmosphere, your systems are now open. Escape is impossible since you are being taken under our power to your destination. Any move to escape or destroy this ship will result in the instant destruction of the Enterprise and everyone aboard.
SULU: We're being towed, sir. .....

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