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The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win

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How a New York Times bestselling author and New Yorker contributor parlayed a strong grasp of the science of human decision-making and a woeful ignorance of cards into a life-changing run as a professional poker player, under the wing of a legend of the game

It's true that Maria Konnikova had never actually played poker before and didn't even know the rules when she approached Erik Seidel, Poker Hall of Fame inductee and winner of tens of millions of dollars in earnings, and convinced him to be her mentor. But she knew her man: a famously thoughtful and broad-minded player, he was intrigued by her pitch that she wasn't interested in making money so much as learning about life. She had faced a stretch of personal bad luck, and her reflections on the role of chance had led her to a giant of game theory, who pointed her to poker as the ultimate master class in learning to distinguish between what can be controlled and what can't. And she certainly brought something to the table, including a Ph.D. in psychology and an acclaimed and growing body of work on human behavior and how to hack it. So Seidel was in, and soon she was down the rabbit hole with him, into the wild, fiercely competitive, overwhelmingly masculine world of high-stakes Texas Hold'em, their initial end point the following year's World Series of Poker.

But then something extraordinary happened. Under Seidel's guidance, Konnikova did have many epiphanies about life that derived from her new pursuit, including how to better read, not just her opponents but far more importantly herself; how to identify what tilted her into an emotional state that got in the way of good decisions; and how to get to a place where she could accept luck for what it was, and what it wasn't. But she also began to win. And win. In a little over a year, she began making earnest money from tournaments, ultimately totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.  She won a major title, got a sponsor, and got used to being on television, and to headlines like "How one writer's book deal turned her into a professional poker player." She even learned to like Las Vegas.

But in the end, Maria Konnikova is a writer and student of human behavior, and ultimately the point was to render her incredible journey into a container for its invaluable lessons. The biggest bluff of all, she learned, is that skill is enough. Bad cards will come our way, but keeping our focus on how we play them and not on the outcome will keep us moving through many a dark patch, until the luck once again breaks our way.

368 pages, Kindle Edition

First published June 23, 2020

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Maria Konnikova

17 books1,009 followers

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5 stars
4,517 (34%)
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3 stars
2,372 (18%)
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99 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,525 reviews
Profile Image for Anne Bogel.
Author 6 books59.8k followers
January 21, 2021
Rounding up from 4.5 stars.

This book was such a delightful surprise. I never expected to love—or even read—a book about poker, but several readers with great taste told me to prioritize this one, and I'm glad I listened. In this story-driven narrative, author and New Yorker journalist Konnikova tells how and why she dedicated several years of her life to becoming a professional poker player, and seamlessly connects what she learns at the table to making better decisions and living a more satisfying life.

Endlessly fascinating and laugh-out-loud funny: I kept reading parts of the story out loud to my family because I wanted them to enjoy the surprising and funny bits as well.
Profile Image for David Epstein.
Author 10 books1,678 followers
July 9, 2020
Disclaimer: I can't recall reading anything by Maria Konnikova — whether articles in The New Yorker or her other books — that I didn't think was either good, really good, or great. I like her writing style, her thinking style, and I like the topics she's drawn to. I also know her personally. But we came to know each other because of our mutual interests in topics like cognitive biases, talent, skill acquisition, judgment and decision making, and the balance of luck versus skill in various endeavors.

So, with that disclaimer out of the way, it's probably no surprise that I tore through this book on cognitive biases, skill acquisition, decision making, and the balance of luck and skill. I read a review somewhere that described The Biggest Bluff as like a George Plimpton "participatory journalism" project, except instead of just the enthralling narrative, you also get explanations of the science behind the story you're reading. I think that's a pretty darn good description.

The story itself is pretty wild. Having never played a game of poker — not even knowing how many cards are in a deck — Konnikova sets out to try to make the World Series of Poker (a $10,000 entry fee) with one year of training. As the book explains early on, she isn't particularly interested in poker initially, but decides to pursue it after a mathematician's book on game theory convinces her that it's the ideal practical crucible for examining the psychology of risk and of balancing luck and skill while trying to learn something new.

Konnikova has a psychology PhD (she was a graduate student under the guy who did the world famous "marshmallow test"), and it's fascinating to see her describe psychological research in the lab, and then write about the extent to which she can or can't actually use that knowledge at the poker table. One lesson is clear: being smart and having a PhD doesn't exempt you from the cognitive biases you studied in graduate school.

She gets off to a turbulent start as a player, but it's not a spoiler to say that her winnings ultimately reach well into six figures. ...I'm going to come back and add more to this review later, but I think this is an excellent book for anyone who wants to spend some time inside the head of a pure beginner who is trying to reconcile academic science, with real world risk, while navigating her own cognitive foibles. It's a lot messier than the sort of book that promises a simple bullet point list for success and contentment, but it has the advantage of being true.
Profile Image for Shane Parrish.
Author 7 books44.7k followers
June 15, 2020
"Most real-world environments are ... "wicked": there's a mismatch between action and feedback because of external noise. Activities with elements of surprise, uncertainty, the unknown: suddenly, you're not sure whether what you've learned is accurate or not, accurately executed or not. There's simply too much going on. ... But despite all this, one thing is undoubtedly true: while practice is not enough and there's not even close to a magic number for its effectiveness, you also cannot learn if you do not practice. If you're serious about thing—playing chess, writing a book, becoming an astronaut, playing poker—you have to learn the composite skills. No one is so naturally gifted that they can just get up and go. Even Mozart needed some lessons."

We tend to think of meta skills as the skill. For example, we default to thinking that reading is a skill. But there is really no skill called reading. Reading is the meta-skill that results when you alloy other skills together. You need to know the alphabet, how letter form words, how words have meaning, how words together have meaning, and so on. So often we focus on the meta-skill and not the sub-skills.
452 reviews7 followers
July 24, 2020
This book fell flatter than I thought it would. There were sparks of interesting insight but I don’t think the author decided clearly whether the book was a memoir or a self-help book. It vacillated between anecdotes about poker and experiences the author had and introspective insights about her growth as a player and person. Although sometimes it was interesting it was too unfocused and sometimes repetitive to hang together well.
Profile Image for Glenn Sumi.
404 reviews1,588 followers
February 22, 2022
A fascinating read for gamblers and non-gamblers alike.

Without even knowing the basics of the game, New Yorker staff writer Maria Konnikova approaches Poker Hall of Famer Erik Seidel and asks him to mentor her. She’s not interested in making money (even though, spoiler alert, she goes on to earn hundreds of thousands in tournament winnings), but she’s intrigued by the game’s psychology – she’s got a PhD in psychology. Plus, she’s had some personal bad luck, and she wonders if learning about the game will teach her lessons she can apply to the rest of her life.

Konnikova is a lively, literate writer – she quotes everyone from Dostoyevsky to the Greek philosophers – and has a fresh perspective on the game, its players and its various strategies. While the book takes many detours, from the coffee shops of New Jersey to the glamorous gaming tables of Monte Carlo and the monstrous casinos in Macau, Konnikova is a genial, modest guide. She chronicles her progress – both in the game and in her personal life – over a year or two.

The result is an entertaining and informative book that is about so much more than poker. It’s about learning concepts that can help you in your day-to-day life and make you appreciate the idea of skill, chance, confidence and luck variance.

Pick up this book and within a chapter or two you’ll shove and go all in.
Profile Image for Artur Lascala.
19 reviews1 follower
July 30, 2020
I like poker. I like psychology. I like decision theory. The book does bring excellent insights on those three topics. However, the narrative was a bit of a drag. All in all, a decent read, but I felt relieved when I finished it...
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,649 followers
August 5, 2020
This is the first behavioral econ/neoliberalism as self-help I've read. It's interesting and I love poker so I learned a lot, but this whole idea of making personal decisions based on homoeconomicus understandings (and misunderstandings) of risks I find just bewildering.
Profile Image for Gretchen Rubin.
Author 30 books98.7k followers
April 3, 2020
A fascinating memoir about learning to play poker, and the larger lessons of the undertaking.
Profile Image for David.
671 reviews337 followers
August 3, 2020
There was little doubt that I was going to pick up this book given my love of Texas Hold'Em — but Maria Konnikova's latest isn't some poker guide to get you to the WSOP. It's part memoir, self-help guide and business read from an accomplished non-fiction author and regular contributor to the New Yorker who happens to hold a Ph.D. in psychology.

She will dedicate herself to mastering the game under the tutelage of Poker Hall of Famer Erik Seidel and a host of other poker luminaries. She will make the trek into New Jersey to camp at coffee shops to play online, building up to runs in Las Vegas, Monte Carlo and Macau. But the hook, the reason you should read this even if you don't know what wins between Broadway and the nut flush, is it's all about poker as insight.

In poker, as in life, you are forced to make tough decisions armed with imperfect information. And to the careful observer, how we think through these problems hand by hand reveals a lot about your personality, your baggage, your biases, and more.

Erik Seidel early on gives Maria two critical words of advice: Pay Attention. Less certainty, more inquiry. Question everything, stay open minded and adjust as needed. Relevant on and off the felt, especially in this fraught and fearful moment. There are no perfect answers. It's about finding comfort in, and living with that uncertainty. And accepting that you can do everything right and still lose. That chance and fate are always lurking in the background ready to flush us down the river when we least expect it. I mean Maria was supposed to launch this book to coincide with her run at the 2020 World Series of Poker. A perfect marketing one-two punch that ran head first into a worldwide pandemic that had other plans.

You assess and readjust. No bad beats allowed. Good poker demands you shake it off, stay focused and continue to make strong decisions based on available information. Steer clear of superstition, notions of what you're due for, and staying blind to your own biases. Good poker play models effective behaviours in the real world. I'm all in.
Profile Image for Robin.
98 reviews2 followers
September 14, 2020
The endeavour itself, going from poker novice is commendable enough even though it was meant to be a book project from the beginning.
The narrative experience is not immersive, the unfolding of the story is as eventful as a flat line . No moments that make you take note. No insight either experiential or theoretical (given the author's psychology background) that stands out either.
I was bored rather than excited by the midway point and the rest was a tough uninspiring read where I was desperately counting down the pages to the end.
Profile Image for Richard Estévez.
14 reviews1 follower
July 20, 2020
A garbler of metaphors. What could have been a great story to cover as a journalist, just gets pummeled with self-absorbed asides and clueless observations. Can't believe the New Yorker hired this author on staff. Not even worth one star.
Profile Image for Kelly.
889 reviews4,125 followers
July 21, 2021
So, I didn’t care overly much about the ins and outs of the poker part. I’m sure it would be very exciting to someone with more knowledge than me- but that part mostly made my eyes glaze over. I also found her writing to be quite often repetitive, and she didn’t always seem to get when a point had been made and she didn’t need to give five other examples. I definitely am in the opposite possible mental place to identify with some of the Always Be Optimizing stuff she gets into at various points (if you haven’t read that Jia Tolentino essay on this PS you should get right on that- so good). I also never quite fully believed in the balance of skill vs luck she was selling- there was so much more unpredictability than even she, who insisted on the importance of luck to the end, wanted to acknowledge. Ugh, all those chapters about reading people and how off you could be just because of how someone felt that day. I also found her journalistic writing style well… journalistic, which for me is tough to take at book length. I want some prose to sing at some point if we’re going beyond an essay length.

However, what I DID heavily identify with and get into was her journey through how difficult it was to change her mindset, the way she’d thought through and evaluated situations her whole life to get to where she was. And then the discovery that that wasn’t enough- there was so much more on the other side of that. But it was incredibly hard to reach out for it and take it. After all, why abandon a strategy that’s been moderately successful so far and lead to you eating, making the rent, and in a job that you’re pretty interested by? Is it worth the risk to go from survival to thriving? I was really compelled by her honesty in the process of going through that decision and then forcing her body and mind along with her. I appreciated seeing the low lows of that- something lots of people aren’t honest about as they encourage you to go for your dreams/live your best life/whatever. But also the small ways she became a different person outside poker. I loved when she pushed back on being lowballed for a fee the first time. I loved when she said no because someone wouldn’t pay her what she was worth and didn’t apologize. I wanted to see more of that and less of the play by play of the hands. I get that there’s an audience to play to and she’s deep in that world, but still. The psychological angle was the original purpose and I wanted more of how it ended up affecting her personally. Again though- this just may be what I personally need right now. I am wintering. I am reflective right now.

Finally, Erik also seems enormously cool, and she seems wildly fortunate to have lucked into being mentored by him, and after a fashion, his friends. He seems like a real one. More Erik, I say!
34 reviews4 followers
June 23, 2020
Interesting, but my God this woman cannot write--or,
as she probably would put it, "cannot write to save her neck."

Riddled with cliches and filler like that, and she fails at setting up suspense well.
There's a much better story here, in need of a much better story teller.

She writes for The New Yorker?

Maria, hire an editor.
341 reviews5 followers
July 9, 2020
Maria Konnikova, a writer for the New Yorker, and a PhD in Psychology, went on a mission to learn poker. With a reporter’s curiosity, a psychologist knowledge, and a sharp committed intellect she became a pro, and even won a tournament. The lesson, pay attention. It’s a great lesson. I read the book carefully, but I didn’t learn much more no matter how much attention I paid.

This is the second book I read by a PhD in psychology devoted to poker (both women incidentally). The other book, Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke was a better book, I’ll bet by a better poker player. Pay attention to that one!
Profile Image for Conor Ahern.
660 reviews192 followers
February 9, 2021
This book chronicles what happens when a PhD in psychology takes on the world of high-stakes, no-limit poker and succeeds. Konnikova was interested in the interplay between luck, skill, and success, and so found her way to the poker table.

This book fell into a genre of gimmicky-seeming books I am usually reluctant to pick up, but I really enjoyed it. I found myself invested in the author's journey from true novice to internationally ranked player, and she intersperses it with enough psychological research and revealing self-reflection to make it worthwhile for everyone, not just people interested in gambling or its more respectable cousins (like finance, as she points out repeatedly and in my opinion correctly).

This book is about being observant, understanding situations, knowing yourself, minding your cognitive biases, emending your erroneous past behavior in future contexts, knowing how and when you can calculate unknowns, and assessing your opponents/obstacles. I found myself wishing, for example, that I had known about this book before I switched jobs, because it would have allowed me to better negotiate my salary. But even if you don't get anything practical about it, it's still interesting and kind of a fascinating story. I recommend it.
Profile Image for Nica's Musings.
163 reviews10 followers
December 29, 2021
Update: Wednesday, December 29, 2021. It looks like I wasn't able to finish the book again for the second time. I will not give up. I will try again when I muster the will to read it.

The book title described what it is - The Biggest Bluff

I was deceived by the book description and all the razmatazz. Am I missing something? I rarely give 2-star rating because I carefully choose the books that I read. But this one... Oh this one... I am just having difficulty comprehending. Maybe because I'm not a poker player? Maybe because I am not a gambler? I don't know. I am having difficulty following her thought process. For me, her narrative is all over the place. I couldn't figure out what exactly is she talking about in a particular chapter. It was painstaking. I tried my best to continue reading but I just couldn't. I gave myself halfway on the book and told myself to quit if it still doesn't make sense to me. DNF

For a non-fiction, the author writes in a creative writing style. Even her narration is theatrical which most narrators of fiction novels use. I find there's a disconnect between the topic of her book and the way she had written and narrated the story. There are a lot of metaphors and quotes that left me baffled. It is bewildering. I was having difficulty grasping the main point and what is she exactly talking about.

While I've read that she didn't have previous experience with poker and everything she knew about poker she learned from Erik Seidel - an expert in poker who won millions of dollars - I just didn't appreciate how her narrative always talks about Erik and other people. Maybe I should've read their own stories instead? I am getting confused whether she is talking about herself or Erik in her narrative. It just goes to show I don't have the mind of a poker player. The reason why I read this book is because the summary poised it as a study of human behavior and decision-making - topics which I am always interested in reading.

Maybe I'll try to read it again some other time. Maybe that time I'll see it in a better light. For now it's time to move on to another book. Since I am unable to grasp the main ideas of the book, it would not be right for me to recommend it. Maybe she wrote the book with poker players and gamblers in mind. Sadly, I am not part of her audience.
Profile Image for Ria.
23 reviews3 followers
October 11, 2021
I have been reading this book for more than a year now. I can now confidently say the book is not for everyone, over the long span of a year, I have read it with different mind sets and each has provided a different experience. Towards the end is when I enjoyed it the most, she became a friend, a teacher, a therapist and more importantly shared her love of life.
Profile Image for Alberto.
524 reviews38 followers
December 22, 2021
No es un libro de autoayuda pero te va a ayudar, tampoco es un manual de poker (Hold em Texas No limit) pero puede hacer que tu juego mejore. Desde luego es un buen libro que se devora sin pensar. Para los aficionados al poker posiblemente sea un cinco estrellas para el público en general vamos a dejarlo en cuatro.
Profile Image for Devika.
132 reviews
May 19, 2021
The Biggest Bluff reads a lot like The Karate Kid meets poker, where Konnikova introduces her Miyagi (Eric Siedler) as she's trying to understand the role of chance versus skill in life.

Why poker? It requires a good balance of luck and skill. If luck and skill were positioned on a horizontal axis from left to right - then roulette would be at the extreme left, chess at the extreme right, and poker right at the middle.

This book is a very easy read, and I would've given it 5 stars had I not already been familiar with biases. So some part of the book felt repetitive to me personally in terms of what I know.

However, Konnikova does leave you with some zen-like takeaways:
1. 'poker face' is a myth because as is not much can be gleaned from any player's face. It's the body that gives it away, more specifically right when any player sees his or her dealt cards for the first time.
2. Developing an edge is like shifting the bell curve of your skill towards the right, ensuring that your previous best becomes your new average.
3. Lucky charms are only as lucky as you believe them to be. But the challenge with superstitions is giving away some of your power and letting chance affect outcomes in your life. (That is, the antithesis to a placebo is a nocebo - where bad outcomes happen when you lose your lucky charm)

Lastly, the biggest bluff is believing that skill will overpower chance. If chance truly is working against you, then at most skill can mitigate the damage.

And kudos to Konnikova for managing to cash WSOP. It takes sheer courage and belief to pick something up from scratch, and manage to see it through with extreme humility. She has an amazing sense of self-awareness, which is incredibly admirable.
Profile Image for Jonathan.
849 reviews7 followers
November 11, 2020

This is a very fun book that doesn't ultimately say anything new. Its rehashed data in social science about how the mind works, in the fun setting of poker. Don't get me wrong, I genuinely enjoyed it, but if you've read Drive, Thinking Fast and Slow or Fooled by Randomness, then there won't be anything novel here other then application and setting.

Konnikova is an engaging author, and keeps the pace interesting by varying between narrative of her journey to poker mastery, pop psychology and neuroscience, and self help to some degree. The whole reason this is a book however, appears to be Konnikova getting reasonably lucky in one poker tournament shortly after dedicating herself to mastering it with the help of an all time great as tutor. Now she maintains it was not luck, but when you take a look at her career earnings, and see that over 100% of her poker earnings came from that win, it doesn't take long to deduce she operates at a loss outside of that win, as impressive as it still is. There are still valuable lessons here, and I really do enjoy her writing, but it strikes me that the whole thing was more a gimmicky idea for a book then anything grounded out of hard data.
Profile Image for John.
350 reviews11 followers
July 13, 2020
I felt information overload from this book. The angle is psychology defined through poker and poker analysis. Interesting premise, though, of someone who did not know how to play poker, but learned rapidly enough to compete at the highest level.
Profile Image for Hank.
821 reviews80 followers
November 29, 2021
If you like poker I think you will like this book, if you tolerate or don't mind reading about poker there are also some great philosophical nuggets to be had. If learning about psychology with a gambling/poker backdrop makes you nauseous then you probably have not read this far anyway.

Konnikova has a PHD in psychology and is a writer, she set out to write about poker behavior and became a pretty good poker player along the way. In reality this is probably a 3 star book, there is not really enough content for an entire novel and the filler is repetative. However, I did find Konnikova's journey through a very male dominated poker society, along with battling her own pre-conceptions and biases, fascinating.

There were many musings that I thought, "I should try that myself", and a general zen type of existance from Eric Seidel that I found very appealing.

I actually like reading about poker so 4 stars. Your mileage may vary.
Profile Image for Brian Meyer.
244 reviews6 followers
August 13, 2020
A word of warning: If you’re not a fan of poker, don’t buy into the book’s promotional bluff that the work will enthrall anyone interested in the psychology of decision-making. At least half of this anecdote-laden book focuses like a laser beam on the world of poker. I’ve long been a fan of Texas Hold’em, so I enjoyed this insider’s peek into professional poker through the eyes of newbie. But here’s my beef: I’m convinced the work would have been strengthened by judicious editing. Some table tales drag on too long. A few others could have been left in the discard pile. The manuscript could have been trimmed by a third without having sacrificed a single thing in the Content Department. Having said that, Konnikova’s book serves up some fascinating insights into game theory, introduces a few intriguing characters and explores the slippery slope between luck and skill.
Profile Image for Veronika Nyerges.
111 reviews13 followers
January 16, 2023
Az előző olvasott könyvem Brit Bennettől A halványuló fél volt, ami sajnos nem volt jól megírva, így miután a kezembe vettem utána ezt, már pár mondat után feltűnt a kiemelkedően jó a szöveg. Gördülékeny, élettel, érzelmekkel teli, pedig pókerről ír és döntéselméletről, megint bebizonyosodott, egy hiteles hang bármilyen témát el tud adni.
Maria Konnikova pszichológiából doktorált, de élete egy olyan pontra jutott, amikor érezte, most jó döntések kellenének, amire most nem képes. Ilyen bölcs az ember, ha a döntéselmélet a kutatási területe🙂 Úgy gondolta, ha Neumannak jó volt a póker a játékelmélet kidolgozásához, akkor neki is megteszi könyv alapanyagnak. A játékelmélet igazából döntéselmélet, Neumann rájött arra, hogy játék közben gazdasági döntéseket hozunk gazdasági következményekkel, és a póker a legjobb modell, mert a játékosok csak a saját lapjaikat, a lenti lapokat, és többiek reakcióit, tétjeit ismerik, ez alapján próbálnak meg jó döntést hozni.
Az írónő felkereste Erik Siedelt, akik annyit tudnak a pókerről, mint én, azoknak elmondom, az egyik legnagyobb pókerjátékos, és megkérte, hogy egy éven tanítsa pókerre, könyvet írna a folyamatról. Maria az elején nem ismeri a lapokat sem, de van egy elég erős döntéselméleti alapja, így nekiállnak a közös munkának, egy teljesen új világot nyitva Maria előtt.
Ez nem egy hogyanpókerezzünk könyv, hanem hogyandöntsünk könyv, az írónő a Harvardon végzett, Columbián Phd fokozatot szerzett pszichológus helyezeteket értékelni, és dönteni tanul Siedeltől. A szabályok bebiflázása után másokat figyel, majd a legenehezebbre vállalkozik: videofelvételről a saját reakcióit elemzi, megtanulja az árulkodó jeleket elfedni, vagyis úgy tanulja meg a többiek reakcióit olvasni, hogy ő a lehető legkevésbé hagyja, hogy másoknak ő legyen nyitott könyv.
A projekt sikerrel jár, az írónő elismert pókerjátékossá válik, és a könyvet is megírja.
Profile Image for Tom LA.
604 reviews234 followers
March 10, 2023
This is so unique … the story of a New Yorker journalist with a Harvard degree and a phd in Psychology (the author) who decided to dedicate one year to learning how to play poker from scratch, coached by some of the best players in the world (whom she recruited for her project), and went on to play at the World Series in Vegas.

In some schools, I understand they already use this book as a strategy text, and I’m not surprised: I could find a lot of great strategic advice throughout. The self-awareness that is indispensable to win, the kind of attention that you need to pay to yourself and to your enemies / competitors / opponents. So intriguing.

I know a little bit about poker but you don’t really need to understand the game to read this book, because she explains the game from zero. Especially Texas Hold’em.

Not “my favorite kind of read”, because this is surface-level “how to win” without any spiritual depth, in true New York style, but BOY, it’s a clever book. And she can sell!!! She writes in a very exciting way.
Profile Image for Nalini.
41 reviews
November 25, 2021
I knew very little about poker before reading this, and the book does not really explain the game -- I had to read a bit about it on my own. But once you know the game mechanics, this is a really interesting reflection on how to cope with/thrive in settings where skill matters, but your performance is also significantly affected by luck. Konnikova makes the case that many scenarios in real life (e.g., aiming for a job that is extremely hard to get) fit this description and that poker is a good sandbox to study them. Also, Konnikova goes from knowing nothing about poker to becoming a professional player in just over a year, so there are a lot of lessons tucked away about quickly becoming good at new things.

Lots of takeaways from the book; some of my favorites:
Profile Image for TheBookWarren.
435 reviews101 followers
February 12, 2021
5.0 Stars — Full review still to come. This is a real sleeper of a killer novel. An assassin that swiftly moves at deadly speed and agility through the Forrest-floor, like a panther stalking its next unbeknownst-meal in the dead of night. Both the author and her tutor, Erik Siedel are idyllic in their roles as master-apprentice. Their balance and subsequent bond that evolves is masterfully reported, with only the most succinct and effective anecdotes included, something I think would’ve been very easily convoluted and over-done, over analysed and over communicated.

What I loved most about this part-memoir part-autobiography part-social-commentary was that it summoned expertly what it takes to be a sustainably successful poker-pro and put it into an easily accessible form that many may understand, whilst at the same time not be anywhere near a poker-tutorial. AK captures the spirit of poker, the inner-grown and nurtured affection for the game transported and re-hashed into the book as a dead-certain perfect metaphor for how we can use the concepts of poker and that balance of skill versus luck, and apply it to near-any real-world happen-stance. Both as a guiding principle, analytical tool or just a base philosophy for life and being as alert as we can to begin the most successful decision-maker we can be.

I need to unbosom-myself from the get-go, I am a dear and avid friend of the game of poker. Have been since I was a teenager. But this does not mean I was blinded by my passion for the love I have for the strategic events of the game. If anything, it made me a harsher and more prudent critic of the content and the journey of the author from a total rookie to a well-seasoned amateur.

This is a genuine triumph of modern-literature, in that it is able to bottle the essence of no-limit Texas Hold em’ in a way that enables those whom are not versed in its nuance to both understand and apply. No mean-feat!
Profile Image for Jiwesh.
20 reviews
January 14, 2022
This is an absolute treat of a book. It was gifted to me by a friend of mine and it jumped right to the top of my reading queue. The premise is super attractive: an author/journalist with a doctorate in psychology has turned to poker to study how much of success should be attributed to chance and how much of it to skill.

This book has dominated my conversations and poker has taken over my YouTube feed over the last couple of weeks. The story is incredible. Maria Konnikova won her first tournament within two years of starting to play poker. She is obviously extremely smart as well as articulate. The amalgamation of psychology, probability, statistical fallacies and correcting oneself from the outcome of their actions is just perfect. The nerdiness in the book is diluted for the general public, but I loved every bit of it anyway.

The author also sheds light on the unique challenges faced by her because of her gender- not just limited to how she was treated at the table, but how years of conditioning impacted her lack of aggression when playing. Inspite of having a doctorate in psychology and knowing all there is about the pitfalls of behaviour, she succumbs to them time and again. The battles Maria was fighting inside her mind were as fascinating as the duels on the poker table. I'd definitely want to read more from her.
Profile Image for Jennifer Flanagan.
74 reviews6 followers
February 24, 2021
So good!

While seemingly about poker on the surface, the purpose of the book is to better understand the line between skill and luck, what you can control and what you cannot. In particular, the interplay of skill and luck in making important life choices under pressure.

After several hardships in life, the author (PhD psychology) and learns how to truly pay attention, under high pressure and surrounded by distractions as she becomes a professional poker player (in a year!)... but most resonate for me, she learned how to keep her emotions out of her judgments.

She writes that too often humans think in control when playing by chance. We need to realize what we cannot control (the cards), and what we can control (the mind). The best we can do is make the best decision we have with the information that we have.

Now my new thing is poker! My brother says my poker face is like a billboard - very easy to read - but I am enjoying learning about life skills through poker: Maria writes how poker mirrors life unlike any other game. It maximizes skill and minimizes chance. It’s not a roulette of pure chance nor a mathematical game of perfect information, but rather, it’s the joining of the two; the balance of two oppositional forces in life: chance and control.
Profile Image for Owen Little.
106 reviews
October 16, 2020
An incredible book and story. Read this book because Trevor showed me a podcast done by her and it was awesome. Konnikova is brilliant, and it's such a cool idea - the relationship between luck and skill in life. Konnikova does such a good job exploring this via poker, while also maintaining an interesting narrative. I love how she doesn't really give herself a lot a credit, yet she got into poker for the sole reason of writing this book, and then she became one of the world's best. There are some great nuggets of advice and thought in this book, I highly recommend it.
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