Maria Konnikova, who has her Ph.D in psychology and studies human behavior, had never played poker when she approached Eric Seidel, a renowned player of the game, asking him to show her the ropes. Eric agreed to be her coach and Maria spent a year working towards the World Series of Poker, playing in numerous tournaments and winning a major title and hundreds of thousands of dollars along the way. But the real prize she was after in this experimental endeavor wasn’t money, but insight into the intersection between skill and luck, and how much control we humans have over our fate.

She got those insights in spades, and shares them in her latest book: The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win. Today on the show Maria explains why the poker table may be the best place to learn about the balance between chance and skill, and why we have such trouble untangling those two forces. We then get into how gambling has long been an interest of philosophers and led to advancements in probability theory, as well as why understanding the dynamics of betting allows us to improve ourselves. Maria then shares how she learned to detach herself from the outcomes of hands and concentrate only on what she could control, and how liberating it is to separate process from results. She describes the connection between poker and Sherlock Holmes, and how the game helped her not just see things but observe them. We then delve into the biases that get you off track with your goals, and the simple technique you can use to overcome them. We end our conversation with Maria’s conclusions on the respective roles luck and skill play in our lives.

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Show Highlights

  • How Maria got into poker (it wasn’t for a love of the game) 
  • Skill vs. luck 
  • Why Texas Hold ‘Em is the perfect game to study skill vs. luck 
  • Why philosophers have enjoyed discussing (and playing) poker 
  • How betting changes your decisions 
  • Why probabilistic thinking is more accurate than black/white thinking 
  • What poker teaches about fairness 
  • Separating process from outcome 
  • What Maria learned about paying attention from playing poker 
  • Which question to ask before assessing any decisions — whether yours or others
  • Maria’s big takeaways from learning about poker 

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

Connect With Maria

Maria’s website

Maria on Twitter

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The post Podcast #637: What Poker Can Teach You About Luck, Skill, and Mastering Yourself appeared first on The Art of Manliness.



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