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 othersMaria’s big takeaways from learning about poker 

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

My first interview with Maria — The Psychology of Scam ArtistsCan You Learn to Be Lucky?John von NeumannThe Art of StrategyThink Like a Poker Player to Make Better DecisionsHow to Start and Host a Regular Poker Night6 Ways to Avoid Looking Like a Newb When Playing Poker13 Tips for Enjoying PokerUsing Mental Models to Make Better DecisionsTaking Control of Your LifeHow to Think Like Sherlock Holmes

Connect With Maria

Maria’s website

Maria on Twitter

Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)