The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova (Book Review)

I just finished and highly recommend “The Biggest Bluff” by Maria Konnikova, which is our USV book club selection for January. It is nominally a book about Poker, but it is really about learning to live in a world where skill is confronted with luck again and again. An no, I don’t mean the world of poker, I mean the world at large.

Each chapter does a wonderful job of tightly weaving together an episode of Maria’s journey to becoming a poker pro with a much deeper discussion of a topic, such as luck or controlling one’s mental state. I don’t want to recap each of these here as you should read the book. Instead, I want to focus on one aspect that I particularly enjoyed: Maria’s zest for learning and the minimalist but highly effective tutoring she receives from poker pro Eric Seidel.

From the get go it is clear that Maria is really throwing herself into this, reading seminal texts and marking them up heavily. Most importantly she is learning the language of the domain (the book contains a fun glossary of some poker terms, although a subsequent edition should include the word “nut”). This to me has always been a sign of whether or not a student is serious. She also wonderfully relates how certain concepts only become fully intelligible once she starts playing. And not just playing a bit, but playing a lot. Nothing can be learned through theory alone, you must become (Read more...)