First of all, let me start by saying that I am not a poker player. I find the game confusing and weirdly stressful. For that reason, I wasn’t sure what to expect of The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win by Maria Konnicova. The author, a psychologist by training and journalist by profession gave herself one year to learn how to play poker and enter the World Series of Poker. She did so by learning from and consulting with a number of professional poker players, including and most predominantly Eric Seidel, a Poker Hall of Fame inductee.
As a psychologist, Ms. Konnicova studied human behavior and decision-making and was keenly interested to find out if her understanding would allow her to avoid some of the common mistakes that people make in poker because we are fallible human beings, with a bevy of counterproductive psychological tendencies. In other words, could her skill outweigh her luck and allow her to win at one of the biggest poker tournaments in the world?
Not only did the book give me a newfound respect for the complexities of the game and those who play it well, but it also was a fascinating glimpse into human decision-making and the interplay of luck and skill. It seems that accepting that much of the game (and, I daresay, life) is luck and the first step in developing the skills necessary to know when and how to act next. Keeping calm and somewhat detached from that fact is a necessary ingredient to master the game…. and yourself. With those two as a starting point, paying close attention to what your opponent has done or is doing and carefully answering why, is not only imperative to be a good poker player, it’s a fabulous strategy for a multitude of life’s interactions.
I won’t spoil the ending, but suffice to say that the book was one of the most surprisingly interesting observations of human behavior—both because of the context and the lessons. Enjoy!