As a science author at The New Yorker, Maria Konnikova, 34, focuses on the mind, and the bizarre and attention-grabbing methods folks use their brains.
Dr. Konnikova is an experimental psychologist educated at Columbia College. However her newest experiment is on herself. For a e book she’s researching on luck and decision-making, Dr. Konnikova started learning poker.
Inside a 12 months, she had moved from poker novice to poker skilled, profitable greater than $200,000 in match jackpots. This summer time Poker Stars, a web based gaming web site, started sponsoring Dr. Konnikova in skilled tournaments.
We spoke not too long ago for 2 hours on the workplaces of The Occasions. An edited and condensed model of the dialog follows.
You’ve taken a 12 months’s sabbatical from The New Yorker to play on the skilled poker circuit. Why?
I’d been pondering, for some time, about what my subsequent e book was going to be. I used to be within the theme of talent versus likelihood and was in search of a approach to get into it. A good friend advised I learn John von Neumann’s “Idea of Video games and Financial Habits,” the foundational textual content of sport concept.
Von Neumann, as you understand, was one of many geniuses of the 20th century — the hydrogen bomb, computing, economics. And he’d been a poker participant. It turned out that every one of sport concept got here out poker!
When he was making an attempt to grasp how strategic decision-making labored, he concluded that poker was the proper analog, as a result of it was a mix of talent and likelihood and since, over the long term, talent can win. I made a decision that poker was the way in which to go.
I knew I’d must spend a number of months dwelling in that world. I assumed, “I’m going to should dedicate myself to this like a profession, as a result of in any other case it’s simply going to be ‘a author dabbles on this planet of poker.’”
Did you will have a background within the sport?
No, no. After I began this, I didn’t know what number of playing cards had been in a deck. I hate casinos. I’ve zero curiosity in playing.
Then I met Erik Seidel, among the finest poker gamers on this planet. He agreed to grow to be my coach, although he instructed me, “You’re a tough employee, and you’ve got a great background for this, however who is aware of in the event you’re going to be any good?”
It’s been an sudden journey. I don’t assume anybody might have predicted that I’d have gone in lower than a 12 months from not figuring out what number of playing cards had been in a deck to profitable a significant poker title.
What did that contain?
I’ve been learning, taking part in, dwelling, respiratory poker for eight to 9 hours a day. Day-after-day! After I’m between occasions and in New York, I’m studying, watching movies or live-streaming excellent gamers.
There is perhaps a particular idea I need to work on, and I’ll watch some movies of individuals doing this and take notes. Typically I’ll go to New Jersey and hop onto the poker web site at an web cafe. On-line poker is illegitimate in New York, however not in Jersey.
When Erik Seidel stated you had the suitable background, what did he imply?
I believe he was speaking about my background in experimental psychology. I did a doctorate on overconfidence and dangerous decision-making with Walter Mischel, who invented the “marshmallow check.”
I needed to see if folks with excessive ranges of self-control made higher choices in dangerous situations, like within the inventory market. Often, folks with excessive self-control accomplish that significantly better at every thing than folks with low self-control.
But it surely finally ends up that in unpredictable environments just like the inventory market, profitable excessive self-control folks — when in an atmosphere the place management is taken away from them — take longer to determine issues out. They’re too assured and received’t take adverse suggestions from the atmosphere.
Whereas folks with decrease self-control and who aren’t as profitable — they’re like, “Uh oh, a nasty factor is occurring. I assume I ought to really determine that out.”
Are the opposite poker execs good to you?
For probably the most half. I’ve been very fortunate as a result of my coach launched me to high-level gamers. They don’t seem to be solely sensible however good, they usually’ve taken me beneath their wing.
So yeah, there are individuals who aren’t good to me. I imply, I’ve been referred to as every thing on the poker desk. I’ve been propositioned on the poker desk — like, really propositioned!
Was it an try and throw you off your sport or to get you to his room?
In all probability each. I referred to as the “ground,” which is administration, and had him moved to a different desk.
If poker is an analog to actual life, does it assist or damage to be a girl?
Clearly, the very first thing folks discover about me is my gender. And folks stereotype.
While you see somebody trying a sure approach, you assume they play a sure approach. So as soon as I determine how they view ladies, I can determine the way to play in opposition to them. They’re not seeing me as a poker participant, they’re seeing me as a feminine poker participant.
There are individuals who’d quite die than be bluffed by a girl. They’ll by no means fold to me as a result of that’s an affront to their masculinity.
I by no means bluff them. I do know that regardless of how robust my hand, they’re nonetheless going to name me as a result of they only can’t fold to a lady.
Different folks assume ladies are incapable of bluffing. They assume if I’m betting actually aggressively, it means I’ve an extremely robust hand. I bluff these folks on a regular basis.
There are individuals who assume that ladies shouldn’t be at a poker desk, they usually attempt to bully me. So, what do I do? I allow them to. And I wait to be in a great place in order that I can take their chips. Identical to life, proper?
The motive for this e book was about getting again to what I’d studied in grad faculty: the phantasm of management. How a lot of our lives can we really management — and may we inform the distinction?
Folks typically ascribe every thing good to talent. After which when dangerous issues occur, they are saying, “Oh, it’s dangerous luck.” Or they are saying, “You make your luck.”
That’s simply empirically inconceivable. And it drives me loopy as a result of luck, by definition, is one thing you possibly can’t make. Luck is simply … randomness. In order that’s what I needed to jot down about. Poker was a approach into it.
Now, it’s true that I’ve lengthy been preoccupied with the darker aspect of humanity. I’m desirous about deviations as a result of they make you discover the traditional. In psychology, you study lots in regards to the mind by trying on the deviant circumstances.
While you ask if my books have a development, I’d say the world of con artists has a whole lot of overlap with poker due to perception, deception, determining what persons are representing.
Do you will have any insights on why grifting schemes seem like proliferating?
Fraud actually thrives in moments of nice social change and transition. We’re within the midst of a technological revolution. That provides con artists enormous alternatives. Folks lose their body of reference for what can and may’t be actual.
Are there extra con artists now? It’s extra that know-how made conning simpler.
Earlier than, in the event you needed to con somebody, you needed to do expend a whole lot of power doing analysis. Was an individual a great goal? At present, we’re all on Twitter and Fb, placing out all this details about ourselves.
With cellphones and emails, it’s a lot simpler to inundate a lot of folks and to catch one individual at a weak second. Up to now, the grifter would have a whole lot of misses. Now, they don’t care in the event that they’ll have a thousand misses. All they want is one hit.
You’ve earned to date over $200,000 on the desk. Few writers make that kind of cash. Will you be quitting your day job?
For the following 12 months, sure. However I’m by no means going to cease being a author. Why can’t I do each? I really like poker. Why would I cease?