Poker’s Appeal?

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“I’ve grown accustomed to this type of (probabilistic) thinking because my background consists of experience in two disciplines; sports and poker, in which you’ll see pretty much everything at least once. Play enough poker hands and you’ll make your share of royal flushes. Play a few more and you’ll see your opponent has made a royal flush when you have a full house.”

Nate Silver, The Signal and the Noise, 2020 update, audiobook.

Maybe the reason poker is popular isn’t so much the gambling as the way of thinking. We’ve looked at lot of poker players here, at least relative to their overall occurrence.

From James Holzhauer we get the idea of forward and backward thinking. How might his Jeopardy run been thwarted? What if the questions were harder? Or, much easier?

From Jeopardy James we also get to think about what Mauboussin calls the success equation. If outcomes are a product of skill and luck, what are the skill components to Jeopardy? There’s knowledge, yes, but there’s also buzzer ability. Here noobs are severely disadvantaged, and Jeopardy has evolved the training time challengers now get.

From Annie Duke we see the market mechanism at play. Why does Duke no longer play poker? It’s harder! Make something glamorous and financially rewarding and people flock to it, which raises the skill and increases the role of luck. It’s the reason behind why pool companies manage differently from Netflix.

From Maria Konnikova we think about small bets, or +EV. It’s not that all every decision must be correct but that decisions on the whole are.

Maybe the reason we like poker so much isn’t the glamorousness or the risk taking but the approach. Maybe the reason we like poker is because it articulates an innate sensation.

Probabilistic can be a worldview. It’s not the default, but it is helpful. Maybe poker is like sushi or pickleball, something about the approach appeals to us.

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