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Small Poker Bets

Maria Konnikova is on the podcast-book-tour to promote The Biggest Bluff. It is great. I liked Mastermind more, only because I like Holmes more than poker.

One idea from her podcast conversations that might get missed by book readers is how Eric Seidel came to coach her. She told Shane Parrish: “He (Seidel) didn’t actually agree to be my coach. He said, this sounds interesting let’s try it out and see if it works.”

This is the key insight to poker, the book, and it seems life in general. It’s the insight for why poker proxies life, (though her last chapter, read the book it’s good, addresses the limits). 

No one knows what’s going to happen but you gotta be in the game to see

At first, Konnikova really wants to learn the rules and strategies. For example, if someone is dealt pocket aces should they play them? It’s a good hand, even a noob like me knows that. But the answer to ‘should I play this?’ depends on the flop, who has bet (how much), who has yet to bet, and so on. 

If the flop is three spades and someone ahead raises, then those pocket aces aren’t as sharp as we first thought. If the flop is a mishmash and we’re in the small blind then it might be good to see what the next card holds. 

When Seidel says “this sounds interesting” it was him calling a bet to see what the next card might be. It wasn’t a raise, or a fold. It was the right time for a small bet for what might be a larger gain. That moment, though Konnikova didn’t know, was the heart of the book. 

Konnikova started The Biggest Bluff looking for decision making in a card game. Years after the inception, Konnikova now thinks about life in poker terms like tilt and the Immanuel Kant idea of ‘wanna bet’. She probably notices Seidel’s insight too.