The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova was surprisingly interesting and it became one of my favorite poker books. As the author said: “This book isn’t about how to play poker. It’s about how to play the world.”
Maria Konnikova studied decision-making as a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, particularly how skill interplays with luck when making important decisions under pressure. Her work was also influenced by John von Neumann, the father of game theory, whose ideas were inspired by poker.
“Real life consists of bluffing, of little tactics of deception, of asking yourself what is the other man going to think I mean to do.”
John von Neumann
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Here are the top 20 quotes from The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova. Enjoy!
“We can’t control the variance. We can’t control what happens. But we can control our attention and how we choose to deploy it.”
“Poker isn’t just about calibrating the strength of your beliefs. It’s also about becoming comfortable with the fact that there’s no such thing as a sure thing—ever. You will never have all the information you want, and you will have to act all the same. Leave your certainty at the door.”
“The benefit of failure is an objectivity that success simply can’t offer.”
“You can’t control what will happen, so it makes no sense to try to guess at it. Chance is just chance: it is neither good nor bad nor personal. Without us to supply meaning, it’s simple noise. The most we can do is learn to control what we can—our thinking, our decision processes, our reactions.”
“It’s powerful advice. How often do we go off on someone for making a decision that we, personally, wouldn’t have made, calling them an idiot, fuming, getting angry? How much time and emotional energy we’d save if we simply learned to ask ourselves why they acted as they did, rather than judge, make presumptions, and react.”
“If you don’t have an objective evaluation of what’s going on, you’re a loser.”
“And while probabilities do even out in the long term, in the short term, who the hell knows. Anything is possible.”
“Do we see ourselves as victims or victors? A victim: The cards went against me. Things are being done to me, things are happening around me, and I am neither to blame nor in control. A victor: I made the correct decision. Sure, the outcome didn’t go my way, but I thought correctly under pressure.”
“The equation of luck and skill is, at its heart probabilistic. And a basic shortcoming of our neural wiring is that we can’t quite grasp probabilities. Statistics are completely counterintuitive: our brains are simply not cut out, evolutionarily, to understand that inherent uncertainty. There were no numbers or calculations in our early environment – just personal experience and anecdote. We didn’t learn to deal with information presented in an abstract fashion, such as tigers are incredibly rare in this part of the country, and you have a 2 percent chance of encountering one, and an even lower chance of being attacked; we learned instead to deal with brute emotions such as last night there was a tiger here and it looked pretty damn scary.”
“It’s called the description-experience gap. In study after study, people fail to internalize numeric rules, making decisions based on things like “gut feeling” and “intuition” and “what feels right” rather than based on the data they are shown. We need to train ourselves to see the world in a probabilistic light—and even then, we often ignore the numbers in favor of our own experience.”
“People failed to see what the world was telling them when that message wasn’t one they wanted to hear.”
“Poker is all about comfort with uncertainty, after all. Only I didn’t quite realize it wasn’t just uncertainty about the outcome of the cards. It’s uncertainty about the “right” thing to do. The only certain thing is your thinking.”
“Here was the cruel truth: we humans too often think ourselves in firm control when we are really playing by the rules of chance.”
“People will often actively avoid information that would help them make a more informed decision when their intuition, or inner preference, is already decided (e.g. avoid learning how many calories are in a dessert). They know the information may mean they have to change their decision so will ignore it.”
“Most people think of poker of a way to get wealthy. And it is. Only not the way you think. I didn’t make millions. But the wealth of skill I acquired, the depth of decision-making ability, the emotional strength and self-knowledge – these will serve me long after my winnings have run dry.”
“I have a rare opportunity here: hardly ever do we have a chance to learn an entirely new skill, to immerse ourselves in novicedom, not only with the guidance of the best experts in the world but in an area, where the skill-chance continuum is so balanced, so redolent of life, as poker.”
“Luck surrounds us, everywhere—from something as mundane as walking to work and getting there safely to the other extreme, like surviving a war or a terrorist attack when others mere inches away weren’t as fortunate. But we only notice it when things don’t go our way. We don’t often question the role of chance in the moments it protects us from others and ourselves. When chance is on our side, we disregard it: it is invisible. But when it breaks against us, we wake to its power. We begin to reason about its whys and hows.”
“For poker, unlike quite any other game, mirrors life. It isn’t the roulette wheel of pure chance, nor is it the chess of mathematical elegance and perfect information. Like the world we inhabit, it consists of an inextricable joining of the two. Poker stands at the fulcrum that balances two oppositional forces in our lives–chance and control. Anyone can get lucky–or unlucky–at a single hand, a single game, a single tournament. One turn and you’re on top of the world–another, you are cast out, no matter your skill, training, preparation, aptitude. In the end, though, luck is a short-term friend or foe. Skill shines through over the longer time horizon.”
“When it comes to learning, Triumph is the real foe; it’s Disaster that’s your teacher. It’s Disaster that brings objectivity. It’s Disaster that’s the antidote to that greatest of delusions, overconfidence.”
“You can’t play scared. You can’t be afraid of how you look. You can’t be afraid someone will walk away because of what you do or don’t do.”
I hope you enjoyed the top 20 quotes from The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova. Click here to get the book from Amazon!
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