Maria Konnikova Shows Her Cards

As a science writer at The brand new Yorker, Maria Konnikova, 34, focuses on the brain, along with the weird along with interesting ways people use their brains.

Dr. Konnikova can be an experimental psychologist trained at Columbia University. nevertheless her latest experiment can be on herself. For a book she’s researching on luck along with decision-generating, Dr. Konnikova began studying poker.

Within a year, she had moved by poker novice to poker professional, winning more than $0,000 in tournament jackpots. This particular summer Poker Stars, an online gaming site, began sponsoring Dr. Konnikova in professional tournaments.

We spoke recently For just two hours at the offices of The Times. An edited along with condensed type of the conversation follows.

You’ve taken a year’s sabbatical by The brand new Yorker to play on the professional poker circuit. Why?

I’d been thinking, for a while, about what my next book was going to be. I was interested inside theme of skill versus chance along with was looking for a way to get into the item. A friend suggested I read John von Neumann’s “Theory of Games along with Economic Behavior,” the foundational text of game theory.

Von Neumann, as you know, was one of the geniuses of the 20th century — the hydrogen bomb, computing, economics. along with he’d been a poker player. the item turned out which all of game theory arrived on the scene poker!

When he was trying to understand how strategic decision-generating worked, he concluded which poker was the perfect analog, because the item was a blend of skill along with chance along with because, over the long run, skill can win. I decided which poker was the way to go.

I knew I’d need to spend a few months living in which world. I thought, “I’m going to have to dedicate myself to This particular like a career, because otherwise the item’s just going to be ‘a writer dabbles inside earth of poker.’”

Did you have a background inside game?

No, no. When I began This particular, I didn’t know how many cards were in a deck. I hate casinos. I have zero interest in gambling.

Then I met Erik Seidel, one of the best poker players inside earth. He agreed to become my coach, though he told me, “You’re a hard worker, along with you have a Great background with This particular, nevertheless who knows if you’re going to be any Great?”

the item’s been an unexpected journey. I don’t think anyone could have predicted which I would likely have gone in less than a year by not knowing how many cards were in a deck to winning a major poker title.

What did which involve?

I’ve been studying, playing, living, breathing poker for eight to nine hours a day. Every day! When I’m between events along with in brand new York, I’m reading, watching videos or live-streaming very Great players.

There might be a specific concept I want to work on, along with I’ll watch some videos of people doing This particular along with take notes. Sometimes I’ll go to brand new Jersey along with hop onto the poker website at an internet cafe. Online poker can be illegal in brand new York, nevertheless not in Jersey.

When Erik Seidel said you had the right background, what did he mean?

I think he was talking about my background in experimental psychology. I did a doctorate on overconfidence along with risky decision-generating with Walter Mischel, who invented the “marshmallow test.”

I wanted to see if people with high levels of self-control made better decisions in risky conditions, like inside stock market. Usually, people with high self-control do so much better at everything than people with low self-control.

nevertheless the item ends up which in unpredictable environments like the stock market, successful high self-control people — when in an environment where control can be taken away by them — take longer to figure things out. They are too confident along with won’t take negative feedback by the environment.

Whereas people with lower self-control along with who aren’t as successful — they’re like, “Uh oh, a bad thing can be happening. I guess I should actually figure which out.”

Are the additional poker pros nice to you?

For the most part. I’ve been very lucky because my coach introduced me to high-level players. They are not only brilliant nevertheless nice, along with they’ve taken me under their wing.

So yeah, there are people who aren’t nice to me. I mean, I’ve been called everything at the poker table. I’ve been propositioned at the poker table — like, actually propositioned!

Was the item an attempt to throw you off your game or to get you to his room?

Probably both. I called the “floor,” which can be management, along with had him moved to another table.

If poker can be an analog to real life, does the item help or hurt to be a woman?

Obviously, the first thing people notice about me can be my gender. along with people stereotype.

When you see someone looking a certain way, you assume they play a certain way. So once I figure out how they view women, I can figure out how to play against them. They’re not seeing me as a poker player, they’re seeing me as a female poker player.

There are people who’d rather die than be bluffed by a woman. They’ll never fold to me because which’s an affront to their masculinity.

I never bluff them. I know which no matter how strong my hand, they are still going to call me because they just can’t fold to a girl.

additional people think women are incapable of bluffing. They think if I’m betting truly aggressively, the item means I have an incredibly strong hand. I bluff those people all the time.

There are people who think which women shouldn’t be at a poker table, along with they try to bully me. So, what do I do? I let them. along with I wait to be in a Great position generating sure which I can take their chips. Just like life, right?

The motive with This particular book was about getting back to what I’d studied in grad school: the illusion of control. How much of our lives do we actually control — along with can we tell the difference?

People often ascribe everything Great to skill. along with then when bad things happen, they say, “Oh, the item’s bad luck.” Or they say, “You make your luck.”

which’s just empirically impossible. along with the item drives me crazy because luck, by definition, can be something you can’t make. Luck can be just … randomness. generating sure which’s what I wanted to write about. Poker was a way into the item.

at This particular point, the item can be true which I’ve long been preoccupied with the darker side of humanity. I’m interested in deviations because they make you notice the normal. In psychology, you learn a lot about the brain by looking at the deviant cases.

When you ask if my books have a progression, I’d say the earth of con artists incorporates a lot of overlap with poker because of belief, deception, figuring out what people are representing.

Do you have any insights on why grifting schemes appear to be proliferating?

Fraud truly thrives in moments of great social change along with transition. We’re inside midst of a technological revolution. which gives con artists huge opportunities. People lose their frame of reference for what can along with can’t be real.

Are there more con artists at This particular point? the item’s more which technology made conning easier.

Before, if you wanted to con someone, you had to do expend a lot of energy doing research. Was a person a Great target? Today, we’re all on Twitter along with Facebook, putting out all This particular information about ourselves.

With cellphones along with emails, the item’s much easier to inundate a large number of people along with to catch one person at a vulnerable moment. inside past, the grifter would likely have a lot of misses. at This particular point, they don’t care if they’ll have a thousand misses. All they need can be one hit.

You’ve earned so far over $0,000 at the table. Few writers make which sort of money. Will you be quitting your day job?

For the next year, yes. nevertheless I’m never going to stop being a writer. Why can’t I do both? I love poker. Why would likely I stop?