The Biggest Bluff

I started reading this book by Maria Konnikova yesterday afternoon and could hardly put it down. It’s exactly the book about poker I’ve been looking for, that taps into my interests! I can’t recommend it highly enough. Here’s a taste:

What I will offer throughout is insight into decision making far removed from poker, a translation of what I’m learning in the casino to the decisions I make on a daily basis—and the crucial decisions that I make only rarely, but that carry particular import. … Poker teaches you how and when you can take true control—and how you can deal with the elements of pure luck—in a way no other environment I’ve encountered has quite been able to do.

Shall we read it together? Have a Texas Hold’em book club of sorts?


Her inspiration for that book was John von Neumann’s work on game theory. You could read Theory of Games and Economic Behavior if yer interested in that sort of thing.

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What I like about Konnekova’s book is that she tells the story of becoming a poker player. I learn best from a good story. She went from not even knowing how many cards were in a deck to playing pro poker, not an outcome she’d expected. She just planned to learn poker for a year (in a journalist role) and then write a book about it. In the end, it changed her life. She had studied game theory, and then she studied poker.


I had this on Pre-Order, currently trying to get through 3 other books so I have not had a chance to open it yet.
I also bought her other book ‘the confidence game’ so those are my next 2, in my never ending ‘To be read’ pile lol
Let me know how you get on with it though :slight_smile:

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Tazzie, so glad there’s someone else out there who found this book! I’m really enjoying it–learning from it–impressed by the author’s story. I’ve recommended it to other poker players and to non-poker players. When it comes to the top of your To Be Read pile, we can discuss it. I plan to post ideas from the book here each week, but I’ll be careful not to include spoilers.


Here’s something I found interesting in Konnekova’s book:

“…the game has changed a lot in the last thirty years. As with so many facets of modern life, the qualitative elements of poker have been passed over in favor of the quantitative. Measurement presides over intuition. Statistics over observation. Game theory over ‘feel.’ We’ve seen the trend play out in areas as far afield as psychology—social psychology giving way to neuroscience—and music, with algorithms and experts quantifying not just what we listen to but how, to the fraction of a second, a song should be structured for maximum pop.”

I’m interested in our Replay Poker community members’ thoughts on quantitative and qualitative approaches to poker. Anyone?


It’s not an “either/or” kinda thing. Both are important.

Making vibrant, long lasting paints is science. It comes down to a specific quantity of this and that, and can easily be expressed with math. Artistry comes in the application, however. What’s the math behind The Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile?

As long as poker is played by people, it will remain important to observe and note tendencies and frequencies, to get into the heads of your opponents and understand their approach to the game. Without a sound mathematical and theoretical understanding, however, you won’t recognize the mistakes they are making, so won’t be able to take advantage of their mistakes.

Basically, a careful qualitative assessment will suggest a specific quantitative adjustment.

Note that, if we had access to hand histories, we could do more quantitative assessments, But even if we had access to such tools, they could never replace the need for “on the fly” observations. I don’t need to know how player X was playing 2 weeks ago, I need to know how he is playing right now.

So yeah, it’s not one thing or the other, it has to be a balance of both.


I concur, 100%.


I agree as well, and I will say that so does Anna Konnekova, the author. In her study of poker, she encountered more rigidly mathematical / statistical player and observed they needed the balance also of observation and intuition. They did not fare well without both.

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Here’s another quote from the book The Biggest Bluff:

“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.”

For those who have played poker over time, this is a no brainer, right? Chance throws that extra zing into poker that is missing–say–in chess. But skill matters.


Skill is what makes you able to use the luck to your advantage… just my opinion :thinking:

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I experienced this “problem” in a another setting as well. At a whisky tasting!
You always got those “Nerds” sippin on a glass of scotch followed by an intellectual discussions about taste, origin, marketing and “objective” notes on something, that (in my opinion) can’t be reduced to a statistical analysis.
Intuition and perception leads us to decisions. Not the raw data.

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Very nice. Agreed.

I heard about this book on the podcast EconTalk, I might give it a go.

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Interesting story for sure, with terrific poker games for spice! Hope you enjoy–and welcome to the Forums!

There was an interesting article I read on “gut feel” - I wish I could quote direct, but here’s the gist: intuition is your subconscious making a decision based on many factors and this happens so quickly our conscious doesn’t even know what calculations were made in the process.

So, my takeaway is that an experienced player (or driver, doctors, etc) is able to make “objective” decisions without even realising they’re objective. Less experienced individuals will tend to make more wrong “gut feel” decisions, but experience should (hopefully!) hone that skill.

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Yes! This is great. I feel for those–in life as well as in poker–whose gut feeling is seriously under-trained but who, because they have a gut feeling, feel it is trustworthy. Know what I mean?! Teenagers come to mind…my 14-year-old self included.


This week, I’m interested in Konnekova’s comments on poker and life:

“…poker as a lens into the most difficult and important life decisions we have to make, an exploration of chance and skill in life—and an attempt to learn to navigate it and optimize it to the best of our potential.”

I wonder if the habit of making good decisions in life might be a precursor to enjoying and making good decisions in poker? Or is it the other way around for most of us? Or is there no relationship at all of any importance?

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They’re probably self-reinforcing. An improvement in either leads to an improvement in both.

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