Maria Konnikova: Poker As A Guide To Life, Luck & Decision Making

All of us are seeking greater self-knowledge, & Maria Konnikova found it through poker – literally by challenging herself to become a champion of the game despite never having played it before. And she succeeded. In less than two years, she mastered the fiercely competitive game of Texas Hold’em poker, became an international poker champion & won over $300,000 in tournament earnings.

And as a skilled writer for the New Yorker Magazine, she chronicled her experience in her New York Times bestseller, The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win.”

But this was no fluke. Konnikova is a Harvard graduate & earned a PhD in psychology at Columbia University. From that starting point she approached Erik Seidel, Poker Hall of Fame inductee & winner of tens of millions of dollars in earnings, & persuaded him to be her mentor.

And under Seidel’s tutelage, she learned to better read, not just her opponents but, far more importantly, herself. She discovered how to identify what tilted her into an emotional state that got in the way of her making good decisions, & how to get to a place where she could accept luck for what it was, & what it wasn’t.

In lessons we can use ourselves – in life & in leadership – poker taught Konnikova greater emotional & physical regulation, tolerance for risk & uncertainty, more intelligent decision-making, a grasp of the intertwined roles of chance & skill, & sheer confidence. As she explains, “this book isn’t about how to play poker. It’s about how to play the world.”

As all of us learned in a very palpable way since 2020, our control over events is mostly an illusion. Really bad situations will come our way, but our triumphs result when we focus on how we play them – not on the outcomes.

Mastery over life’s ambiguity & setbacks is a high-level achievement, & Konnikova’s truly uncommon achievement yields many invaluable lessons from which all of us can benefit & grow. No bluff.

This is the final episode of our season and our hope is it leaves you wanting more.

By Mark C. Crowley

Mark C. Crowley is the author of Lead From The Heart: Transformational Leadership For The 21st Century which has been taught in 11 American universities. He is a global speaker, leadership consultant and thought leader on the topics of workplace culture and employee engagement.