The Biggest Bluff, by Maria Konnikova, 2020

Cover of Book

The Gist

The author is a New York Journalist whose parents fled the Soviet Union. She is also an academic who undertook studies of decision-making. She believed that poker give her insights into better decision-making skills, self-knowledge and resilience. She couldn’t actually play poker, in fact when she started, she couldn’t tell how many cards were in a pack.

What’s Good

If you are interested in coaching, learning or decision-making there’s a lot in this book. It’s well written and engaging, full of fascinating characters like Seidel. A section of the book describes a discussion amongst players as to the purpose of poker. “It’s to win,” “to make money,” “to nail your opponent” are amongst the opinions offered but, in the end, it’s agreed it’s about making good decisions and making them under pressure. Poker is different to chess and Go because you have incomplete information and it’s built around betting. This is what makes it a fascinating study of human behaviour


She found a mentor, Erik Seidel, a top player who was to become her Yoda figure. She set about seeing if she could make a success of the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. The book sets out what she learned on her journey.

Something to Try

The cards you are dealt will not always be great but it’s how you respond which matters. There are no perfect answers. It’s about finding comfort in and living with that uncertainty. Avoid superstition. Accept you can do everything right and still come away with nothing. Make decision based on the available information but pay attention, be less certain, more inquisitive.