Easy Money talked to Maria Konnikova, a psychologist who decided to try her hand at becoming a high-stakes poker player and wrote a book about it. She shared the financial lessons she's learned at the poker table, how she convinced one of the best players in the game to take her under his wing and her new book "The Biggest Bluff."
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This interview has been lightly edited for style and clarity.
Your new book came out a few days ago. How did the pandemic affect the launch?
If I were to choose a time to be releasing a book, this would not be it. But honestly, that is the entire theme of the book: You can’t ever know what will happen. Poker has taught me to live with the uncertainty inherent in life — and to make my peace with the fact that I’ll never be able to control it all. What I can do is make the most of it.
In your book, you describe asking Poker Hall of Famer Erik Seidel to mentor you. How did you craft the perfect pitch?
Honestly, he could certainly refuse. I got incredibly lucky that he accepted! I don’t think a perfect pitch exists. But what I will say is the most important thing is to do your homework. Prepare, prepare, prepare. This will help you ensure two things: You know what points to stress, and you know how you, personally, best fit into this opportunity, and what your qualities are that make you the perfect candidate. You’ll also see if you shouldn’t be pitching to begin with. Many things that look great on the surface aren’t actually a great fit at the end of the day.
You say you wanted to play poker and learn about life, not make money. Why?
The whole goal of the project was to use poker as a means of exploring the role that chance plays in our lives. It was a way to learn to think better and become a better decision maker.
What was the No. 1 lesson you learned about life at the poker table?
The first lesson that Erik ever taught me: Pay attention. Mindful attention underlies absolutely everything else.
What’s the No. 1 financial lesson you learned as a professional poker player?
Never play above your bankroll. You never know how long the variance will go against you, so you need to have enough of a financial cushion to buckle down and wait it out. Too many people go broke because they set their aims too high — and aren’t willing to take a step back when needed.
Do you have any financial regrets?
No. I don’t think that’s a productive way of looking at the world. I think the better approach is to learn and look at things as lessons, not as regrets.
What’s the best financial advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t play with money you can’t afford to lose.
What’s the worst financial advice you’ve ever received?
It will all work itself out. Nothing works itself out – you have to work it out yourself.
What’s the best money you’ve ever saved?
Eloping. Not spending a cent on a wedding is one of the smarter financial decisions you can make.
What’s the hardest part about being at a high-stakes poker table?
Not thinking about the stakes and playing your best no matter what.
What’s the most thrilling part about being at a high-stakes poker table?
The upside possibility: that there’s always a chance you’ll end up winning a life-changing score.
Image: Nastia Kobzarenko