[Book Notes - 1] The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win, by Maria Konnikova
July 04, 2020
Yesterday, I started reading this book, The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win, by Maria Konnikova. So far, I’ve finished four chapters from the book. And I think it will take me some time to finish it!
Thank you jasonbraganza, for recommending this book!
Below are some excerpts from the chapters (I’ve read so far), that I want to put here for myself. These are my learnings from the last two days of reading!
Indeed, when I inevitably ask him the question he gets asked most frequently—what his single piece of advice would be to aspiring poker players—his answer is two words long: pay attention. Two simple words that we simply ignore more often than not. Presence is far more difficult than the path of least resistance.
Nate Silver is a poker player. In fact, once upon a time he made quite a tidy living playing online. And poker has taught him something fundamental about the nature of the world that most of us simply never bother to grasp. Poker is such a powerful window into probabilistic thinking not in spite of, but because of, the betting involved: the betting in poker isn’t incidental. It’s integral to the learning process. Our minds learn when we have a stake, a real stake, in the outcome of our learning.
That personal accountability, without the possibility of deflecting onto someone else, is key.
Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the mouth.’ And he’s right.
Until you go through a month of everything going wrong, you won’t know whether you have what it takes.
You will never learn how to play good poker if you get lucky — it’s as simple as that. You just won’t.”
He’s not talking about hazing. It’s not the attitude of “no pain, no gain.” Nor is he giving me “permission to fail.” Instead, he’s talking about something very different, something so fundamental that we often forget about it whether we’re learning something new or just going about our lives: you need a way of testing your thought process.
Before I get fancy with strategy, with the curlicues and trappings of expertise, I need to answer something far more basic: Am I thinking correctly? Before I start experimenting with writing free verse, have I learned how to think through a poem’s basic structure? Before I start adding those exotic spices to my recipe, have I learned how to make a basic white rice? And the only way to do that is by failing. By writing bad poetry. Burning your food. Turning in shitty first draft after shitty first draft. “You have to suffer defeat,” Dan continues. “As brutal as it sounds, that’s the way it is.” The benefit of failure is an objectivity that success simply can’t offer. If you win right away—if your first foray into any new area is a runaway success—you’ll have absolutely no way to gauge if you’re really just that brilliant or it was a total fluke and you got incredibly lucky.
“You become a big winner when you lose”, Dan says.
“Everyone plays well when they’re winning. But can you control yourself and play well when you’re losing? And not by being too conservative, but trying to still be objective as to what your chances are in the hand. If you can do that, then you’ve conquered the game.”
And it resonates. After all, losing is what brought me to the table in the first place. It makes sense that learning to lose in a game—to lose constructively and productively—would help me lose in life, lose and come back, lose and not see it as a personal failure. It resonates—but it’s a tough ask. Dan nods. “It’s still tough to do. Even for me, and I have a lifetime of experience, that’s not an easy thing.”
“When things go wrong, other people see it as unfairness that’s always surrounding them,” he tells me. They take it personally. They don’t know how to lose, how to learn from losing. They look for something or someone to blame. They don’t step back to analyze their own decisions, their own play, where they may have gone wrong themselves. “It’s a really big handicap in life to think that way. All of us can step into that sometimes, but it’s important to know the difference. It’s like that great Kipling quote: ‘If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same . . . ’”
“Less certainty. More inquiry.”