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Poker skills: Playing against the odds is a rational way to win
Success isn't about finding one great way to achieve something and sticking with it. It's about looking at all the possible options and computing success through analysis.
Maria Konnikova is the author of two New York Times bestsellers: The Confidence Game , winner of the 2016 Robert P. Balles Prize in Critical Thinking, and Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes , an Anthony and Agatha Award finalist. Her new book, The Biggest Bluff , will be out from Penguin Press on June 23, 2020. While researching The Biggest Bluff , Konnikova became an international poker champion and the winner of over $300,000 in tournament earnings—and inadvertently turned into a professional poker player. She is a regular contributing writer for The New Yorker , and her writing has been featured in Best American Science and Nature Writing and has been translated into over twenty languages. Maria also hosts the podcast The Grift from Panoply Media, a show that explores con artists and the lives they ruin, and is currently a visiting fellow at NYU's School of Journalism. She graduated from Harvard University and received her PhD in psychology from Columbia University.
Audience Question: You had a very interesting point that a successful strategy is not really about optimization, but it’s about computation and deviating from optimization.
And to me as a chess player, the reason I’ve always liked chess is precisely because there are no elements of chance.
You, on the other hand, are always in some ways a potential victim out of chance, so how do you kind of weld those two things together, how do you deal with the vagaries of chance to make sure that you can always manipulate it favorably?
Maria Konnikova: Well, you can’t ALWAYS manipulate chance favorably, that’s I think the bottom line. But what you can do is actually try to just maximize what you can control.
So what I always do, what Erik has always taught me to do, is make sure you’re making the right decisions for the right reasons.
And so I might play a hand in a very strange way because I am exploiting someone who I think is being— because I’m female one of the things that often happens is people become much more aggressive against me, because they think they can get me to fold a lot of hands and so they’ll 3-bet me, which means raising my opens much more often with a lot of weaker hands, or when I’m in one of the blinds so I have to be in the hand they’ll raise me much more widely, so they’ll do things like that.
And then sometimes I’ll have a horrible hand and one that I would never in a million years 4-bet, but I’m going to 4-bet, I’m going to actually re-raise them with garbage because I know what’s going on, and sometimes I’ll run into a really strong hand, but more often than not I won’t.
So that’s what I meant by exploitation, I’m still not going to be able to get away from the chance elements that happen in any hand, so what Erik is always very careful to tell me is never—he doesn’t care actually what happens at the end of the hand, he doesn’t want to know if I won or lost.
Like once the decision is done, it doesn’t matter, and so the outcome—you have to divorce yourself from the outcome.
You have to say, “Am I making the right decision? Am I thinking about it the right way at every single step of the hand? Can I defend why I’m doing something, even if I’m doing something really weird that I wouldn’t normally do in a spot like this? Do I have a reason for it?”
And if the answer is yes, and if the reason is a good one, then I play the hand to the best of my abilities.
And it actually sometimes helps when I’m in a tough spot to know that I’m going to be explaining this to someone, that I’ll be explaining it to Erik or that I’ll be explaining it to Phil or to someone, then I know that I actually have to think through my reasons rather than just act reflexively, which can be very easy to do.
Sometimes you’re like, “Oh I always do this here, I’m just going to do it quickly.”
But to actually stop and question it and then happen what may—It can still be really tough when you make the “right” decision and then you end up losing; it’s not pleasant, but you have to try not to think about that and to remember that you just made the best choice you possibly could given the information that you had available.
And it’s easy to criticize other players when you see them do something really weird, you’re like “How could you have done that there?!” But you have to remember that you see all of the information, you know what hands other people have because you’re watching this on TV.
They don’t see any of that and they’re actually just acting based on the information that they do have.
But all of that said, it still really sucks to lose.
Success isn't about finding one great way to achieve something and sticking with it. It's about looking at all the possible options and computing success through analysis. It works brilliantly in poker, and it works well in life, too.
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A new study looks at what would happen to human language on a long journey to other star systems.
- A new study proposes that language could change dramatically on long space voyages.
- Spacefaring people might lose the ability to understand the people of Earth.
- This scenario is of particular concern for potential "generation ships".
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Many of the most popular apps are about self-improvement.
Emotions are the newest hot commodity, and we can't get enough.
Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
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Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>