So You Think You Can Play Poker?
Annie Duke has leveraged her expertise in the science of smart decision making to excel at pursuits as varied as championship poker to public speaking. For two decades, Annie was one of the top poker players in the world. In 2004, she bested a field of 234 players to win her first World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet. The same year, she triumphed in the $2 million winner-take-all, invitation-only WSOP Tournament of Champions. In 2010, she won the prestigious NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship. Prior to becoming a professional poker player, Annie was awarded the National Science Foundation Fellowship. Because of this fellowship, she studied Cognitive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.
Annie is a master storyteller, having performed three times for The Moth, an organization that preserves the art of spoken word storytelling. One of her stories was selected by The Moth as one of their top 50 stories and featured in the organization’s first-ever book. Her passion for making a difference has helped raise millions for charitable causes. In 2006, she founded Ante Up for Africa along with actor Don Cheadle and Norman Epstein, which has raised more than $4 million for Africans in need. She has also served on the board of The Decision Education Foundation. In 2009, she appeared on The Celebrity Apprentice, and raised $730,000 for Refugees International, a charity that advocates for refugees around the world. In October 2013, Annie became a national board member for After School All-Stars. In 2014, Annie co-founded How I Decide, a nonprofit with the goal of helping young people develop the essential life skills of critical thinking and decision making. In 2015, she became a member of the NationSwell Council. In 2016, she began serving on the board of directors of The Franklin Institute, one of America’s oldest and greatest science museums. Annie is the author of Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All the Facts.
Question: What skills are required to be a great poker player?
Annie Duke: To be a great poker player, essentially, you have to have a grasp of math and probabilities. You have to have some sense of game theory, regardless of whether you can actually express it in an academic way; you still have to have some grasp of game theory. You know that you are not playing a single hand that you have to worry about how opponents are going to perceive you in the future, how they are going to react to you in the future. You have to have what we call, ‘a lot of heart’ which is the ability to not only understand what the right play is, but to be able to follow through with it. Which seems like a very trivial point, but it’s probably the biggest point. A lot of times, what happens to people, sort of what separates the good from the great is that the good know the right answer, but they don’t follow through with it because its too scary, or they’re putting too much as risk. They don’t have that confidence that it’s okay because while there might be some variance to the play and you might lose this particular hand, mathematically it was the right choice. Over the long run it will work out.
One of the things that I say to students is that most poker players spend too much time worrying about whether they have the best hand. What great players worry about is whether they can win the hand enough of the time, which is a totally different way to think. That’s what really makes a great poker player is understanding, it’s not about winning right now, it’s about making the right decisions so that you win in the long run. You also have to be, I think, a very good reader of people, or at least a reader of bets and a very good pattern analyzer. That’s kind of all the things that have to do with the poker playing but that’s not what makes you a successful poker player. You have to have those skills and be able to beat the game. You could be anywhere from good to great in order to be a successful player as long as you are better than the game that you are playing. What makes a successful poker player is someone who manages their money really well, who understands what the bankroll requirements are to be sitting in a certain game, how much money you can risk in a certain game, and also who has a lot of control over the emotional aspect of the game, because poker players lose a lot because there’s variance to the game. You don’t win every single hand. Being able to emotionally handle the losses and not allow those to affect your play going forward is actually one of the key components to being a successful player. What I say to people all the time is that, there are lots of players out there who have more talent in their pinky than I have in my whole body for the game, but they are broke and I’m not. You work with the skills that you have, you recognize the games that you should be playing in, you play in games that you are better than rather than vice versa, which would be an ego-driven choice to think that you should be playing against people who are better than you are. And then you manage your money well and you manage your emotions well and that will make you a successful poker player, whether you are only good, or great.
Recorded on September 30, 2009
Annie Duke, winner of the 2004 World Series Tournament of Champions, believes money and emotional management skills set you apart from the competition.
Sharon Salzberg, world-renowned mindfulness leader, teaches meditation at Big Think Edge.
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They didn't know it, but the rituals of Iron Age Scandinavians turned their iron into steel.
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