Maria Konnikova (@mkonnikova) is a regular contributing writer for The New Yorker, a bestselling author, and an international poker champion — a title she earned while researching her latest book, The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win.
What We Discuss with Maria Konnikova:
- How Maria went from being someone who had no interest in poker to raking in big bucks as an international poker champion.
- How people make decisions and what poker can tell us about reading human motivation.
- How to spot real physical tells at the poker table (and real life).
- How we can control and prevent emotional thinking (aka “going on tilt”).
- Why, in poker as in life, triumph is your foe, and disaster is where you learn.
- And much more…
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Not interested in gambling or poker? Join the club. And if that club were to have elected a president, it could very well have been Maria Konnikova, author of bestsellers like The Confidence Game and Mastermind. But in an effort to discover where skill ends and chance begins, Maria began investigating game theory and found poker to be an excellent tool for seeking that very thing.
On this episode, Maria brings us on the journey that resulted in her new book, The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win, and shares how she became an international poker champion with over $300,000 in tournament earnings on the way there. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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Miss the show we did with Malcolm Gladwell — author of books like Blink, Outliers, and Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know? Catch up here with episode 256: Malcolm Gladwell | What We Should Know About Talking to Strangers!
THANKS, MARIA KONNIKOVA!
If you enjoyed this session with Maria Konnikova, let her know by clicking on the link below and sending her a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resources from This Episode:
- The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win by Maria Konnikova
- Other Books by Maria Konnikova
- Maria Konnikova | Website
- Maria Konnikova | Facebook
- Maria Konnikova | Twitter
- Theory of Games and Economic Behavior by John Von Neumann and Oskar Von Morgenstern
- Erik Seidel | Twitter
- How a Writer With a Ph.D. in Psychology Became a Poker Champ | The New York Times
- What Is the “Illusion of Control” and What Are Some Examples? | BetterHelp
- What is a Capped Range in Poker? | Upswing Poker
- Confirmation Bias in 5 Minutes | Thought Monkey
- Plandemic Debunked with ZDoggMD | TJHS Ep. 354
- Definition of Going On Tilt | Poker King
- Phil Hellmuth | The Winning Strategies of a Certified Poker Brat | TJHS 57
- Jared Tendler | Twitter
- Mood, Misattribution, and Judgments of Well-Being: Informative and Directive Functions of Affective States | Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
- Phil Galfond | Twitter
- Barcelona Opera Reopens with an Audience of Plants | NPR
- A Poker Player’s Tells Are in the Hands as Much as the Face | NPR
- Malcolm Gladwell | What We Should Know About Talking to Strangers | TJHS 256
- Annie Duke | How to Make Decisions Like a Poker Champ | TJHS 40
- What’s ‘Hangry’? | Merriam-Webster
- What Is the Nocebo Effect? | Smithsonian Magazine
- The Man Who Overdosed on Placebo | American Council on Science and Health
Transcript for Maria Konnikova | Pulling Off the Biggest Bluff (Episode 371)
Maria Konnikova: [00:00:00] Don't dwell on the shit that you can't control. Figure out what you can do, figure out what you are actually capable of changing.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:12] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's sharpest minds and most fascinating people. And turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. I want to help you see the Matrix when it comes to how these amazing people think and behave. Our mission is to help you become a better informed, more critical thinker, so you can get a much deeper understanding of how the world works and make sense of what's really happening, even inside of your own brain. And if you're new to the show, we've got episodes with spies and CEOs, athletes, and authors, thinkers and performers, as well as toolboxes for skills like negotiation, body language, persuasion, and more. So if you're smart and you like to learn and improve, you're going to be right at home here with us. And for a selection of featured episodes to get you started with some of our favorite guests and popular topics, go to jordanharbinger.com and we will hook you up.
[00:01:02] Today on the show, we'll learn that gambling is tough on our brains. Statistics and probabilities are extremely abstract and hard to fathom for humans. We just aren't evolved to see them readily, but poker is a game of skill in many ways, embodies how the human mind works best, especially when it comes to decision making. Poker probabilities are what they are. They're not designed by a game designer and this will break you out of your illusions at least so says my friend poker champ and author Maria Konnikova. Today, we'll explore how humans make decisions and what poker can tell us about reading human motivation. We'll also outline some real physical tells at the poker table. I couldn't believe it, but it has to do with your hands, not your face, not your eyes, none of the other stuff. And it's pretty amazing how you can put this into action. We'll also explore how we can control and prevent emotional thinking or tilt as they call it. And we'll learn why in poker as in life, the triumph is your foe and disaster is actually where you learn. I love this book. I love this conversation and I know you will too.
[00:02:04] And if you're wondering how I managed to have a network that includes friends like Maria Konnikova, it's because I use systems and tiny habits to maintain my circle, my network. Check out our Six-Minute Networking course, which is free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. No upsells, not enter-your-credit-card free, just free-free. Again, over at jordanharbinger.com/course, right there on the website. Most of the guests on the show subscribe to the course and the newsletter. So come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong. All right, here we go with Maria Konnikova.
[00:02:37] Why did you decide to become a professional poker player again? How did this happen to you?
Maria Konnikova: [00:02:42] I'm still asking myself the same question. Initially, I had no interest in poker and came to this project because I was interested in luck. And then trying to figure out how do we learn the limits of our own control, how do we learn where our skill ends and just chance begins. It's a really, really difficult thing to figure out in real life. Life is so noisy. There's so much going on and you can always just kind of BS your way through it. And say, "Oh, well that, wasn't my fault. And yeah, I'll take credit for that. Thank you very much." So it's just noisy. It's messy. So I wanted something that would help me disentangle that. Someone suggested that I start reading about Game Theory and they're like, "If you're interested in chance, Game Theory is a good place to start." So I ended up reading John Von Neuman's Theory of Games and learned that Von Neuman was both a poker player and someone who believed that poker what's the perfect game for looking at strategic decision making in life. So by all accounts, he was a really horrible poker player, but he was a brilliant mind and a brilliant mathematician and the inventor of game theory on the computer and the hydrogen bomb. You know, so many things, this guy -- just brilliant, not a great poker player -- but he said poker is actually the perfect game for human decision making because it's a game of incomplete information.
[00:04:00] So there are things I know, there are things you know, there are things we both know -- I need to try to figure out what you know, what you think I know. And so I'm playing the person, I'm playing the situation. Wait, this really intrigued and I thought, "Let me read more about this poker thing." I did and decided, "Hey, you know what? This is my book. Why don't I learn poker? Why don't I immerse myself in the world?" That I want to write about and see if with the help of someone really good. I ended up choosing Erik Seidel who's one of the greatest poker players of all time. And luckily he agreed to be a part of this project. I said, "Why don't I actually see how far I can go?" And it was supposed to be just a year of us working together. And I ended up becoming good and winning a major international title and getting a sponsorship from PokerStars and joining Team Pro and somehow found myself as a professional poker player
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:50] That is -- I've known you for several years. So, you know what I mean, when I say that is kind of ridiculous, right?
Maria Konnikova: [00:04:57] No, I mean, it's not kind of ridiculous. I think that is ridiculous. It's absolutely ridiculous. Like what in the world is this --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:04] Yeah, it's like saying, "You know, I want to learn a little bit about soccer for this book. Oh, I'm just going to go work with Cristiana Ronaldo. And Oh, Manchester United wants me to play for them now because I got good."
Maria Konnikova: [00:05:15] Yeah. That's actually kind of what happened except I'd be absolute -- at soccer. I have very little actual athletic ability and zero hand-eye coordination. I'd be better at soccer than at baseball though because the thought of a ball going toward my face just petrifies me. I think the first pitch, I just go --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:32] Yeah, duck down.
Maria Konnikova: [00:05:32] –duck down and that would be the end.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:34] That's true.
Maria Konnikova: [00:05:35] That would be the end of my baseball career.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:36] Yeah. You get hit with a soccer ball in the head. You don't have to go to the hospital generally speaking. So yeah, you'd be a little better off. So you wanted to learn poker to learn among other things, decision-making as a skill, sort of maybe to disentangle luck versus skill in our daily lives. Or in your daily life, maybe?
Maria Konnikova: [00:05:53] That's exactly right. Because when I tried to do it before, when I was at Columbia, I studied decision-making when I was getting my PhD in psychology. And. It was really fascinating because I saw lots of really, really smart people making really silly types of mistakes. So when you put them in an environment with a ton of uncertainty, and what I actually did was had them play stock market games, where they had to pick different stocks and bonds and trade them. And I would then play tricks on them. Like suddenly the stock that used to give a lot of money would suddenly become bad with some percentage of the time. So the rules of the game would change. And I found that really smart people and people who are good at investing. So actually, we worked with both students and with professional investors to get data for this. That they oftentimes failed to see that, fail to change their strategy, and thought they were more in control than they actually were. So they suffered from something called the illusion of control. So I saw that actually smart people in real-world situations -- and sure this was a game, but it was noisier than poker, I mean, stock market simulation. That they would often go wrong. Like they'd take credit when things were going well. And they discount it when things weren't there like, "Oh, this isn't my fault. You know, my strategy is great. There's something wrong with this program."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:11] Right. "Yeah. The real market doesn't behave like this ever."
Maria Konnikova: [00:07:14] Exactly. No, that's exactly right. They would say things like that. It was just kind of astounding to see that. So you just said that as a joke, but this was a literal quote that some people said.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:24] I believe it because nobody would say that playing blackjack. Like, "Oh, the dealer never gets 21 three times." "Yes, of course. It happens. Like, have you played blackjack before? It happens all the time."
Maria Konnikova: [00:07:33] Exactly. So I saw in poker an opportunity to actually cut through with some of that noise because you can't be like, "Oh, well, you know, I made the right decision getting in my pocket sevens against pocket aces."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:46] Right.
Maria Konnikova: [00:07:47] "No, you didn't." I mean, maybe you did, it depends on how the action played out, but you know, you were not a favorite. You can actually start to figure out, "Okay, how do I look at my decision process and how do I separate it completely from the outcome?" Because there are elements that I control, right? I control how I play. I control whether I choose to play a hand and if I play it, how I play it. Am I going to raise, am I going to call, what am I going to do? You can control your reactions. You can control your thought process, but you can't control the next card. You have no idea what card's coming out next unless you're cheating. You know, unless you've marked the cards. In that case, you know what card is coming next. But if you didn't do that, then all of a sudden, you could make the best decision possible and get your money in as 75 percent favor, and then bingo, 25 percent happens. And you know what? 25 percent is a lot.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:35] It's a lot.
Maria Konnikova: [00:08:35] It's going to happen a lot of times. And you're going to lose and the outcome's going to be bad, but your decision was good, so that's fine. And sometimes it'll flip and you'll actually get your money in and you'll see, "Oops, I'm a dog. I have 75 percent to lose." And the miracle card comes and oftentimes it's easy to forget and be like, "Oh, I'm a genius. I knew that card was coming." But if you keep thinking like that, you're going to go broke eventually. If you keep actually thinking that you're a genius and you knew you were psychic, you knew that magic card was coming, then you're going to lose all your money. So really what you have to do is, "Okay, I screwed up. Why did I screw up? How do I fix my process?"
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:11] So instead of using statistics and math or only statistics and math, you actually wanted to use psychology and human behavior to win at poker. And that's a unique take because I think a lot of people go, "Oh, there's a lot of people who've studied poker. What's the big deal?" But you even talk about some of these, I don't know if they're statisticians, but they kind of play that way where they've got some simulator at home and they just memorize all the combinations of cards they have and they go, "Okay, I'm 50 percent to lose right now or 50 percent to win or 75 percent." Like you said before and they just play those numbers. But you've got a different take, which is, "I'm going to see if I can use my PhD in psychology to win at poker," which, you know, your grandma was a huge fan apparently, according to the book.
Maria Konnikova: [00:09:54] Yes. My grandma was a huge fan, remains a huge fan of what I'm doing. I think she thinks that I sold my soul to the devil, but yes, I mean, I think, all the best players know you need both. You need both the mathematics and the statistics and the psychology. But depending on whom you ask, you will get different answers because there are some people we'll say, "You know what? You really don't need the psychology. A lot of that is just bullshit and like, just know the math really well and work with yourself and you'll be great." Then, there are the other people who think, "Oh, all those math guys -- pot odds are all unique. Oh, that is crazy. I play the man. I play the situation." And I think there's an in-between, but I do think that it's really important to use your strengths, use what you know, what you're good at. I took my last math class in high school. I am not a mathematician. I'm a writer, even in psychology, people are like, "Oh, but you did stats." I was like, actually, "No, I hired a statistician to do my stats for me." I paid someone to do the stats. I didn't do them, which is great. It's actually a good research methodology because they're not biased. They don't know what you're looking for. So that's totally legitimate, but that's what I did. So my math background, I count on my fingers. Literally, I still count on my fingers. My math has gotten better with poker, but I'm not going to be competing with a stats PhD. Ain't happening. And I know that, and my strength is psychology.
[00:11:15] So I figured why don't I use what I know. And then, sure. I'll supplement it with the math. I'll do my best to learn that. But I'm never going to beat those guys at their own game. So why don't I just try to understand what they're doing? And instead of trying to beat them that way, try to beat them using the things that I know a lot better than they do, which is the psychology of decision-making, which is how the mind works, which is how people react to emotional situations. And so that was the way that I approached it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:43] You say in the book that it's not the best hand in poker, it's the best player. So the best hand doesn't win most of the time, most of the time it's a skill-based decision. Or did I read that incorrectly?
Maria Konnikova: [00:11:52] No, that's absolutely right. In fact, according to one study that several economists ran of hundreds of thousands of hands that they analyzed in online poker, the best hand won 12 percent of the time.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:04] Really?
Maria Konnikova: [00:12:05] So that means the best player won 88 percent of the time. And over two-thirds of the time, the hand didn't even go to showdown, which means that someone won without ever having to show their cards. And so that just goes to show how much of a skill game it is and how often people just outplay you and you end up folding the best hand. Or if you're the good player, you can win with crap. And that to me is just the quintessential reason why it's a skill game. You mentioned blackjack before; you can't do that at blackjack. You need to have the best hand. Sure, you can calculate your odds and know like when you're supposed to double and all of these things. But at the end of the day, if the dealer has 21, you lose. Unless you have 21 too. There's no way to win with 18. There's no way to bluff the dealer and be like, "I think I have the stronger hand." But in poker, you can. That's such a huge difference. That just shows the difference between gambling and poker.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:59] Is it essentially there's a very finite limit to skill then in blackjack? Like as soon as you know some of the rules and some of the strategies, you're kind of done? You don't need to watch 30,000 hours of blackjack tournaments, if that even exists, to learn how to kick ass.
Maria Konnikova: [00:13:16] Are there blackjack tournaments?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:17] I don't know.
Maria Konnikova: [00:13:17] Now, I'm fascinated.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:19] I doubt it. Why wouldn't it be right? It's like it's your grandma against my mom and myself, and we're all equally probably going to have the same odds. And it's not that exciting.
Maria Konnikova: [00:13:29] True.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:29] I love these little psychological concepts about the description-experience gap. The idea that we tend to go on what feels right versus data. I mean, isn't that like what being human means almost in this day and age?
Maria Konnikova: [00:13:42] Absolutely. We are really not wired for statistics and probabilities. The way the brain works is through experience. So if I sit here right now -- so if someone listens to our podcast and we start talking through like some math stuff, they might think they understand while they're listening, but unless they've actually experienced it themselves, it doesn't really register nearly as much as experiencing something and actually going out and saying, "Okay, let me play poker. Let me feel this for myself." And so normally since we learn much better from experience, we end up having completely incorrect statistical intuitions. Because if something happens to us once we overweigh it, so we think, "Oh, well, you know, I need to prepare for this." Like if you can think about our ancestors, they see a tiger in the bushes when they're going, picking berries in those bushes. And they say, "Oh, we can never go back here." And if someone were to suddenly appear and say, "Actually, statistically speaking tigers here are incredibly rare. This was an anomaly. And the tiger will only be here. 0.5 percent of the time." There'll be like, "Screw that. I don't know what that is. Like tiger or bat, I'm not coming back here." So we learned from that personal experience and not from someone telling us, "Actually don't worry about it. That was a very rare occurrence." And you know what? It was smart because the people who went back probably got killed by the tiger.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:01] Got eaten. Right. It's a whole lot like a reproductive DNA-type scenario.
Maria Konnikova: [00:15:05] Exactly, exactly. And so, but that persists now. And so if we haven't experienced something ourselves, we really underway it. So I think we were seeing it right now with COVID with some people actually -- people who know people are often, you know, they understand the risks. They're like, "Okay, you need to wear a mask. This is important." But then you have parts of the country that weren't affected with the first wave or weren't affected a lot. And they're like, "Oh, this is a hoax. This is stupid. I don't need to worry about it because I personally don't know anyone. So I don't care about these statistics. I don't know what the risk is. I don't care about any of those numbers. All I care about is that I'm fine. And then everyone I know is fine." Description versus experience.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:42] That makes sense. The example you give in the book, I think is 9/11, where people who were kind of around or paying attention to that, or maybe in New York for that, they're often much more scared of terrorism or a terror attack. And then other folks that are maybe a little bit more removed from it, or just focus more on stats are going, "Look, the odds of anything happening on an airplane are this." And it's like, "Well, yeah, but I was in an almost plane crash one time. So I'm never getting on a plane again," which you don't really argue with people like that. It's hard to do that. Like, "Oh yeah, you crashed in Africa in the bush at one time, but you're on a small plane. This is a commercial airliner." "No, I'm just going to go -- " "Well, I'm not really going to argue that you almost die on a plane crash."
Maria Konnikova: [00:16:21] Exactly. What are you almost supposed to do? Like, it's really hard because our experiences are emotional in a way that descriptions totally are not. You are going to think that I'm just a horrible human being. If you're telling me about, you know, your crash experience and I'm like, "Did you know that your risks of dying by slipping in a bathtub are actually orders of magnitude higher?" You'll be like, "Screw you."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:16:39] You must be fun at parties, yeah.
Maria Konnikova: [00:16:41] Exactly. Exactly. Who are you? Like? You must be fun at parties is the perfect put-down line there. I've gotten it a lot at Twitter.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:16:48] I can only imagine. Yeah.
Maria Konnikova: [00:16:50] But what I was going to say is that poker actually cures you of a lot of that because your sampling probability is corrected. So you actually get to feel what one percent feels like, what two percent feels like. It's really cool. It's something that's really helped me internalize different things that I now see on the news. I can actually think back in my mind. "Oh, well, that's about equal to the probability of hitting a pair on the flop. Okay. I know what that is." Like I actually, I can feel it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:17] That is fascinating because I wondered if you brought poker thinking into your daily life and you're like, oh, this is like a -- what is it? A capped range or something like that?
Maria Konnikova: [00:17:27] Yes, capped range is a great concept to actually use that in real life. A capped range, all it means is that given what this person has done, they're capped at how strong they can be. So basically, if you know that someone always raises -- if we're talking poker -- always raises their strongest hand, so like aces and kings, they're always going to raise them before the flop 100 percent of the time, and if they didn't, you know they're capped. They can't possibly have those hands. So the best hand they can have is something that's going to be worse than that and so that helps you eliminate certain hands from that range. If you apply that correctly to life, you can actually save yourself a lot of woe and realize when people are trying to bluff you. You're like, "Wait. If you actually were going to walk away from this negotiation, you would have acted this way and this way. So you're capped; you're not going to walk away from this. The way you've acted caps your range of actions -- caps what you actually are bringing to the situation.
[00:18:27] It's a really good way of analyzing, like, okay, how would this person have acted If they, in fact, have what they're representing versus not? And it's also good to know that for yourself so that you can try to avoid those and consistencies yourself so that you don't have to go, "Oh, shit. I would have played that differently."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:18:46] I use this in negotiation where I'll collect a huge amount of information. And a lot of friends of mine who are also in business, they'll go, "Look, man, you're just psyching yourself out by getting all this extra information." But what I'm looking for a lot of the time is something--and I never thought about it this way, but it's something that would cap the range. So for example, maybe the other party says, "Look, we don't need to sell this to you." But I already got information from another party that has nothing to do with our negotiation that says, "Ah, yeah, we just bought three million impressions for this sponsor, from this network." And I go, "Ah, they need me to fill in like a million of those." They actually really need me a lot right now. And it's between me and another show that this other person said they already signed with their network, so they can't get them. They want me to think I'm competing, but I'm not really.
Maria Konnikova: [00:19:30] So you actually also just hit on something that is such a crucial thing to realize that poker actually helped me realize, but you can learn it away from the table and it really applies. Information is power. Everything is a game of information. If I can get an informational edge on you, if I can know something that you don't or that you don't know that I know, then all of a sudden, my advantage has just quintupled. So here you actually were able to get an informational advantage and they did not know. They actually didn't realize that you were good at doing your research. That's just so important. It's like when you actually pick up a tell on a person, which is very rare. So when you actually figure out, "Oh wow, they do this when they're strong, or they do this when they're bluffing or whatever it is." And if you can actually do that, you can't tell anyone. Because the moment this person is aware that you know this, it stops working.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:22] That's interesting.
Maria Konnikova: [00:20:23] You have to give your information to yourself.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:26] The description-experience gap is essentially what leads us to believe what we want to see, not with the research shows. So again, we don't look at the stats. We go on almost like a feeling that then sabotages our -- is it our perception or at least the results of our perception where we start to believe things that we kind of wish were there?
Maria Konnikova: [00:20:46] That's a really, really interesting question. And it's a really nuanced question. So you're getting at something that psychologists have tried to tease apart for a long time. Do you actually see the world differently? And I think the answer is yes because I think that you just selectively focus on the information that already agrees with what you want to believe. So this is called the confirmation bias. So you think you're looking at everything objectively but actually, you're only looking at the information that agrees with you and you're not even seeing really, you're just completely discounting the information that doesn't. So if you did like a Google search in the first hit agrees with you, you're like, "I'm done," and you didn't look at anything else. Now, if you see the first hit disagrees with you, then you'll start doing more research and finding the ones that agree with you and you Keep going down the list.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:32] This sounds like conspiracy theorists that are like, "Oh yeah. Well, Google is the mainstream media. Now, you can't even go on YouTube. You've got to go on BitChute and then watch Plandemic." Yeah, okay, now you're just looking for things that reinforce your argument. This isn't what research really is, but people don't know that. That does explain quite a bit. You mentioned that when you were going into poker, that the job market was actually a risky play but with poker, it's more meritocratic. Can you tell us about this?
Maria Konnikova: [00:22:00] So I'd never intended to go on the academic job market, but I could have. That's what happens after you get your PhD, you kind of go on the job market. You're interviewed at different universities and someone decides whether or not they want you to teach there, to be a professor there. And it's very competitive. People think, especially my grandmother, but people think that academia is just this really respectable meritocratic thing. You know the smart people and that poker is just like degen gambling. However, there is so much politics in academia.
[00:22:33] When you go on the job market, you are so subject to the prejudices of the people doing the hiring. Do they like the person? Who was your advisor and who's on your dissertation committee? Do they agree with the kind of research you do or not? And by the way, you can actually -- this doesn't have to be academia. This can be any kind of job market. Does the person like the person you used to work for? And do they, like what you're studying? Does it actually mesh with their view or not? Maybe they're doing something that actually kind of goes in a slightly different direction and so they're like, "Oh, don't hire Maria. She's actually horrible. I think she's a horrible worker." And it's not true, but they say that because they want to protect their little area. And so they don't want me to be hired.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:15] I don't want somebody who's research says that I might be wrong in some way, possibly because then it furthers their career. Yeah.
Maria Konnikova: [00:23:21] Exactly. And then there are also things like, "Oh, was the person interviewing me the day they were interviewing me? Were they just getting over the flu and they just didn't want to be there?" So they're completely not receptive to what I'm saying or did they already see a candidate that they loved. And so even though they might have loved me more had I gone first. I didn't go first. And so I never have a chance to prove myself and they've already kind of decided.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:43] Right, they were hungry when they interviewed you.
Maria Konnikova: [00:23:45] Exactly. What if I remind someone of their ex-wife and they're like, "Oh my God, like -- "
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:50] "I can't work with her every day."
Maria Konnikova: [00:23:51] Exactly, exactly. And they probably don't even think of it consciously. They probably think that they're being totally objective, but these biases operate on a subconscious level. So at the end of the day, it is completely not meritocratic. It's all about knowing the right people, doing the right work, kind of being in the right moment at the right time.
[00:24:09] Poker, on the other hand, especially tournament poker, if you can afford the buy-in, great. No one cares where the hell you went to school. No one cares what you look like. No one cares what you did or didn't do. They're not allowed to say unless you've been banned from the property for cheating or something like that. But assuming that there's no law enforcement reason why you can't play, they can't say you can't play. And as I write in the book, you rise and fall on your own merits. So there are people sitting at the table, some of whom have Ivy league educations, others of whom dropped out of high school and had to wrestle with homelessness and all sorts of issues and built up their bankroll from $10 and ended up being so good. But they took that $10 and are now millionaires.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:52] That's amazing.
Maria Konnikova: [00:24:53] It is. And that's the only place that I've actually found where that's true now. Like I said, nothing is a perfect meritocracy, right? So obviously matters where you were born, who you are, you know? Some people don't even get to figure out that they like to play poker or that they're good at it. It obviously helps to have some parental support. A lot of these things are helpful.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:12] Yeah. There's still privilege involved.
Maria Konnikova: [00:25:14] Of course. There's still privilege involved.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:16] And luck.
Maria Konnikova: [00:25:17] Exactly. Always, but it's the most meritocratic thing I've ever seen.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:21] That to me is interesting. As a person who looks at poker and says, "Well, gambling is pure luck." And then we're saying, "Well, actually it's more skill." And then this area that requires all the skill is actually more meritocratic than say academia, which theoretically is supposed to be -- the word probably comes from it somewhere. Merit is probably some academic word that I don't know from Greece. I don't know.
Maria Konnikova: [00:25:44] Likewise. I also do not know those words.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:46] When you think merit, you think medal, award, achievement, accolade, like all of that is usually associated with the centers of learning, which now you're saying are not as meritocratic as sitting around a table with a bunch of guys jeering at you for being a woman and you kicking their ass because you have better skill.
Maria Konnikova: [00:26:03] Yup.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:03] Yeah, it's kind of cool, right?
Maria Konnikova: [00:26:06] I have a one-word answer to that -- yup.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:09] We'll get to some of that later, maybe. The best poker players don't take things personally, you said. They also know how to take lessons from their losses instead of looking to blame someone else. That's a skill I think people need in life because we have to do the same thing. Otherwise, I do find that a lot of people -- and I'm sure we all have this friend or had this friend who everything is someone else's fault. Therefore they can never grow. I've had people like that in my business. I've had business partners like that, that still years later, they are, "Jordan screwed us over and that's why we're not doing well." And I'm like, "I started from zero two-and-a-half-years ago again, and I'm doing better. So like, wait a second. What's going on here? You spend a lot of time blaming others. I spend a lot of time analyzing my mistakes in business rather than looking for someone to blame." And that was a lesson that was sort of hard one for me, honestly.
Maria Konnikova: [00:26:56] Yeah, I think it's a hard one for a lot of people. And I think it's also something that one has to constantly work at because it's very easy to fall back into bad thought habits and to start blaming other people. I remember reading these psych studies about -- basically, you had to work in a group and the researcher would rig the results. that you were told that, you know, your group didn't perform as well. And then you had to explain what happened. And inevitably, everyone would say, "Oh, I worked really hard. It was my other group members who dragged us down." And there was no correlation. Actually, it was just completely rigged, but people just blamed other people. And every single person in the group was like, "I was the hard worker and everyone else a slacker." And they found this result so many times. But yeah, in poker, it's such an important lesson to just realize that nothing is personal. You have to put your ego out of the equation. Sometimes someone will raise you three times and you'll be like, "Oh, my God, that person's picking on me." And maybe they are, but maybe they've had good hands. And maybe that's just a good strategy because you've been folding. It's not personal. It has nothing to do with you if they're just a good player. So rather than complain and be like, "Oh, I can't believe that that person's bullying me," fight back and be like, "Okay, fine. I'm going to re-raise and see what happens. I'm going to try to adjust. I'm going to try to figure out what's going on." Because this isn't personal and the moment you start taking it personally, your decisions just go haywire. Logic goes out the window. All of a sudden, you know, you're shoving all your chips in the middle with seven-deuce offsuit, which is the worst hand you can be dealt in poker because you got mad at this guy who keeps raising you. And you're like, "Oh, I'm going to take a stand. Fine. I have seven-deuce? I don't care. I don't care. I'm all-in." And he flips over aces and you're like, "Oh shit."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:39] That's called going on tilt, right?
Maria Konnikova: [00:28:41] That is called going on tilt. Isn't that a beautiful expression?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:44] It kind of is. Where does that come from though? Is it like tilting a game machine, maybe?
Maria Konnikova: [00:28:48] Yeah, it comes from pinball.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:49] Oh, I've seen that on pinball machines. Yeah.
Maria Konnikova: [00:28:51] Yeah, so in pinball, you can tilt the machine right away and sometimes pinball machines after people started doing that would have tilt protection so that you actually can't do that. It disqualifies you from the game if you try to do that. I don't actually play pinball. So I'm not quite sure how it works, but I'm guessing that people who play pinball realize --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:08] There's a mercury switch in there. And if you move the machine, it usually just blinks and then turns off or it'll buzz or something like that.
Maria Konnikova: [00:29:15] I see, so they probably actually did that in response to people tilting the machines.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:19] Yeah, because if you flatten out the machine, you can just have it bounce wherever you want or, and you'll never lose. And then you can jack the high score up, which sucks for everybody.
Maria Konnikova: [00:29:29] There you go. So that's where the term comes from. But in poker, it means getting emotional and letting emotions get into your decision process. And that comes from taking things personally and not realizing that, you know, it's not personal. I have to actually just look at the process dispassionately and make the best decision I can. So you can go on tilt. You can be tilted. Someone can be tilting to you. It's a wonderful word. You can use it in so many ways, you know? "Oh my God, isn't that person's haircut so tilting."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:57] It's like triggering.
Maria Konnikova: [00:29:58] Exactly.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:58] That's funny.
Peter Oldring: [00:30:00] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show. We will be right back.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:07] This episode is sponsored in part by Skillshare. Skillshare is an online learning community with thousands of inspiring classes, for creative and curious people. And, you know, Peter, Jen -- she hates it when I talk about this -- she took a class on how to organize a bookshelf on Skillshare. And she's like, "People are just going to think all I do is organize stuff and it sounded like -- " But she found all these classes like organizing bookshelves and organizing the house. And it's really kind of a nice skill to have.
Peter Oldring: [00:30:34] Wow. I'm happy for someone else to have it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:38] Yes.
Peter Oldring: [00:30:38] Because I sort of feel like, "Nah, you go ahead and organize that bookshelf. I'm going to kind of be busy sitting here."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:43] I will supervise.
Peter Oldring: [00:30:45] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:45] They do have other real classes. If you don't think organizing bookshelves is a real class, they have filmmaking from home, confound footage into a compelling video. You ever find like a VHS tape from the '90s and you're like, "What on here?
Peter Oldring: [00:30:57] Oh, yes. You go, "What happened here? What were we thinking? Why was this a memorable moment?" Oh my God, that could listen. We could, this could be the beginning of our Oscar run.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:05] I found a presentation from when I was probably 11 about video games and how they are the future and how Atari is just going to kill it. I think it was probably my thesis.
Peter Oldring: [00:31:16] Okay.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:16] Yeah.
Peter Oldring: [00:31:17] I think Google glass.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:18] I talked about Nolan Bushnell. Yeah. Google glass. That is the wave of the future. Skillshare has classes to fit your schedule, your skill level 10 bucks a month, less than 10 bucks a month. It's affordable. Peter, tell them where they can get two months of premium membership for free.
Peter Oldring: [00:31:34] Absolutely. Explore your creativity and get two free months of premium membership at skillshare.com/harbinger. That's two whole months of unlimited access to thousands of classes for free. Get started and join today by heading to skillshare.com/harbinger. That's two free months of unlimited access to thousands of classes at skillshare.com/harbinger.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:59] This episode is also sponsored by HostGator. People always ask how many business cards they should get printed before their next big networking events. I tell them the same thing every time business cards may have been a state of the art way to connect in -- I don't know, 1957 -- but what's timeless.
Peter Oldring: [00:32:13] Sometime around there, yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:15] I mean, look, when's the last time you gave out a card, Peter?
Peter Oldring: [00:32:17] I believe it was the last time I had a full briefcase.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:20] Oh, when was that?
Peter Oldring: [00:32:21] So, that was a while ago. Maybe '72.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:23] I've seen you use prop briefcases, but that's not what you're --
Peter Oldring: [00:32:25] Certainly, it makes a nice effect as you click those little buckles and pop it up. It's very, very impactful.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:30] Nothing says I know what I'm talking about. Like when it goes -- like that on both sides simultaneously.
Peter Oldring: [00:32:36] Yeah, we discussed to have important briefcase.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:38] Next best thing to a briefcase though, full briefcase with double pop-up clamps, you know, it's going to be a website. You may cringe at the idea because it also might be expensive. It might be complicated. A lot of work to maintain. A lot of people might be 2002 with our web style. HostGator's 99.9 percent uptime guaranteed and around-the-clock support ensures your website's not only not going to be crap, but it will be available 24/7, 365. Peter.
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[00:33:28] And now back to The Jordan Harbinger Show.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:33] This is another concept that I've found myself using and never had a term for -- I was recently in a lawsuit, one of the things we were able to do, unfortunately, the other party wasn't acting in good faith. They were always trying to mess everything up. And I was like, "Okay, well, if this person isn't going to get a real agreement. What we can do -- if we can't predict that they are going to act in their own best interest, what I can do is predict that I can make them super angry and that they'll make bad decisions. And so I just started to do that
Maria Konnikova: [00:33:58] Well done.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:59] They were on tilt.
Maria Konnikova: [00:00:00] That's a great skill. To be able to tilt someone is quite a skill and I've had it used against me. It's really important to realize that every single person can tilt. There's no one who's so just --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:11] Chill.
Maria Konnikova: [00:34:12] Sanguine and chill that nothing gets to them. There is something that will tilt you at some point or someone because the days are long. You're sitting at the table for like 12, 13, 14 hours long, and then you have to wake up in the morning and do it again if you're going to tournament poker. It's exhausting. And when you're exhausted, when your resources are depleted cognitively and emotionally, things start getting to you more. Like you don't have the bandwidth to deal with it. You don't have the emotional resilience to deal with it. And so even if you're someone who's normally super chill, when you're going on hour 13 and you haven't gotten any sleep and you haven't eaten that much, believe me, things are going to start affecting you.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:50] Sure.
Maria Konnikova: [00:34:50] So it's so important to try to figure out: what your triggers are? What are the things that put you on tilt? How do you respond to certain common situations? How do you respond if you suddenly lose several large hands in a row and find that you've gone from like chip leader to short stack, how do you respond in those situations? It's important in advance to know the answer to that so that you have a way to solve it in the moment. Because in the moment, you ain't going to solve it, you're just going to make a bad decision.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:17] That's interesting. I did an interview years ago with Phil Hellmuth who's kind of famous for just freaking out at the table.
Maria Konnikova: [00:35:24] Yes, the poker brat.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:25] Yes, the poker brat. And it's weird because I thought, "Ooh, we better be nice. Like we're going to his house. We don't want him to get mad." He was so calm, chill, nice. It was like not what I expected at all. He's a very positive thinker.
Maria Konnikova: [00:35:37] He's very different in his personal life than he is at the poker table.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:40] Yeah. Yeah. And I know you got a mental coach to sort of reign in your tiltage. What was going on there? How did that work? What did they teach you?
Maria Konnikova: [00:33:48] Yeah. So his name was Jared Tendler. He's great. And he started out working with athletes. So he's the one who used to coach professional athletes. He still does but expands it to poker players because poker is a sport of a kind, it's a mind sport, but it also requires a lot of physical stamina, good habits of hygiene, and mind and body -- just like for any athletic competition, this is an endurance sprint. First, I didn't think that I needed him. He reached out to me. He's like, "Hey, I heard you're working on this book project. Let me know if you want to talk." And I looked him up and I was like, "Oh great credentials. I don't need a mental coach. I've got a PhD in psychology. I'm great." And I'm female. I don't have the testosterone swings. I'm good. Like it's those guys that need that.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:32] It must be nice.
Maria Konnikova: [00:36:33] Exactly. It's the guys that need it. I don't need it. And, oh my God, talk about hubris, talk about being a little bit overconfident. And it ends up I did need a mentor coach as I found out after going on tilt a few times. The way that it worked was we would have these hour-long sessions where we would talk and he would actually get me to go through different play sessions, where I could identify different things that made me emotional that I might not have even realized at the time. And it wasn't just even, "Oh, this kind of person makes me go on tilt." It was also the types of things like when does my decision making off? And there were situations like, I know what the right decision is, but somehow I can't find that aggression. And so I can't run the bluff when I need to and so I just fold. What's holding me back? What are my hang-ups? What's going on in my head? So he really forced me to identify those, to dig deep. I would make excel spreadsheets for him, where I would write down. "Okay. Trigger. This is where it's coming from. This is how I'm going to work on it. This is what I'm going to do in the moment." It seemed like total BS when I was doing it, but it helped because it actually forced me to do the work and to identify these moments and to then have a game plan. Because it's so important to understand that you can't develop a game plan in the moment. You need to have thought of it ahead of time. Otherwise, there's just too much going on and you're not going to be able to execute.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:57] He brought the concept of incidental events and how they affect our actions negatively even if they shouldn't. The example you give is, is this weather example. Can you take us through that? I thought this was fascinating actually. I bet this happens to me every day and I just don't even know.
Maria Konnikova: [00:38:10] Absolutely. The weather example is a really, really famous study on psychology by Schwarz and Clore. The effect is called mood as information. So we use our mood, how we're feeling, and we use that to actually make totally unrelated decisions. So in the weather study -- this was really cool -- they called a bunch of people and asked how they were doing that day. That's it. But the way that they did it was they actually looked at zip codes and try to figure out what the weather was in that area at that exact moment when they called. And so they picked some people where the weather was really sunny and others where it was raining or just overcast and pretty depressing. And they found that the weather totally affected the ratings of how well someone was doing and what they felt like, whether they were actually satisfied or not with their life, you know, just all of these mood ratings. But if they ask someone first, so what's the weather like there and then they ask the question, the effect disappeared. So as soon as you actually drew their attention to where their mood was coming from, they discounted it. So it was a really powerful study because it shows that we make decisions and incorporate things that really shouldn't matter all the time. Like the weather, we don't realize that we're depressed because it's raining outside, and instead we're like, "Oh, life sucks, everything sucks."
[00:39:29] And we even make bad decisions when it comes to financial decisions. There is a related study that shows that the stock market goes down on overcast days oftentimes. And that if your sports team loses you oftentimes will, once again, crash the market. And it's so interesting to see those types of things that don't matter at all. But the guys on the trading floor, you know, they're looking at the sports team, they care about the sports and when your team loses -- uh-oh, you know, all of a sudden that's bad and it affects your mood, et cetera, et cetera. So that part is a little bit concerning, but it's so cool that if you draw someone's attention to the incidentals -- to the reason why they're feeling this way, then they're totally capable of discounting it and saying, "Oh, okay, yeah, I'm depressed right now but it's because of the weather.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:16] Is that one of the reasons why you're told, never play straight off the plane, when you get to the tournament or Vegas, like jet lag, you're hungry, you're tired. There's probably even other things going on -- I don't know -- dehydrated.
Maria Konnikova: [00:40:26] Absolutely. That's one of the rules that my coach had for me, Erik Seidel. Never, never play off of a plane because you don't realize how compromised your decision making is. You've just traveled. You're probably in a different time zone. So your body hasn't adjusted. You're not well-rested. You're not in the right mindset. You haven't had the right things to eat. Your body is just totally not ready. And in order to play your best game, in order to maximize your edge, you need to be the best version of you -- which is a you who has eaten well, a you who has slept, a you who's on local time. And I think it's such important advice for anything. If you're flying somewhere for a job interview, try to get there a day in advance so that you actually have a chance to acclimate a little and get your head straight, and not go straight from the plane to the interview. We never do that. I mean, it's --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:41:19] Yeah, of course.
Maria Konnikova: [00:41:20] -- you just go straight from the plane to the interview, but it would be so helpful if you did.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:41:24] You mentioned that there's a parallel between poker and in your writing. And that characters need to have motivations in writing. I was not good at writing when I was in college. So I assume you mean like characters and novels and things like that. Same in poker, every player is telling a story consciously or unconsciously, and you finding out why these characters -- aka, your opponents, or other people playing with you -- do things why they act the way they did? That has some sort of value in the game, as long as you can get the story, but not judge is what you'd said. Can you explain this?
Maria Konnikova: [00:41:55] So a lot of times we tend to just judge people. There's a joke in poker -- I'm going to move up in stakes to where they respect my raises because I say that player sucks. He doesn't respect my raises. He's never going to fold. And some people actually say that, and they're not joking. They're serious. And something that, one of the people that I got to know very well and worked with quite a bit throughout this journey taught me -- Phil Galfond -- was it's so important to figure out everyone's motivations. And the reason behind every single person's decisions, what he said is always ask why. So he said two things: one, everyone is telling you stories; figure out what doesn't make sense. Figure out where do the story pieces not fall together, because that's how you're going to figure out whether they're making sense or not, whether they're bluffing or not.
[00:42:44] But then he said this is true of everyone. Do not be that person who's saying "I'm going to move up in stakes to where they respect my raises." Do not be judgmental. Do not say, you know, "Oh, that person's just an idiot. They're stupid. They don't know what they're doing." Instead, try to figure out why are they doing what they're doing because even bad players have a reason for doing what they're doing. They're not just randomly doing it. And if they're doing it just randomly, because they just want to, that's also a reason. If you can understand that, then you can take advantage of it. And not being judgmental is actually to your advantage to your bottom line advantage. Not just as an I'm-not- a-judgmental person, but it will help you. You will become a better player because you will understand that you can't look down at anyone. Everyone is a part of this. Everyone's a part of the ecosystem. And if you're looking down at everyone, that probably means that there's something wrong with you.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:37] Yeah. That's interesting. That certainly rings true. You must spend a lot of time reading people. And I think a lot of folks are like, "I hope they talk about reading people and tells and things like that." I want to start though with online poker because I know you played a lot online to just get a feel for the game with maybe the people element removed, but that didn't quite work out because you still have to read people in online poker, which I found fascinating. So not even there.
Maria Konnikova: [00:44:03] Yeah. I found that fascinating too. I found it so interesting that we can actually make judgments about people based on how they're playing online. And this is a multi-tiered process. First, usually, online, you get to choose your screen name and you get to choose your avatar. So already that says something about the person. Then there's a chat function and some people choose to use it. And some people are not very nice in it, and right away that also tells you something about the person. And oftentimes I'll see all these people in the chat after they've had a bad beat being like, "Oh, you're sucking out again," and they'll just go on a rant. Well, that's just told me so much about your emotional reactions about how you process information. And then there are the tells that are things like, oh, this person sometimes bets this amount and sometimes that amount and they bet more when they have a stronger hand or vice versa. And if you learn to look at those things, you can actually see how people are acting. Yeah, you can't see their gestures, but you can see things like that. You can see how long they take. Sometimes they act right away. Sometimes they'll take 10 seconds. Sometimes they'll use their timebank. What do all of these things mean? Those timing tells can be really important. So you ended up being able to build a pretty interesting composite picture of a person.
[00:45:21] And I wouldn't give people labels. The first big tournament I went online was courtesy of someone who I had labeled AIA, which was aggressive idiot asshole because I'd played against him before. And not only was he an asshole to me, but he was an aggressive idiot, so hence the label. And it was true and it actually informed how I played against him. And so, you know, I just let him bluff all of his chips off to me because I knew that he would want to try to bully me and he did, and that gave me the lead. I needed to end up winning the tournament. I thank him in the book. I say thank you to the aggressive idiot asshole.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:57] It is fascinating because a lot of us, of course, now especially that everyone's working remotely, we are dealing with a lot of people online and in chats and an email, which we were before. But now a lot of that human element is removed from pretty much everything. I mean, you thought you had a lot of conference calls before COVID-19 like, what's going on now? Everything's everything has context removed. So learning to read people without being in front of them is a skill in itself. How does that differ from reading people live at the poker table primarily? I mean, there's obviously more body language, but --
Maria Konnikova: [00:46:27] Yeah, live, you just have a lot more information. You do have the body language. And as I write about in my book, pay attention to hands, hands are words. It's not the poker face. It's the poker hands. That's where you actually give off most of your information. But anyway, so live, you have that, but you also have the dynamics and yes, you have a little bit of this online, but it's much richer live. You can see who was being annoyed by whom, who likes who, like who's trying to prove that they're more macho than the other guy. You can start seeing those behavioral dynamics start emerging. And if you're good at spotting, those, if you're good at seeing where the energy is at the table and how the energy is shifting and where there's bad energy. That really helps you all of a sudden you can take advantage of it. And that's something that's much easier to do live. I like live poker a lot better. I think it's much more interesting. I think it's a lot more fun. I enjoy playing with people and reading people. I enjoy those interactions. And on the computer, it's a different world.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:26] Yeah, it sort of seems like it's like watching a movie on your phone versus going to a theater maybe.
Maria Konnikova: [00:47:31] I think it's even more extreme than that, but it's very true because you do want something where you are interacting with people. I mean, it's like having Zoom Happy Hour instead of actually going.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:42] A real happy hour.
Maria Konnikova: [00:47:43] Yeah, going to a real happy hour where everyone has their drink and are saying hi. It's better than nothing.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:49] That's true.
Maria Konnikova: [00:47:49] But you'd prefer the real thing. So online poker for me is better than nothing, but I'd prefer the real thing.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:54] I guess maybe a better comparison would have been watching a sports game on your phone versus going and sitting at the courtside at the --
Maria Konnikova: [00:48:00] That's a very good one because the fans there's so much energy there. And it's so funny to me. I don't know if you have any thoughts on this, but I've been thinking a lot about how interesting it is that a lot of the sporting events now that don't have audience as well, actually have audience noise.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:16] I wondered that they were going to do that. I thought, "Okay, are they going to add the proverbial laugh track? But it's going to be like a cheer track."
Maria Konnikova: [00:48:23] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:24] Yeah. It totally makes sense.
Maria Konnikova: [00:48:25] So they've been doing that. They started doing that in Europe and to me, it's just, wow, because I guess that it must affect the players as well, but it's so interesting.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:36] That's a good point. I never thought about that. I guess they just blast it over the sound system and then the players look around and go, "Oh right. There's no one here."
Maria Konnikova: [00:48:44] I saw a story yesterday about an opera in Spain. And they had filled the opera house with plants. So instead of an audience, there were plants, then they streamed the opera. It was this surreal thing. You see this huge auditorium filled with plants. So I just imagined a sports stadium with plants.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:00] Imagine how much work that would be to move a plant to every other seat. The air must be fantastically fresh in there though.
Maria Konnikova: [00:49:07] It must be, it must be. That was my first reaction too. I was like, "Whoa, who moved all these plants?"
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:12] Yeah, well, think about it -- I'm moving right now to another house. So lifting these plants, I'm like, "Oh, how many plants do we have?" This is so irritating. Dirt is heavy. So imagine --
Maria Konnikova: [00:49:22] Dirt is really heavy.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:23] And I've like eight plants. Okay. I don't have 800 or 8,000 plants. That's a whole lot of dirt, whatever. Maybe they can leave him there for another year and it'll be worth it. Who knows? You did mention the hands. And I think a lot of people are thinking poker hand, like the cards you have, but you meant actual --
Maria Konnikova: [00:49:39] I mean actual physical hands.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:40] -- physical hands. Tell us about the new science of hand movement here. This is really incredible.
Maria Konnikova: [00:49:45] So it ends up that we actually give out a lot of information from our hands. And it makes sense -- think about where your pulse is. Think about if you sweat, what part of your body sweats. We're used to controlling our faces. Everyone is used to the poker face idea, but we're really not used to controlling our hands. That's not something we pay attention to nearly as much. And so we don't have as much practice at it. There was a really cool study that was done on poker players at the World Series of Poker, where this researcher at Columbia, Michael Slepian had people who knew nothing about poker. It didn't really matter. You could know that something or not. He had to watch videos of the world series and what he asked them to do was say, who has a strong hand? And there were three different videos. One was a totally unaltered video where you just saw the poker table and everything above it. So that's above the waist for anyone who's never seen televised poker. So you see faces, arms, hands, the whole deal. Then he did one cut where you could just see above the shoulders. See, we're only looking at the face and then he did one cut. That was just kind of a little bit below the chest. So you could basically just see the hands and arms and what was going on at the table.
[00:50:56] It turns out that the people who could see everything we're about at chance levels, which makes sense because we're about 50-50 yet being able to tell if someone is deceiving us or not. So study after study shows that it's about a coin flip. So that makes sense. When they just looked at the faces and actually screwed them up, they were looking at the wrong thing. So they became worse at chance, at figuring out if someone had a strong hand or not because they were looking at the wrong facial cues. Because people will look at a face and be like, "Oh, that person looks trustworthy." You don't think of it consciously, but subconsciously that's going on. And so people were just screwing up. They were looking at the facial features and not what they were supposed to do. And so they were worse than chance.
[00:51:36] But when they just looked at the hands, all of a sudden their success rate went way up. And they could tell if someone had a strong hand, even if they didn't know anything about poker, just by the way that they handle their chips and the way they handled their cards and the way they've placed their bets in the middle. And so Slepian said, "Wow, there's something in the gestures." And he thought in the smoothness and the fluidity -- so people who are strong and actually competent as opposed to pretending to be confident, move differently. And to me, that was so interesting. Afterwards, I was like, "Whoa, I'm just going to stare at everyone's hands now."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:13] Yeah. Just going to look at everyone's heads. I'm sure there's plenty to be gained by that. Did you find any success with that or is that sort of new?
Maria Konnikova: [00:52:20] Yes, I did. It's totally fascinating that it actually works. Not always. I worked with a coach who helped me on my tells as well. So I tried to get a coach first as many things as I could.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:31] Sure, I don't blame me.
Maria Konnikova: [00:52:31] Coaches are good. They help you. And he just basically told me, stop doing things with your hands. Try to minimize what you're doing. Do not put like a card protector on your cards. Always check your cards the same way and then leave your cards the same way. Don't recheck them. Don't do this. Don't play with your chips. Always place your bet out the same way. Just be very mindful of that. Most people don't do that. You see all the time people wrestling chips. Well, that's a hand gesture.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:58] Yeah. Oh, the riffling chips are where you sort of do some sort of fancy chip game, whatever.
Maria Konnikova: [00:53:03] Exactly. And sometimes what you don't realize is when you're thinking your rhythm is going to be interrupted a little bit because there's cognitive load. And so things like that happen. It's so interesting to see. And sometimes people don't realize that they bet one way when they have a good hand and another way when they don't. When they are playing before the flops, so before any cards whatsoever, that's the time when people are at least guarded because there's really no money in the pot yet.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:30] Oh, so it's early. So they're not trying to hide anything.
Maria Konnikova: [00:53:33] Yeah, it's early. So they're not trying to hide as much. It's so interesting to observe how people will raise. Sometimes they'll raise like, "Oh, I don't really care." And sometimes they'll raise like, "This is a real raise."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:43] Bam!
Maria Konnikova: [00:53:44] Exactly. And that means different things. And it's so interesting to see. And it's so interesting to realize that this is actually taking place. And like I said, not always, not for everyone, but it's there.
Peter Oldring: [00:53:58] This is The Jordan Harbinger Show. We'll be right back.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:01] This episode is also sponsored in part by MeUndies. Peter, do you have these?
Peter Oldring: [00:54:05] Oh my goodness. I don't think so. Ah, let me look, hold on. No.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:09] You didn't have to check. You'd know. You'd know if you're wearing some MeUndies. You know, what's funny about this. We're packing for a move right now as I vented to many --
Peter Oldring: [00:54:18] Yes.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:18] -- many people. As you do, you go through your clothes, like, "Oh, can I get rid of this? Can I go through it this way? Ah, these socks are old." I did this with my underwear drawer and MeUndies has been a sponsor for like four years. So my drawers are full of MeUndies. I don't think I have anything else. And I was like, "Oh, it's time to throw away some of these." Because they're probably old, they probably have holes in the crotchular area.
Peter Oldring: [00:54:38] Sure, certainly.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:39] Nothing. They all look new.
Peter Oldring: [00:54:41] Really?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:42] Yeah. There's a few that I'm like, "Well, that one, that pair" Let's just say it's pilling.
Peter Oldring: [00:54:51] I have a visual. I'm not sure, I want it, but I have a visual.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:56] But there are others that are pretty much new and they're not just the absolute new ones. So in other words, I've thrown the copy out the window for this one, but --
Peter Oldring: [00:55:04] No, not the undies, not the undies.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:06] The undies have remained. You get 15 percent off and free shipping satisfaction guarantee. I don't know what kind of guarantee other than a hundred percent satisfaction, certainly they could give a three-year guarantee and I would not yet be in a place to take advantage of that.
Peter Oldring: [00:55:21] My goodness. The next time you ask me, I'm not even going to have to look down, I'm going to know that I'm wearing them. To get your 15 percent off your first order and free shipping and a hundred percent satisfaction guarantee, go to meundies.com/jordan. That is meundies.com/jordan.
[00:55:39] This episode is also sponsored in part by Progressive Insurance. Fun fact, Progressive customers qualify for an average of six discounts when they sign up for Progressive Auto Insurance. Discounts for things like enrolling in automatic payments, ensuring more than one car, going paperless, and of course, being a safe driver. Plus customers who bundle their auto with home or add renter's insurance, save an average of 12 percent on their auto. There are so many ways to save when you switch. And once you are a customer with Progressive, you get unmatched claims service 24/7 support online or by phone. It's no wonder why more than 20 million drivers trust Progressive, and why they've recently climbed to the third-largest auto insurer in the country. Get a quote online at progressive.com in as little as five minutes and see how much it could be saving. Auto insurance from Progressive Casualty Insurance Company and affiliates. Home and renter's insurance not available in all states. Provided and serviced by affiliated third-party insurers. Discounts vary and are not available in all states and situations.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:38] Stay tuned after the show, we've got a trailer of our interview with Malcolm Gladwell, which is pretty timely right now. We'll discuss why the information we gather from face-to-face, human interaction isn't as uniquely valuable as we think it is and why television can actually make us worse at reading other people. That's coming right up here after the jump.
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Jordan Harbinger: [00:57:45] That to me is very fascinating because what it says about non-verbal tells -- and tell me if I'm wrong, this is your department after all -- but what it says about non-verbal tells us not only can we not turn these off, but it's not just about lying with our body or like wearing a hat and sunglasses, it's about giving people as little information as we can, so they can't develop maybe a baseline. And you've mentioned in the book that Erik, your coach, Erik Seidel never showed his cards after a hand -- I assume because he wanted to keep information from others. So they couldn't use game tape and go, "Aha." When he has good cards, he does this. And when he has bad cards, now, he can't do that anymore.
Maria Konnikova: [00:58:21] Yes, now he can't do that, but at the beginning, he was infamous for this. People were really mad at him. He didn't want to show his whole cards to the camera in the earliest days of televised poker. And that was, yeah, because he didn't want to show his strategy. Information is power. And because Erik doesn't actually care about being famous, he didn't care whether or not he was invited back. He didn't care if he was on TV. Like, "You want me? Fine, I don't want to show my cards." And these days you can't. These days it's just not a choice. You sign a little thing before you start. If there's a televised table that you're going to obey the rules is basically, which means showing your cards. That part never really hurt him because he's so good at changing his strategy around. But it was one of these things where it makes sense what we've talked about earlier, information is power. The more information you have, the better. The less information they have, the better. So both in terms of how you play hands and also in terms of how you hold yourself, what you do. Just give people as little to go on as possible. That's why I often -- I discourage people when they talk about, "Oh, well, what about speech play?" You know, I want to try to get them to tell me what they have. So I'm going to engage in banter. And if you watch televised poker, you see a lot of people trying to do that. My advice is don't just don't speak during your hand because chances are, unless you're really, really, really good at it. You're going to give off more information than you're going to pick up.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:40] Is that why you don't wear a hat and sunglasses and anything like that. I've heard, you mentioned that you don't do that.
Maria Konnikova: [00:59:45] I don't wear anything. And I think, yes, because I think you do give off potentially more information than you pick up. It's so funny, and I'm going to say these things and then players will realize that they do them and they'll stop doing them and I'll hate myself -- but they'll do things like they'll put their glasses on at certain moments and during certain hands, and then they'll take them off. And you should have to start paying attention to when they're wearing them when they're not wearing them. And they'll do things with their hat when they're serious versus not. It's so funny. I don't think they're consciously aware and maybe some of them, if they become aware because someone told them, they're going to try to mix it up on purpose. But then inevitably they'll go back to their baseline, which is what they normally do.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:24] Right. It only works like one time and then it's like, "Okay. Yeah." Or it looks very manual. So you lose more information than you hide when you wear a hat or sunglasses.
Maria Konnikova: [01:00:33] Exactly.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:34] Yeah.
Maria Konnikova: [01:00:34] But also, have you ever worn sunglasses inside in a not particularly bright room?
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:40] Of course, yeah, when you walk in from taking a walk or something and you go, "Oh, I'm still wearing my sunglasses."
Maria Konnikova: [01:00:44] Right. Can you see as well as you can without your sunglasses?
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:48] Of course not, especially if your eyes have to adjust.
Maria Konnikova: [01:00:50] It seems like a silly question, but I never get it. Like you're wearing dark glasses inside. You're going to miss stuff. You're just not going to see things as well.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:59] Yeah, you have blind spots and stuff on them.
Maria Konnikova: [01:01:01] Exactly, if you don't have the damn glasses on, I think it's so stupid. Sorry, people.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:08] Of course, yeah. Look, that's their choice. You do use noise-canceling headphones though. So you don't want to hear, you just want to see.
Maria Konnikova: [01:01:14] Well, I often actually have them not turned on. It's a way of choosing which conversations I'm involved in. So think about a normal poker table. For playing eight-handed poker, it's going to be seven guys. A lot of them are pretty big than me. So if someone wants to pick a conversation and someone doesn't respond and that someone is one of the huge guys, what are they going to do? Nothing they'll move on. But if I don't respond, I'll be like, "Hey, hey, I'm talking to you. Why aren't you respond -- ?" Like, "What? You're too good for me." Like, all of a sudden, there's the gender dynamics that, and they feel like they can do that. And there's this social pressure. And sometimes I don't want to talk to them. I don't want to engage because they're annoying me or whatnot. And so putting on those headphones before you even sit down, it just gives you personal space because now it's socially acceptable to pretend you didn't hear them. So you can actually either have them on and pretty low so that you can still hear everything. Because I think it is important to hear things or you can just have them off, but having them on your ears, it just gives you that space, gives you the option to just pretend you don't hear. And so they can't be like, "Hey, I'm talking to you." You can be like --
Jordan Harbinger: [01:02:22] Yeah, don't expect to reply. I've got these noise-canceling headphones on and then the pressures on them because it's almost like you want me to take my headphones off so I can hear you say some dumb inconsequential thing. No.
Maria Konnikova: [01:02:34] Exactly. So it switches the dynamic.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:02:36] Yeah. It puts the monkey on their back to like try hard for your attention, which means that it's just easier to go with the path of least resistance, which is either not to bother you or to bother somebody else, or both.
Maria Konnikova: [01:02:46] Exactly.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:02:46] Right. Did you have to learn to be more aggressive? And was that strange for you as a woman with certain social conditioning growing up?
Maria Konnikova: [01:02:54] That's something that I definitely had to work on it and I've realized about myself. I realized that I have really internalized a lot of gender stereotypes because we live in a male-dominated society. So you kind of have to, if you want to do well, you have to pay attention and figure out, "Okay, how do I adjust my behavior? So that. Everything is okay. And so that I do well." And I had always thought, "Oh, I know all about gender biases. I've studied the psychology of it. I've written about it. Like, I'm good. I'm a strong female." No, that was such delusional bullshit. It turns out that I had internalized so much of it. And I'd find myself sometimes with like the best hand possible and I wasn't being aggressive with it. Like I was just calling, I wasn't raising too much because I wanted people to think I was nice. I wanted them to like me.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:03:39] Oh, no.
Maria Konnikova: [01:03:40] I didn't want them to be like, "What's up bitch. Like who keeps raising me?"
Jordan Harbinger: [01:03:43] Yeah, respect my raise.
Maria Konnikova: [01:03:45] Exactly. So even when I had good hands, I wouldn't want as much money. And when I didn't have the best hand, I just fold. I'd be like, "You know what? You just take it. You just take the pot. I don't want any conflict." That is not a good way to play poker.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:03:57] No, but people did like you because you gave them a lot of money.
Maria Konnikova: [01:04:00] Yes, they loved me. They wanted me in their games always. But because I was losing money, it forced me to actually deal with this. It forced me to realize, "Hey, there's an issue here. There's a problem. I have to work on this." And so Erik, from the very beginning, just. He really stressed the need to up my aggression and to work with me on how I could use my image, which is a female to be able to get away with things.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:25] There you go.
Maria Konnikova: [01:04:25] He said, "Okay, look at you. You're a girl. You're not as intimidating as these other people. Look at the other people at the table. Look at you. Coming from you, this is going to seem very different than coming from that guy. So learn to use your image, learn how to flip it on its head, learn how to use the fact that people are underestimating you." It was a while before I could follow that advice, but once I did it actually helped me use the gender dynamics to my advantage rather than letting them bully me over. So poker is 97 percent male, 3 percent female in any given field. And that's about right. And it's been constant that way for a very long time. And so normally you're the only girl, you're the only female.
[01:05:07] And so once you figure out what your hang-ups are and how people are seeing you, and if they're underestimating you and if so, how, then you can just change your behavior completely. If they think that I'm not capable of bluffing, that I'm someone who's not capable of aggression, all right -- now I can actually bluff a lot more.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:25] That's a good point.
Maria Konnikova: [01:05:26] So once I figured that out, I could really up the aggression more comfortably, use it to my advantage, and start winning instead of bleeding chips, because I didn't want people to think that I wasn't a nice person.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:39] When we thin slice people, our inputs are often wrong. I think I took that from your book. I'm not sure if that's an exact quote, but we look at things like facial expressions and our own experience, but our own experience pretty much has nothing to do with their current circumstances most of the time. The person with tattoos who looks like somebody who we think is scary from high school because they yelled at us when we walked by their gas station. Or like from the movies, this guy looks like the bad guy from that movie that I used to watch. That has nothing to do with reality. It doesn't make them a more aggressive poker player. Right? This is a Malcolm Gladwell type ish right here, I guess.
Maria Konnikova: [01:06:14] This is very true. I mean, what we need to realize is that every single one of us is biased. I mean, it's just the way that the human mind works. You form impressions of people right away. The second you see them, and the second you see them, you don't know them yet. You don't know anything about them. So your impressions are necessarily based on things that don't necessarily correlate to who this person is. And so it will be things like tattoos and biceps. In my case, where I was like, "Oh, this guy's going to be an aggressive maniac. I'm not going to let him run me over." And it ends up that he was the most conservative player ever. And I made some very stupid mistakes. But you need to recognize that you are going to have these biases. So just like people see me and think girl, I have to realize that I see them and I have certain impressions. You know I see a nice older man and I'm like, "Oh -- "
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:02] "Oh, he looks like my grandpa."
Maria Konnikova: [01:07:02] " -- hi, grandpa." Exactly.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:04] He steamrolls you. Yeah, lies to your face.
Maria Konnikova: [01:07:06] That's what happened.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:07] Oh, really.
Maria Konnikova: [01:07:07] That's exactly what happened. Yes. Nice little grandpa was like, "Ha-ha-ha, I'm going to bluff you." And then, he turned over the bluff and I was devastated that grandpa is bluffing me.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:18] Was that the Siberian guy --
Maria Konnikova: [01:07:19] Yes.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:20] Like. "I spent all my money coming here from the Soviet Union. Oh, you're Russian." And then he just smoked you.
Maria Konnikova: [01:07:25] That was him. He was a nice little --
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:25] Bastard.
Maria Konnikova: [01:07:27] Yeah, exactly, bastard. He was a nice little grandpa-looking guy. She had me take a picture of him for his grandson and the guy pulled out all the stops. Oh, man, I'm such an idiot.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:38] That seems extra dastardly somehow. Like, do you think he went to everyone and planted this seed that he's like this cute little old guy, just to like one time during the tournament and just steamrolled them and plow them over
Maria Konnikova: [01:07:49] I mean, it's very effective.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:51] It worked. Yeah. I guess I shouldn't say it's extra dastardly. I mean, all is fair, I guess, right in this game.
Maria Konnikova: [01:07:56] Yeah, but I was the idiot. I was the sucker. Look, that one's on me. I realized that you have to learn to recognize what information is actually important and what isn't. And if I don't know anything about someone, well, how can I make that determination because they've told me they're from Siberia. That's not based on how they're playing. That's not correct data. That data should be totally irrelevant. And it's like, you and I were just talking about incidental emotion. That's incidental data. I shouldn't care what his eyebrows looked like or what his jawline looks like or what his biceps look like. Or you know, what age he is. I shouldn't care about any of that. I should care about observing his behavior at the table and seeing how he's acting and how he's reacting. That's what I should be focused on. It's so hard. A lot of these things are so -- you don't even realize how deeply ingrained they are.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:08:46] You don't realize that you have the buttons that these people are pushing, right?
Maria Konnikova: [01:08:50] This is true.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:08:51] For all, you know, it's like, "Did I say Siberia? I meant Sacramento. Thanks for the -- "
Maria Konnikova: [01:08:54] Exactly.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:08:58] Thanks for the photo and all that money. Why don't you vent about bad beats and bad luck? I thought that was an interesting rule for you because you see that all the time when you watch poker on TV and I rarely do -- but in half an hour, I've seen a poker in an airport lounge, all they did was whine, right? Okay, it was Phil Hellmuth, but still.
Maria Konnikova: [01:09:17] You must be fun at parties, right?
Jordan Harbinger: [01:09:19] Yeah.
Maria Konnikova: [01:09:20] Going back to that. But it was a rule that Erik Seidel set for me very early on. When I tried to tell him a bad beat story, I was in the deepest I'd ever gotten into a tournament. So at this point, I had relocated to Vegas for a few months and was playing every day in these daily and nightly tournaments. You know, these silly little turbo things, but that's how I got my practice. That's how I learned to play live poker. And I finally, finally made the final table and was almost about to get my first cash, my first tournament cash. I was so excited and I ended up flopping a set which means that I'm holding a pair and there's a third card that matches my pair on the board. And that's huge. I mean, that's one of the best things that can happen. It was top set. I was ecstatic. I got all my money in and it didn't work out. Someone else ended up out drawing me and I busted and I was so upset.
[01:10:12] And so I ran to Erik and I started telling him this and he just shut me up. He just said, "Wait, do you have a question about the hand?" And I said, "Well, no, you know, I had a set." He's like, "Then shut up. I don't want to hear it." And I was just -- my jaw dropped open. I'm like, "I'm your student. You're supposed to want to listen to my story."
Jordan Harbinger: [01:10:29] Emotional support.
Maria Konnikova: [01:10:31] Yes, exactly. And he was like, "No, this is bad. There are always going to be those guys who tell you how their aces got cracked. You are not going to be that person that is like putting your trash on somebody else's lawn." And I was like, "Oh, huh, I guess you have a point there." He's like, "I don't care because the outcome doesn't matter." And at that point, he actually made a deal with me that not only was I never going to tell him a bad beat. He never wanted to know how a hand ended. He did not care if I won or lost, because that was irrelevant. That's noise. That's the outcome. That's what happens to the cards. He only cared about my decision process. So he only cared about the moments in the hand where I had a question and then he doesn't care what the other guy has, unless it's important, unless there's some reason why we care what the other guy has.
[01:11:13] At that moment, it was infuriating because I wanted to tell him my bad beat story. But over time, I learned just how much of a gift he gave me. How liberating it was because the bad beats -- not only did I not weigh anyone else down with that trash, it wasn't toxic to me. I would just let it go. In not focusing on the outcome, I let go of the thing I just couldn't control and so I started forgetting them. I actually would no longer remember when I was knocked out of a tournament unless it was an interesting hand. If it was a standard hand and I got my money in well, fine. I'd forget the hand. So the only hands I started remembering were the ones that were interesting, where I could learn something. And that was such an important point in my development because--don't dwell on the shit that you can't control, figure out what you can do, figure out what you are actually capable of changing.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:12:08] Is this what Annie Duke calls resulting, where if it works out, you decide this was good for me. It's a little different, I guess, right? Whether your thought process was correct based on the outcome, but what it seems like you were being taught here other than not to vent and get into that negative headspace is also not to look at something and say, "I did something wrong because it didn't work out." When in poker there's that luck element that you shouldn't focus.
Maria Konnikova: [01:12:31] Absolutely. No, no. It's a very similar concept. Absolutely. I think that Annie's Thinking in Bets really does articulate it nicely. You can't focus on the results. In fact, you should just dismiss the results because the results are noise. Unless if the results keeping bad over and over and over for a very long time, maybe you need to question your decision process.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:12:52] That's right, yeah.
Maria Konnikova: [01:12:53] Maybe there's something there. Maybe you're making some mistakes over and over and over. So sometimes the results do matter, but in these types of situations, they don't. And I think it's also very important, not just with yourself, but when you're thinking about other people. So when you think, "Okay, does Mr. Smith make a good CEO?" And we hire Mr. Smith because we did our work and we think he's going to be great. And then the company stock goes down within the year and we fire him. We're like, "Oh my God, we made a horrible mistake. Mr. Smith was awful because the company is not performing well." Well, maybe he was doing everything right and he was actually a great CEO, but there were other elements going on and we're judging him on the outcome and firing him before he has a chance to prove himself and to prove that his strategy is actually working.
[01:13:38] But you know what, look at what's happening in the market in general, all companies like this are going down because of this external factor that has nothing to do with the fact that he's your CEO or whatever it is. Even when we get over the hurdle of focusing on the outcome for ourselves, it's almost impossible to do it for other people. You know, if someone else fails, we're like, "Oh God, so stupid. I can't believe they did that." It's so easy to judge other people based on results because they're not you.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:14:04] Yeah. We're emotionally divorced from the situation because it's not our money or whatever, and we're going, "This guy, he doesn't know anything." And then two seconds later make the exact same mistake because it's our money.
Maria Konnikova: [01:14:15] Exactly.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:14:15] It's all circumstances. Yeah. In the book, you've also said, "Being genuinely interested in other story is useful here. We can get to the why behind their actions, which is useful in terms of really understanding their motivations." This kind of goes back to what I was talking about with the English and the writing and the parallels here, but you said, "The biggest tells aren't physical, but psychological." That sounds kind of deep. Let's open that up a little bit.
Maria Konnikova: [01:14:42] Yeah. People often think that when you're talking about tells, you're talking about the things like we talked about earlier hands or little motions and that that's true.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:14:51] Straightening my hat brim or whatever.
Maria Konnikova: [01:14:52] Yes, exactly. Eating an Oreo, but --
Jordan Harbinger: [01:14:56] Is that a thing that someone does?
Maria Konnikova: [01:14:58] No, just in the movie Rounders.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:15:00] Oh, right, right, right. I was like, I've seen that. Where have I seen that? Right, in Hollywood fiction.
Maria Konnikova: [01:15:04] Yes. You've seen it in Rounders, but oftentimes the most important tells are how someone is feeling and reacting. And if you can tell what their emotional state is. So this actually goes back to when we were talking about tilt. Can you figure out not just your own triggers, but the other person's triggers? For instance, almost everyone is going to have some sort of reaction to losing a lot or to winning a lot. Some people, when they lose a lot, they're going to become really cautious because they don't want to lose even more. Some people when they lose a lot are going to become extra reckless because they want to gain it back very, very quickly, totally different same event, totally different reactions. Can I try to figure out what the psychological dynamic for this person is? How do they react to loss?
[01:15:45] Some people when they win a lot, they're going to become extra cautious because now they don't want to lose it. They're like, "Oh, I have all these chips. I want to guard them." Other people when they win a lot, they're like, "Yeah, let's push my advantage. Let's go. I'm on a roll. Let's do this thing." Which is this person, what's their dynamic, how do they react? If you can start to figure out and pull apart, things like that, all of a sudden you have a really good psychological picture of the person and you can take advantage of it. You can take advantage of them in the moments where their emotional equilibrium is off when they're tilting a little bit, whether positively or negatively, where they're no longer going to be logical, but are actually going to be making decisions that are bringing some of this emotion in. If you can figure out those psychological dynamics, you have such a strong handle on their tells. All the things that are actually motivating them and how they play out in their decision making -- that's all you're looking for and if you're trying to figure out, can I get deeper? Is this information about the person's decision process?
Jordan Harbinger: [01:16:41] Earlier, we talked about misinterpreting mood as information. I meant to ask is that kind of like when I'm hangry things look different.
Maria Konnikova: [01:16:50] Yes, absolutely. The term hangry is brilliant by the way. I don't know who coined it, but they should get some sort of linguistic metal. It's a real phenomenon. Yes. You actually get angry when you get hungry and you actually get emotional. You're not making decisions as rationally. Can I figure out what hunger does to you? Can I figure out what fatigue does to you? Can I figure out what all these different things do to your decision process? If I can, I don't even need to know your physical tells, I can just figure out where you are emotionally and use that.
[01:17:20] And by the way, I get hangry, but I just kind of get listless. My attention span goes away and I don't want to listen to anything. And sometimes I'll snap at people. So, yeah, sometimes I'll actually get angry.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:17:31] Yeah.
Maria Konnikova: [01:17:32] And all of a sudden I'm like, "Wait, wait, when was the last time I -- ? Hold on, guys."
Jordan Harbinger: [01:17:37] Do you carry food with you and like bust out a granola bar or something at the table?
Maria Konnikova: [01:17:40] Yes, absolutely, always. Especially because I have very low blood pressure, so it's something that I've always had to do because if it drops, I can faint.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:17:49] Yeah, well, it makes for great TV, there's that.
Maria Konnikova: [01:17:51] And it makes for good literature.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:17:53] Yes. Yeah. Fainting and face down in your chips though could be something you'd never lived down. Before we close here, there was an interesting note about superstition in gambling and why you should never start to believe that. And it seems like gambling has even more superstition than baseball and other sports, right? Like you see baseball players kick them out and then bat their cleats and then they do all these, but gambling it's just everywhere. And I thought it was kind of this cutesy little stupid thing that doesn't really affect much, but you feel really strongly or at least it seems so in the book that you should never start to get into superstition and the psychological effects.
Maria Konnikova: [01:18:31] I do feel very strongly about it.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:18:32] What's going on here? Why?
Maria Konnikova: [01:18:34] Because I think it can affect you negatively. I think that you are giving up control when you start believing in superstitions and we already have limited control. Why would you give up even more of it? So if you have a lucky object and you misplace it the morning of an important tournament, that's going to affect your mental equilibrium. You might not think it does. You might think, you know, I'll bounce back because I know it's stupid. I know it doesn't really matter, but it's nagging there and it's nagging in the back of your head. And all of a sudden you don't perform as well because there's a huge tie between your mental state and how you perform. And I tell a story about an Olympic athlete, a runner who didn't wear her lucky charm necklace during a race and blamed that for the fact that she lost and then won the next race when she wore the necklace.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:19:22] Interesting. We make our own luck when it comes to that kind of stuff.
Maria Konnikova: [01:19:25] When it comes to that thing, there's a huge mind-body connection. And one of the things I write about, which is really scary if you think about it, but also really cool, it's the nocebo effect. So everyone knows about the placebo effect that if you believe it's something works, it works. There's also a nocebo effect. So there are people like if you believe that you can be cursed and that a witch doctor cursed you, you can actually kill yourself. So there are people who have just made themselves incredibly sick because they thought that they were cursed by a witch doctor. And then there's a really interesting study where some enterprising physicians decided to un-curse them. So they did like, they made up words and did a reverse curse and the person got better. There was a guy in a depression study. So the study had both an antidepressant and a placebo. And one evening, he'd had enough and decided to take all the pills and was admitted to the hospital. They didn't think that he was going to make it because of the overdose because his vitals were just crashing. Everything was crashing.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:20:21] So he took all the pills from the doctor?
Maria Konnikova: [01:20:23] He took all the pills he had, yes. And then once he got admitted and he was crashing and people thought he wasn't going to make it, it turned out when they did blood work, that he was taking the placebo.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:20:32] So he took a bunch of sugar pills.
Maria Konnikova: [01:20:33] He just took sugar pills. And once he was told that he recovered.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:20:37] Wait, wait, wait. His vital signs were crashing because he thought he killed himself.
Maria Konnikova: [01:20:42] Yes.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:20:43] And then he was like, "Oh, I just took sugar pills. I'm fine."
Maria Konnikova: [01:20:46] That's how powerful our mind is.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:20:49] What? I would not believe that if you didn't tell me -- if anyone else told me this.
Maria Konnikova: [01:20:53] Okay, I'm going to tell you one more, one more of these. There was a guy who was diagnosed with a fatal metastatic cancer and given two to three months to live and he died within two months or something. They did an autopsy and ended up, he was misdiagnosed. He had benign cancer and it couldn't have possibly killed him.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:21:12] Oh, my God.
Maria Konnikova: [01:21:13] So he did have cancer, but it was benign and it was treatable, but he thought he was going to die and so he just kind of gave up on life.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:21:19] I didn't even know that you could physically do that to yourself.
Maria Konnikova: [01:21:23] You can. Our brain is so powerful. That's why I'm so anti-superstition because you do not realize what an effect you can have. And people are like, "Oh, but what about the positive effect?" And I'm like, "Yeah, but what about the negative?"
Jordan Harbinger: [01:21:35] Right. Yeah. Yeah. Sometimes it makes me happier. "Oh, even sometimes it kills you in a horrible way. That was totally unnecessary." Like doesn't balance out.
Maria Konnikova: [01:21:43] Yeah, exactly. I'm like, if you have a lucky shirt, what happens if you forget to pack it for a trip?
Jordan Harbinger: [01:21:47] Yeah.
Maria Konnikova: [01:21:48] What then? If you have any sort of lucky rituals, if you overslept and you can't do your lucky ritual, what now? Is it going to be bad?
Jordan Harbinger: [01:21:55] You're handing over power to something in a way that you don't have to do when we're already powerless in so many other areas, so why add another variable, right?
Maria Konnikova: [01:22:07] Exactly. That's exactly right. You want to capture as much control as you can. You don't want to be giving it away to a lucky object and seeding it and saying, "Oh, you know, I'm winning because of this." However, whenever anyone asks me -- I have this set of dice that I trade out when I'm traveling and put one on the table. My niece gave them to me and it makes her really happy. I take pictures of them from around the world. I'm like, "Hi, here's the blue die in Macao. Here's the green one in Barcelona." And that's why I do it. And a lot of times people are like, "Oh, is that your lucky die?" And I'm always like, "Yup. Absolutely." Because if they think I have lucky objects, maybe they'll make a different impression of me.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:22:46] Ah, yeah. And they'll maybe try to swipe it and you're like, "Ah, you think I'm going to be on tilt because you took my die, but I don't care. My niece is going to claw your eyes out."
Maria Konnikova: [01:22:54] No, I'd be pissed. My niece got those for me from Italy. They're made out of glass. They're really beautiful.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:23:00] Oh, so you almost have, it's not a lucky thing, but it could still trigger you.
Maria Konnikova: [01:23:04] Yeah. I'd be upset if someone stole my die.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:23:07] Well, nobody steals the die. You just gave that out in public. Maybe we should edit that out. I don't know. Do you still play poker then? Are you still going?
Maria Konnikova: [01:23:15] Um, I was going to be, so right now was supposed to be the World Series of Poker and then covert happened, but I'm actually going to New Jersey in July to play online for the World Series Online.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:23:24] Oh, you have to go to New Jersey from New York because it's illegal.
Maria Konnikova: [01:23:27] Exactly.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:23:28] Oh, isn't that interesting?
Maria Konnikova: [01:23:28] And that makes a lot of sense. Right? You cross a river.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:23:31] You can't just use like a VPN or something?
Maria Konnikova: [01:23:34] No, I mean, I'm very much a stickler for not going into the shades of gray.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:23:38] It's not worth losing your winnings and possibly going to jail because you couldn't cross the river.
Maria Konnikova: [01:23:42] That's exactly right. It's just not worth it. It's just not worth it.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:23:45] Why not switch then from writing books to just playing professional poker entirely.
Maria Konnikova: [01:23:50] Because I love writing. I mean, that's what gets me going. It's what keeps me going. When I don't write, I feel like there's a big hole missing, so I will always be a writer.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:24:03] Well, you're a great writer. I loved this book. I recommend everybody grab it. The links in the show notes, I read the whole thing and I plowed through it and it was really a pleasure to read. So thank you so much for coming on the show today, Maria. Always good to see you.
Maria Konnikova: [01:24:15] Thank you so much for having me back, Jordan. I always enjoy our conversations.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:24:21] Fantastic show. I know we went a little long. Go get this book people. Maria's a great writer. You're going to enjoy listening to or reading it. And if you do go and grab this book, please do use our website links. It helps support the show, but you'll enjoy this read. Even if you don't care about poker, you don't care about gambling, which for me, for sure, I'm not in that camp. I don't even play blackjack. I didn't care about any of that stuff. I loved this book.
[01:24:43] Also, one of the things that we talked about offline after the show was that venting and complaining about luck or bad luck as we mentioned on the show. It actually damages your social relationships. We didn't get to that during our conversation. Those social relationships provide support and opportunity in your life. You know you get opportunities for jobs or deals or projects, or to meet other people and expand your social circle. Negative impressions, like venting complaining about bad luck in your life outside of poker entirely, that has a limiting effect on opportunity in your life. Bad social habits limit opportunities. So it doesn't have to be venting or complaining about bad luck, but just be aware of the type of vibe you're putting off because it's actually bad if you're repelling people. Now, that should be really obvious, but I don't think. I didn't even think about how negative behaviors affect social relationships and how that actually limits opportunities. And I guess that's because I'd never thought about exactly the correlation between opportunities and how many social relationships you have. You think that would have dawned on me running a course like Six-Minute Networking, which is all about connecting to people. In order to generate opportunities. I love the way that this was explained in the book as well.
[01:25:49] Even being aware of bias doesn't necessarily mitigate that bias. This is another concept that we didn't get to, but this is amazing. So what this means is if you think that, because you know you're subject to bias that you yourself can control that bias, you are wrong. So if you think, "Oh, well, this is confirmation bias, this, that, and the other thing. That doesn't happen to me because I listened to these podcasts or I've read books by Daniel Kahneman and Maria Konnikova. So I don't have bias." That doesn't work. Science shows being aware of bias does not necessarily mitigate that bias. So be aware of your bias that you might not have any bias. How's that? Again, a fascinating episode. This is what makes me love doing the show for you guys, episodes like this.
[01:26:30] Worksheets for the episode are in the show notes. Transcripts are in the show notes. There's a video of this interview on our YouTube channel at jordanharbinger.com/youtube. And don't forget, Six-Minute Networking is over at jordanharbinger.com/course. Dig the well before you get thirsty. Those relationships, those opportunities, well, they come when you work for it. The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is right now. And insert other cliches here, but anyway, it's free. It's at jordanharbinger.com/course. You all know my spiel on that. And by the way, most of the guests on the show actually subscribed to the course and the newsletter. So come join us, you'll be in smart company. And if you liked this episode, reach out to Maria. Konnikova. Show guests love hearing from you. We'll put our socials on the website as well. And speaking of social, I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram. Add me on LinkedIn. I'm posting there right now. Thank you for listening.
[01:27:19] This show is created in association with PodcastOne, and this episode was produced by Jen Harbinger, edited by Jase Sanderson, show notes for the episode by Robert Fogarty, video editing by Ian Baird, transcription by Millie Ocampo. The ads were fun because of Peter Oldring, music by Evan Viola, and I'm your host Jordan Harbinger. Our advice and opinions, and those of our guests are their own, and I'm a lawyer, but not your lawyer. I'm sure as heck, not a doctor or a therapist. Do your own research before implementing anything you hear on the show. And remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. Know somebody who plays poker, they love this, know somebody who's interested in psychology and decision-making, they'd love this. Hopefully, you find something great in every episode, please do share the show with those you love. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
Malcolm Gladwell: [01:28:12] Young African-American woman is in Texas, just has a job interview in a rural Texas town, Sandra Bland. And she's pulled over by a white police officer.
Police officer: [01:28:18] "Hello, ma'am."
Malcolm Gladwell: [01:28:19] They have a conversation.
Police officer: [01:28:20] Do you mind putting out your cigarette, please?
Malcolm Gladwell: [01:28:22] It quickly escalates.
Police officer: [01:28:23] I will remove you. I'm giving you a lawful order.
Sandra Bland: [01:28:25] Okay, you're going to drag me out of my car?
Police officer: [01:28:27] Get out.
Malcolm Gladwell: [01:28:27] Drags her out of the car.
Police officer: [01:28:28] I will light you up! Get out! Now!
Sandra Bland: [01:28:30] He knocked my head in the ground.
Malcolm Gladwell: [01:28:33] She's put in prison. And then three days later, she commits suicide in herself in her cell. If she's in an Audi, her chances of being pulled over are lower. And if she's in an Audi with Texas plates, she's fine. Most of all, if she's white, there's no way, he's pulling her over. And as I described in the book, all of those inferences are deeply problematic. We have enormous confidence in our ability to draw meaningful conclusions about people based on very superficial evidence.
[01:28:59] Even though the plots of Friends are absurdly complex, no one in history has ever watched an episode of friends and said they lost me.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:29:07] What is going on in the show?
Malcolm Gladwell: [01:29:08] Yeah, it never happened. They do that because they're trained actors. If you watch a lot of TV, you can come to the false impression, that that's what's going on in your face. But truth does not true at all. And a significant number of people are what are called mismatched. And that is that their facial expressions under certain circumstances do not match the way they feel on the inside. The Amanda Knox case, an American teenager goes a year abroad in Italy and gets falsely accused of murdering her roommate. And that case is all about the fact that Amanda Knox is mismatched. They have another guy who clearly did it and they dragged her in. Why? Because she doesn't behave the way the Italian police and the British tabloid press think someone whose roommate has been murdered ought to behave. We are sending people jail for years and years and years for crimes that had nothing to do
Jordan Harbinger: [01:29:55] Kids. I mean, she was like a college student, right?
Malcolm Gladwell: [01:29:57] A college student, yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:30:00] For more from Malcolm Gladwell, including how the misunderstandings between people and cultures invite conflict -- I told you this was timely -- check out episode 256 of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
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