It seems of late that the “Gray Lady,” the venerable New York Times, has been paying a great deal of attention to the world of poker. A couple of weeks ago, the Times featured an article on “retired” poker professional Vanessa Selbst’s new life as a hedge fund manager. Now the Times is going the other direction with a featured article on psychologist/poker player Maria Konnikova.

How to Learn to Play World Class Poker

For those that haven’t been aware of what Konnikova has done over the past year, it is something that is pretty astounding. After doing books that analyzed the thinking process of Sherlock Holmes and how to apply it to general life and why we fall for the shams of confidence men (“con men”), Konnikova was at a loss as to her next direction. Konnikova, who earned her doctorate in psychology from Columbia University in 2013, finally settled on the world of poker and, in particular, the effects of luck and decision making.

As with any proper researcher, Konnikova didn’t waltz in and just start chucking chips. Studying under the tutelage of Poker Hall of Famer Erik Seidel, Konnikova received a Ph.D. in poker from arguably one of the best of all-time before she even stepped to a poker table. Once she did, however, she demonstrated the skills of a player who had been at the tables for decades.

In January, Konnikova headed to the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, where she proceeded to stun many in the poker community. She won the PCA National Championship Event for a nice $84,600 score, then turned around and ran deep in the Main Event before being knocked out in 42nd place (her win also earned her the first free $30,000 pass to the 2018 PokerStars Players’ Championship, which will be contested at the end of the year). Since then, Konnikova has tacked on another ten cashes on nearly all the major tournament circuits, including the Asia Pacific Poker Tour, the European Poker Tour, and the World Series of Poker. In fact, her run has been such a success that Konnikova has put the book plans on hold to ride the poker success streak out.

An Inside Look from an Outsider

Times writer Claudia Dreifus penned an outstanding examination of Konnikova and her efforts. But what was perhaps more interesting were Konnikova (remember, not a poker player but an outsider who is trying to learn what makes poker players “tick” in a way) and her commentary on the game and the people around it. Dreifus stated in the article that the interview took place over the span of a couple of hours and gave people more info on who Konnikova is and peeled back the door on the poker world.

After admitting that she had “zero interest…I hate casinos,” Konnikova admits to Dreifus that it was important for her totally immerse herself in poker. “(I was) going to have to dedicate myself to this like a career, because otherwise it’s just going to be a ‘writer dabbles in the world of poker,’” Konnikova is quoted by Dreifus. Konnikova credits Seidel with the transformation, studying “eight to nine hours a day, every day” with bringing her up to the level of a world-class poker player.

Konnikova is also adept at pointing out how, unfortunately, women are sometimes still treated in the poker community. After Dreifus asked if the “poker pros” were nice to her, Konnikova admitted that “she has been called everything at the poker table.” She also indicates that there have been inappropriate propositions on the felt, which Konnikova admits could be a ploy to get her to make bad decisions in the game but that she brushes off by calling the floor.

The entirety of the article is a brilliant interview with a person who doesn’t have to worry about kowtowing to the “poker world” for approval. Konnikova comes off as an excellent ambassador for the game, intelligent and objective with her analysis, and indicates she has come to love the game, warts and all, and that she might be around for a while. Check out Konnikova’s interview here, as the poker world could learn quite a bit about bringing new players (male or female) to the game and the approach to learning the game.

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