Title: The Biggest Bluff (Link to Goodreads)
Author: Maria Konnikova
Published In: 2020
My Rating: 3.5 on 5
This is the story of a woman who holds a doctorate degree in psychology and decides to take up poker as a profession. Maria Konnikova is fascinated by human behavior and is even more fascinated by the emotions and behaviors at play in a game of poker. Instead of studying poker players from a distance, she decides to take the plunge herself and dedicates several years of her life being trained under a champion poker player. The outcome of she cashing in a six figure amount is treated more as a secondary goal when compared to the psychological ‘discoveries’ she made.
I have zero interest in poker and before I read this book I had no idea what poker is about. All I knew was a bunch of players sit around a table and wager money until one of them wins. After reading the book, I still can’t say I know the rules better now, but I am wiser by knowing that poker is not about luck or chance alone. It takes skills to win this game, unlike roulette.
I picked up this book because I was intrigued by Konnikova’s discoveries. What does poker teach us about human behavior? Turns out, nothing new which we didn’t know already. The most interesting part of the book was when she worked with Seidel – which increased her self-awareness and helped her identify the cause of her certain actions & reactions and how to control them. Turns out poker face is a myth and we give away lot more through our gestures than our facial expressions.
The book is not a page turner, but not a difficult read either. The story of her journey is told in a flat, monotonous way, but that is acceptable since this book is not a thriller. The book would have read much better if Konnikova had included some suspense and cliff-hangers.
In short, while I enjoyed reading the book, there was a lack of epiphany for me. None of the revelations Konnikova makes left a mark on me. It has been two weeks since I finished reading this book and I can’t recall an incident or a learning which made an impression. I did not take away anything from this book.
A question which often gets asked by readers – should I be familiar with the game of poker to appreciate this book. My answer: it depends. Sorry for the not very helpful answer, but it does depend on the kind of reader you are. Konnikova does give a quick 101 on poker for laypersons like me and a glossary of poker terms at the end of the book (which I skipped). I was okay with not knowing the game in depth as I was focusing more on her the human behavior angle. But, some readers may want to dig deeper to understand every statement the author is making about the situations she finds herself in poker. So, in short: it depends.
If you are looking to transform your poker career and win a six figure cash money, then this book is not going to help you with that. It is not a “How to win big in poker” book. This is just an anecdotal narration of the author of her journey, focusing on her learning, rather than on the big cash prize.