Norman, Eric Seidel, LEE discussed on Freakonomics Radio
Freakonomics radio. Here's your host, Stephen Dubner. Today. We're talking with the journalist and psychologist Maria Kondakova, whose new book, The Biggest Bluff, chronicles her journey to become a professional poker player. So the story The main story in the book begins Really with your pursuit of a coach Eric Seidel, who's a great famous poker player and backgammon player. Tell us briefly about that. Had you considered perhaps people before him? So Eric ended up being my first choice. And he was my only choice because he said yes, but I did do research and I did look at a number of possibilities before settling on Eric. But tell us what he had or represented that made him the mentor. You wanted. He had a few different characteristics. First longevity. There's actually no comparison between him and any other player in terms off staying at the top of competitive poker. For decades and most people they have kind of this peak, and then they go away. The other component was that he seemed more old school in the sense of being more psychological, more thinking in his approach rather than ah, lot of the newer poker players who while brilliant, are Very mathematically minded, and they have just a very calculation ALS approach, and that's not my background. Okay, But at this point knowing how to play poker was not among your skills. Why was it that poker captured your attention? I was originally introduced to poker through game theory through the work of Jon Bon Norman as I was reading about luck and kind of immersing myself in the world of chance, and how to think about chance. I read John von Norman's theory of games, which is the foundational text of game theory. And I didn't know much about a Norman or his work, and he loved poker. Correct. Yes, he was just an avid poker player, and he hated the games. By the way, he hated roulette. He hated chess. He hated go. He thought that they were boring because they were either solvable or unsolvable. And he looked up for a second. So you're saying he hated roulette, and he hated chess. Hmm. And on the spectrum of information those air at opposite ends of the spectrum. Exactly. So talk about that. And what it was that he was looking for what it was that he didn't like about those MMA Norman was drawn to poker because it was a game of incomplete information. There was a solvable component to it, but there was always an element of the unknown. And he was working at the time as a national security advisor in the United States government he was working on the hydrogen bomb. I mean, this is someone who was involved at the very highest levels of decision making, and when he saw poker, he said. This is a good analog for that, because it's a game of incomplete information. Chess is boring because it can be solved. There is theoretically always a correct move and roulette is boring because it can't be solved. It's all chance the House wins. You know, there's nothing you can do. Hooker is interesting because we can try to find a framework to develop a solution. How to think through it. And yet it's not solved in the sense that there are deeds, elements of the unknown on this acumen element of bluffing of kind of representing and misrepresenting information. This is what decision making in the real world is actually about. That was the germ of game theory, so he came up with game theory as a way to Try to solve poker and then ultimately shuttle light onto how to make these very complex strategic decisions on at the highest levels of government. Baby baby Poker isn't a homogeneous game. There are multiple varieties of play with names like stud Omaha, Raz, but do G and horse Each has its own unique set of rules. But in any style of poker, the basic parameters are essentially the same. Some cards are dealt face up, visible to all. These are the community cards and some face down. So that on Lee, the person to whom they're dealt can see them. You make bets based on how strong your hand is and how strong you think others hands are Because the on Lee other cards you know, for sure are your own. You're in a game of incomplete information. You must make the best decision you can given the little you know. The style I've chosen to pursue is one particular variant of the game, which happens to be the most popular No limit Texas Hold'em. How no limit hold'em differs from other forms of poker is twofold. The first is in the precise amount of information that is held in common versus in private. Each player is dealt two cards face down the hole cards. This is privileged information. I can try to guess what you have based on how you act, but I can't know for sure. On Lee. Information I'll have is your betting patterns. Once the public information the cards still to the middle of the table face up is known. The amount of incomplete information in Texas Hold'em creates a particularly useful balance between skill and chance. To hole cards is just about us practical ratios. You can have enough unknown to make the game a good simulation of life, but not so much that it becomes a total crapshoot. The second thing that distinguishes this particular playing style is the concept of no limit, but Norman's own preferred style. The power of the Pure Bluff is restricted in a game of limit, explains Amarillo Slim, one of the best poker players of his day. When there's a limit, it means that the exact amount you bet has a ceiling on it. And no limit. You can bet everything you have at any point. And that's what makes this game a particularly strong metaphor for our daily decision making. Because in life there is never a limit. What's to stop you from risking all your money? Your reputation, your heart, even your life at any point you choose..