Book Corner 2020.29


The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova

I got all the way to the end before I realized there was a glossary of poker terms there. THANX, KINDLE. Grr.

And I read basically the whole thing without really understanding even the rudimentary rules to Texas Hold ‘Em. But that’s OK! Because it’s not about the hands and how they went. It’s about… life.

Konnikova has written a fairly unique “my year of” style book. She decides she wants to master poker in a year. A lot of random things have gone wrong in her life at once, and somehow she feels that studying poker will help her learn to understand the role of random chance in life. What makes the book unique is not only that it actually takes her more than a year to do what she sets out to do (and she sticks with it anyway even though that “ruins” the premise); but that she injects very little extraneous detail about herself. Once in a while we get in on a conversation with her husband or mother. She seems to have no kids and live in Brooklyn, but she doesn’t dwell on either of those things. She doesn’t dwell on herself at ALL, except as a student of poker. It’s wonderful! She’s a journalist, and that may have something to do with it.

So basically, what we learn is, you gotta know when to hold ’em, and know when to fold ’em, just like the song says. It’s so cliche, but I used to say it too; before I became more enamored of my Domino theory of life, I had a Card Game theory of life: there’s the hands you’re dealt, but then there’s how you play them. When my father was ill, every day felt like another really tough card. And I thought about the big areas of my life and how I’d played my cards, and there were some plays I was really proud of, some I’d always doubt… And I thought about how my brother was refusing to play these tough rounds at all. And it was a really helpful metaphor. And when I try to explain why the Kinks song “Better Things” was for so long the only thing that could cheer me up, I could only say it was something about the particular phrasing, “I know tomorrow you’ll find better things.” So many things are beyond our control – we just FIND them. And I was finding crappy things right now, but the law of averages implied that sooner or later I would surely find BETTER things. Those are the cards you’re dealt.

Oh wait, I was writing a book review. For Konnikova, it seems to come down to stoicism. She becomes successful when she can control her emotions and just play, play, play. She throws in some helpful quotations here and there, and the most appropriate seems to be from Kipling:

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster,
And treat those two impostors just the same…”

She has to learn that anyone can have either a triumph or a disaster through no fault of her playing (though she can certainly have a disaster through her own fault, too). Anyone can get lucky or unlucky. Successful pros just keep playing – and learning – and adjusting. While there’s LOTS and lots of poker, poker slang, and poker play-by-play along the way – the life lesson ultimately comes through.  )


Addendum: it’s high summer, with lengthy daylight, which does not lend itself to indoor computer work; hence the blog posts few & far between.  See you on the rainy days.

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