Maria Konnikova: A Poker Journey Unlike Any Other

Chasing Poker Greatness Podcast Episode 071

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Today’s guest on the Chasing Poker Greatness podcast has become one of the most important and beloved humans in the world of poker in just a couple of years, the one and only Maria Konnikova.

Maria is the New York Times Bestselling author of Mastermind, The Confidence Game, and the one that cements her lasting legacy in the poker world: The Biggest Bluff.

Despite having been released only one short year ago, The Biggest Bluff is widely considered to be one of the Greatest Poker Books of All-Time and, in my humble opinion, will also go down in poker history as the most influential.

A funny thing happened however, when Maria got her hooks into the world of poker…

The world of poker got their hooks into Maria.

Since beginning her poker journey Maria has since racked up over $300k in live MTT cashes and is now a mainstay at poker tournaments all around the world.

In today’s conversation with Maria Konnikova, you’re going to learn:


The surprising internal nemesis Maria has to contend with regularly.

An awesome story that illustrates Maria’s rapid-fire progression as a poker player involving a true poker Villain.

Tactics that will help you do the things you know you really should but for some reason keep putting them off.

And much, MUCH more!

And before you dive into my conversation with Maria, I want to take a second to let you know The Biggest Bluff paperback was released exactly one day ago and, if you haven’t yet devoured it cover to cover, you can grab your copy at all the regular places books are sold.

You can also grab it by clicking through the link on Maria’s showpage at

Click any of the icons below to find the CPG pod on the platform of your choice. Then sit back, relax, and enjoy my conversation with Maria Konnikova on the Chasing Poker Greatness Podcast.

If this is your first time on the Chasing Poker Greatness website, be sure to check out our groundbreaking poker courses to help sharpen your strategy and profitably implement solid, data-proven solutions to your game today:

Transcription of Chasing Poker Greatness Podcast Episode 071: Maria Konnikova

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Brad: Coach Brad here. I just wanted to take a quick moment to let you know about the Chasing Poker Greatness VIP newsletter. Hopping onto the VIP newsletter is the absolute best thing you can do to ensure this plucky little podcast keeps going indefinitely into the future. When you sign up, you’ll get exclusive behind the scenes Chasing Poker Greatness, access to the private Chasing Poker Greatness Slack community, notifications for product launches, entries into monthly free coaching giveaways and much, much, more. So, if you’re wondering what the absolute best thing you can do to support your favorite poker podcast, head to and access the newsletter today, one more time that’s And now back to the show.

Brad: Welcome. Welcome. Welcome my friend to the Chasing Poker Greatness podcast. As always, this is your host, the founder of Brad Wilson, and today’s guest is the bestselling author of the runaway hit, The Biggest Bluff, Maria Konnikova. Maria has a journey through poker that I can pretty much guarantee is unlike anybody else’s in the world. She heeds a call to adventure, enlists the help of a mysterious mentor, deals with the various challenges and pitfalls of learning the game of poker, experiences failure and pain, and is ultimately transformed in the process. If you haven’t checked out The Biggest Bluff yet, do yourself a favor and grab it as soon as you possibly can. I promise you won’t be disappointed. And as you may know, I know that you know I’ve done a good job of hiding this from you. But I may have a slight obsession with hearing the backstories of amazing folks in the world of poker, and Maria’s may be the most captivating one of them all. In today’s episode, you’re going to learn how she managed to convince none other than Eric Seidel, who had never before taking on a poker student to be her mentor, the amount of effort it really takes to write an amazing book proposal, the one thing she wasn’t allowed to talk to Eric about, and much, much more. So, without any further ado, I bring to you, world renowned psychologist, speaker, Best Selling Author and professional poker player, Maria Konnikova.

Brad: Maria, good afternoon. Welcome to the show.

Maria: Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure.

Brad: Thank you. It’s awesome having you here. I have to say before we begin, I’m about 40% of the way through your latest book, and I’m loving it. It’s

Maria: Oh, so glad.

Brad: Well, for somebody, how horrible would it be if we started it out? I hate it. Actually. I can’t get it

Maria: Hey, listen. If you hate it, I will not hold it against you. But I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

Brad: I wouldn’t say that just about anything that I read, especially in the poker space. It takes a lot to get me immersed in a story. I love the stories. That’s why I do the podcast, right?

Maria: Yeah.

Brad: And after 16 years of playing this game, what resonates with me the most has always been the stories that I’ve read, the, the professor, the banker and the suicide King is probably my favorite poker book of all time. So, let me ask you this question just to start this thing out. Tell me about the lead up before you immerse yourself in this weird world of poker.

Maria: Well, I think I have a very different entry point into, into the poker world than most poker players in that. I’m somebody who never played poker. Never had any interest in poker and never had any interest in games. I know a lot of poker players, you know, they started out playing role playing games or chess, you know, lots of Magic the Gathering, and then poker eventually. And that was just not how I, how I grew up at all. We didn’t have any games in my house. My, you know, it was never something that that we did as a family. We didn’t, I don’t, I don’t even think we added deck of cards. My grandparents had

Brad: How come?

Maria: I don’t know. It was just not we, we read a lot together, like our family activity was my parents reading aloud to us. And we read a lot by ourselves and my grandparents had a card deck, I know that. But, we just we, it was not something that we ever did. I don’t think it’s any sort of antipathy towards games, it just wasn’t a part of how I grew up. And I became interested, a number of years ago, about the idea of luck, and the role that luck plays in our lives. And it was something I’d been interested in for a long time. It was kind of at the periphery of what I studied in grad school when I was studying psychology. But it was always something like quite theoretical. And then I had a bunch of just not great stuff totally outside of my control happen all at one time. And it made me really realize how much we take for granted, and how much luck there is in just, in general, in things that we normally think of as our success. And so, I really wanted to explore that further and to try to figure out, okay, well, what do we actually control? How do we learn to tell the difference? How do we learn to disambiguate skill from chance? And so, I talked to my agent a little bit about this. And she said, yeah, this is good, you know, now find a book. Because that’s not a book that’s just this grand life inquiry. And so, I started reading, and I read a lot. For months, I was just reading all sorts of things that I could find about luck. And I came across John von Norman’s Theory of Games, just the foundational text of game theory, and learn that not only was von Neumann a big poker player, but that poker was actually the inspiration for Game Theory. It’s like this huge theory of the 20th century, one of the biggest contributions to economic theory came from poker. And the way that von Neumann wrote about poker was really interesting to me, because he explained why it was such a good template for human decision making. Because it wasn’t like chess, which is a game of perfect information. Everyone can see the board, I can see all the pieces. You know, I can tell exactly if I have enough power, enough computing power, I can tell exactly what I’m supposed to do. There’s a solution, because everything is out there. But that’s not life. Life is a game of incomplete information. There’s a lot of stuff that’s hidden. You can’t see the full board. You can’t see all the pieces. You can’t quite place it together. He said that’s poker. Poker is the equivalent, that’s incomplete information. It’s a game of strategy. It’s a game of people. It’s a game of bluffing of what he called little tactics of deception. I loved that phrase. Once I thought this is really, really interesting. Why don’t I look up this poker thing? And that was the beginning of my journey, for the next few years into the world of poker.

Brad: So, you found poker, you pitched it to your agent.

Maria: Yes.

Brad: What does, what does that conversation look like?

Maria: So, I had pitched at that point, I was ready to get a new agent. Not really, I love my agent. But I was just so frustrated, because I pitched like, idea after idea after idea. Because there were so many things. I was like, oh, I’m going to do an American Dream story, I’m going to follow like, this group of immigrant boys from one neighborhood and see how their lives turned out differently. I had all these crazy ideas for the book, but they were all reaches, and none of them kind of felt right. And she knew it. And so, she kept shooting them down, month after month after month. So, I was finally like, Elise, like, what are you doing to me? I can’t think of any more ideas. But then this felt different to me. Like when I started reading this, and when I kind of conceived of the original plan, which was, let me get one of the best players in the world to coach me. And

Brad: Was that contingent on writing the book?

Maria: Yeah, I mean, I would have, I don’t think I would have done it without anyone to coach me. I’m very glad that Eric Seidel said yes, because I think the book would have been incredibly different might not have even existed. Had I ended up approaching someone else. He was my first choice and so glad that worked out. But so, so I, it felt like this could really be a way in and this could be a story. This could be fun. I was excited about it. And so, I took it to my agent. She was like, yes, this is the one. I was like, hallelujah. And then of course the next six months were spent writing the proposal and having proposal after proposal torn to shreds. So, that’s, that’s another story. But yeah, she was, she agreed with me that this felt right. And so, then I approached Eric. I didn’t know him, didn’t know anything about him other than what I gleaned on the internet, which isn’t much. Eric is one of the most private people

Brad: Yes

Maria: Out there. There’s like nothing. But I liked what I saw. The reason that he was on my radar was a few reasons. So first, I did like some preliminary Google searches, you know, like best poker players. And he, at the time, was number one on the all-time money list. I think right now he’s three or four, I’m not quite sure. Those lists change all the time.

Brad: Sure.

Maria: But at the time, he was number one, and I was like, okay, cool. Number one, I can go for that. And then I just started looking at his career. And it seemed like he was a total outlier, and that he was at the top of the field since the 80s. And no one else had had that kind of longevity. So that was cool. And it seemed because he started in the 80s, I was pretty confident that he was going to be more psychologically, kind of more psychologically grounded, and not someone who was spending all this time with statistics and math. And that’s not my strong suit. I mean, the last time I took a math class was in high school. So, I was, I didn’t want to go in that direction. I mean, fast forward, I ended up getting PIO solver and, you know, learning how to set it up and all of that with Jason Kuhn. And like, I started going in that direction, because I realized I had to, at some point in my development. But this was before all of that I didn’t even know that PIO solver existed.

Brad: Thankfully. I don’t think it would haveve done you any good

Maria: No, I don’t think it would have done me any good at all. Sometimes I think that my life might have been better if I had never learned that PIO solver.

Brad: Why do you say that?

Maria: I’m just a no, I’m just kidding. I’m just kidding. I think PIO solver has actually helped me a lot. Now, I’m just, I’m still like I dread having to run a hand through PIO. It’s not my favorite part of the process

Brad: Why do you dread it?

Maria: Just because it, I really, I’m I actually really enjoy looking at the outputs. Because I think it’s really interesting. And it helps me think about poker and hands in, in different ways. And I actually find it fascinating. But like, it just takes for me like the drudgery of like putting everything in and making sure everything’s right. And like thinking through, okay, wait, hold on, how do I build this exact part of the game tree? Like what turn bets sizing’s am I including? Like, is there really a difference here between like, 15%, and you know, those types of things. Like it just, I would like to skip that step and just have the output that I can play with.

Brad: And all of your inputs are just your best guestimation too

Maria: Exactly.

Brad: And you’re hoping that they’re right.

Maria: Exactly.

Brad: And that they’re going to guide you in a good direction.

Maria: Exactly.

Brad: But you also have a fear in your head that maybe they’re wrong. And,

Maria: Yes.

Brad: Spending all this energy on something that leads me to my own destruction.

Maria: Absolutely, absolutely. So, you know, that’s, that fast forwarding a lot in time.

Brad: Sure.

Maria: At the time, I didn’t know anything about this. I just thought I wanted some, I mean, I knew I wanted someone who was kind of, had an, a more theoretical human based approach.

Brad: What’s funny from, for me is that, you know, it’s a, we’re having a conversation about your curiosity on luck, and how lucky you were in choosing Eric Seidel, who seems to be the perfect mystical guide for your specific poker journey who’s never taken on another poker student, who doesn’t really do interviews. It’s pretty perfect.

Maria: It is pretty perfect. And so, I, those were kind of the reasons I picked him. Oh, and then I realized I didn’t, I didn’t know at the time, but I’d seen Rounders, and then I realized that he was the guy in Rounders, and I was like, ooh, yay, he’s the guy with the visor, got to get him. So that was like a cherry on top once I realized that he was also the Rounders guy. And so, I just randomly reached out to him and said, you know, hey, at this point, I hadn’t sold the book or anything. Like, I had to get a while into the project before I sold the book. And so, I just reached out to him randomly and said, hey, you know, I’m a New Yorker writer. These are my books. I gave him like, links to my books. I’m working on a new project. I’d love to talk to you about it if you have time. And I got, so talking about looking out like I didn’t know anything about him because it’s not available. But like he reads the New Yorker. He loves the New Yorker. He’s someone who has so many interests outside of poker, which I don’t think is true of a lot of poker players. I think a lot of people, like they haven’t read the New Yorker to save their life, not because they’re not intelligent, but just like that’s not their interest. They focus on other stuff. And so, he’s like, yeah, I love your writing. Like, let’s talk. That was like, holy shit. Wow. Okay. And he happened to be in New York at the time because he splits his time between New York and Vegas. And so, we met and I kind of like, I really prepared hard for the meeting, like, I came with studies printed out that I could give to him that were like from academia that, as far as I knew hadn’t been in the poker world to like show him that I could give him something to about, you know about stuff like that. I just, I really prepared. I was really nervous. I really wanted him to like me. And he was reluctant. It’s not like he was like, this sounds amazing. He said, this sounds amazing. I don’t want to be in a book.

Brad: Why not? Why didn’t he? Because just he’s just under the radar.

Maria: Yeah, he’s someone, think he’s just so humble. And he’s quite shy. And I think he, I think he doesn’t think he has a lot to say, which is just my mind boggling to me. But, you know, he’s, he’s someone who likes to listen. And he said, well, fine. You know, finally, I convinced him to at least give it a shot. And he said, okay. Well, let’s see, you know how, let’s see how we work together. Let’s see if it works. And I think one of the reasons that he was open to it is because he loves poker. I mean, I know that most poker players love poker, but Eric loves poker. And he’s like, truly passionate about the game, and passionate about it for the right reasons. Like he thinks it’s a brilliant game of logic, and thinking, and strategy. It’s not like, oh, I want to be rich, you know. That, that’s totally separate. For him, he just has a passion for the game. And he saw an opportunity in bringing that to a wider audience. And I think that that’s one of the reasons that he agreed.

Brad: And it’s no surprise that he loves poker so much, given his success over such an extraordinarily long period of time. In this game, like you said he was in Rounders, Rounders was before moneymaker boom, just he’s been through all of it. And still, to be able to compete at the highest level has always been one, you know, maybe the most impressive feat in poker to me.

Maria: Yeah.

Brad: And I had Chewy on this show, who’s another character in your book.

Maria: Yeah.

Brad: And Chewy was telling me that like, you know, he loves poker as well. And he just fires up tables, and like watches, right? Just like, fires them up and watches people playing online, even after being in this game for probably close to two decades, which is, it’s incredible. And it’s what you need, right? The pursuit of money is one thing. But that’s not going to, you’re not going to have longevity in the world of poker, if that’s your sole pursuit. And moving back to your story of, so you get Eric, which is a massive, massive, massive win. And book proposal goes through, is that the next step in the journey?

Maria: No. No, actually. So in order to write a good proposal, you really have to kind of get down and dirty. And this was the case for all of my books. So, you know, before I sold the confidence game, I actually started the interviews and a lot of the research, because you need it to be meaty. You can’t just be like, I mean, you can just say, Oh, this is what I want to do. But it’s not going to be a very good proposal, the books going to be worse, just a lot of things, they’re not going to be as good. And so, I, when I started this process, I said, okay, you know, let me, let me start out. Let me work with Eric. Let me just get my feet wet and see even if this is going to work, because there was a scenario where like, first of all, we didn’t work well together, and I had to go back to the drawing board and find someone else. There was another scenario where I realize, I fucking hate poker, like, this is horrible. I don’t want to do this. Like this is going to be, I don’t want to spend a year of my life doing this. And in which case, I would have been miserable. And that would, and the book would have been bad.

Brad: Absolutely.

Maria: So, I needed to make sure or there was a scenario where, you know, Eric says, yes, it was working out. I like poker. But then I realized that like, actually poker is a horrible metaphor for, for what I’m trying to do. And I’m not learning much about, you know, chance and skill and all of this stuff. It’s a great game, but not for what I want. So, all of these were possibilities. So, I needed to make sure that that was not going to happen. And so, I needed to actually get into that world. So, I sold the book. You know, I was working on the proposal as Eric and I started working together. And I think I sold it after it like in the winter of 2016, 2017, right after I played in my first ever event, which was a charity tournament, and be, right before I went to Vegas on my first trip, or actually during I think, I don’t remember if I’d actually sold it by the time I went to Vegas. I don’t think I did. Vegas was not part of the proposal. But the proposal looks nothing like the final book anyway. So, at the end of the day,

Brad: I find it so, it’s such a funny visual to me that you know you’re, you’re so nervous. As you show up to this meeting, so prepared to meet Eric, you’re doing everything in your power to control all the things that you can control, right? And then Eric, through your interactions and discussing poker, what you learn is, all the things that we’re not in control of, and just how much variance there is just in life, and at the table dealing with incomplete information. So, tell me about that journey for you, from you know, I guess it’s hard to hard for me to frame it, but like pokers and acceptance of lack of control.

Maria: Yeah.

Brad: Right. This is a practice in accepting that I don’t have the answers. I don’t know if I ever will have all of the answers. But you still press forward.

Maria: Yeah.

Brad: How was your entry into, you know, that aspect of the game?

Maria: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s one of the biggest things that poker has taught me was kind of The Art of Letting Go. Because, you know, you, one of the things that poker is very good at, is showing you the difference. The line between what is and isn’t under your control. And it’s very, you know, you can figure out your strategy, you can figure out how you’re going to play, you know, am I going to fold? Am I going to call? Am I going to raise, like, what am I going to do? How am I going to behave? How am I going to react? Those are all the things that you can control. You know, am I going to let that asshole get to me? No. I should probably stop calling him an asshole because that’s not going to help. You know, those, those are things that I can control. But then you know, not just the cards you’re dealt, but the run out you, you have no power over that. And because poker is a much less noisy environment than life, you don’t have excuses. It’s not like, you know, in life, you can really say, oh, you know, well, really, I just made the perfect decision, but all this other stuff happened. In poker, you can you know, if you made the right decision or not, based on kind of when the money went in, where you were favored or not, you know, how did you play the hand? You can analyze it and try to figure it out. And you don’t have to rely on the outcome. Because the outcome might not actually reflect on the quality of the decision, because you might actually make the right decision, you know, get your money in as a 75% favorite and, sorry, you know, you lose. That doesn’t mean that you should change your decision process, you should still do the exact same thing. And you need to learn to let go of that outcome, that thing that you can’t control,

Brad: And the opposite can come true.

Maria: And the opposite can happen. Exactly. You get your money in as an absolute dog. And somehow you suck out. And you don’t think of it as I sucked out, you usually think of it as I’m brilliant, you know? Yeah, of course, like I knew the card was coming. You say, you say all sorts of stupid stuff,

Brad: Where you can, yeah, you can hammer it down even, you know, deeper than that. And that you make a bluff that you think is a good bluff at the time. However, you’re only folding out like 5% of your opponent’s range

Maria: Yeah.

Brad: And they just happen to have that 5%.

Maria: Exactly.

Brad: So, you get a bias that like, oh, this worked, right?

Maria: Yeah, that was a great bluff. I should do this all the time. And you really shouldn’t.

Brad: Yeah.

Maria: I think that’s exactly right. And I think it’s so important. I mean, one of the first things that Eric taught me, and I’m so grateful to him, even though I was really pissed at the time, was to, that I wasn’t allowed to tell him any bad beat stories. And in fact, he went a step further, he said, whenever we did hand reviews, he doesn’t care how the hand ends. He doesn’t want to know. He doesn’t care if I won or lost, because that’s completely irrelevant. He only wants to hear a hand if I have a question about it. And he doesn’t want to know what happened, you know, up until the last decision point where there’s an interesting decision, that’s all he cares about. And you know, at the beginning, I was really pissed at him because I thought, well, I want to, you know, I want to bitch about how that idiot you know, sucked out and hit a two outer on me or one outer on me. But it was actually such powerful advice, because I didn’t develop that bad mental habit. And it is a bad mental habit. And it really drags you down. It drags your morale down. It drags your learning down. It just drags everything down. It’s kind of toxic. Eric equated it to putting your garbage, dumping your garbage on someone else’s lawn. That that’s what telling bad beats is, but it’s also you know, it’s toxic inside yourself. You dwell on it, you know, you ruminate, it’s not good. And so, the way that he forced me to just put that aside, made it very, it made it a lot easier for me to focus on the process. And actually, there came a point where I realized I don’t remember how he didn’t like, I don’t actually remember how I busted out of this tournament, unless it was an interesting hand. Like, I, it goes out of my mind, it’s not weighing me down at all. I remember all the things hands where I made interesting decisions where I had, you know, questionable things that I want to review. But my boss doesn’t hand. You know, as long as I did the right thing like, okay, fine, you know, I’m out. And that’s that. And it was really liberating at the end of the day. So, I’m very glad that he insisted on it. There’s only one bad beat in my poker career, which he saw because it was the exact bubble of the LAPC. And was just a really gross hand. And he actually called me himself after that head, and he was like, oh, my God, you’re allowed to pitch about this.

Brad: Of course, Eric Seidel, who’s never had a poker student in his life, is probably the master of teaching poker from the get go. It just makes sense, right? But yeah, poker is hard enough

Maria: Yeah.

Brad: Without dwelling on the things that go wrong, that are outside of our control, which is a lot.

Maria: It is a lot. It is a lot. It’s a skill game. But in the immediate term, there’s a lot of variance. You need volume to even that out, you know, anything can happen and in one tournament, and it does. Anything can and does happen. And I think it’s so important to just realize that you have to think long term. And short-term luck is huge. You know the, the balance is very, when people ask me like, so what is the balance of skill and chance? I tell them, they can’t answer that question. It’s not like an equation. And in the immediate term, I think there’s a lot of chance. In the long-term skill is much more valuable than chance. If you’re a good player, you will be a winning player over the long term. But you have to be able to survive through the long term. Eric also taught me bankroll management.

Brad: Yeah. It’s, it’s tough, navigating. It’s navigating.

Maria: Yeah.

Brad: Let’s go back to you’re doing this, you’re immersing yourself. What does your family think about you entering the world of poker?

Maria: Oh, it depends on who you’re talking about in my family.

Brad: Okay.

Maria: My parents and my sister are super excited for me, my husband is super excited, like they’re all on board. You know, my parents have always been my biggest cheerleaders, they always say, you know, whatever you want to do, we’ll support you, emotionally. You know, they, we’re not a wealthy family. They can support me financially, but they’re very happy to, to lend, lend an ear and a shoulder and anything else I might need. My husband thought it was really cool. He hates poker. He doesn’t play. But he thought it was really interesting. My grandmother, on the other hand, thought I was selling my soul to the devil. And that I was going over to the dark side. And she was, she was not thrilled at all. This was, I felt like I was breaking her heart.

Brad: Really?

Maria: Yeah, I mean, you know, I think that she has a lot of the hang ups that people who don’t know anything about poker have, just this very kind of puritanical outlook and this thing that, oh, it’s gambling. It’s bad. And, you know, chess is good. You know, if you’re, if you’re a good Jewish girl, and you’re insisting on playing a game, it might as well be chess. But poker is horrible. You know, poker, you’re going to lose your soul and your money, and it’s sinful, and all this, all this bad stuff. And they don’t understand that, you know, and I try to I actually, I try to say this so many times that I don’t think of myself as a gambler that I don’t see poker as gambling. I see it as a skilled game, very different from anything else in the casino, and that I don’t like gambling. And I don’t like any other games in a casino. But to her, I mean, she’d read Dusty scares the gambler. So, my, my family’s Russian. I was born in Russia. And she just, she started basically quoting bits of Dostoyevsky, to me. She’s like, you’re, you know, you’re going to go, this is terrible. You have a PhD. You should be a professor. You know, what are you doing? You’re at the New Yorker. You’re a good Harvard girl. Like, what, what are you doing with your life? And so, I had to fight against that. And she I think, was very representative of a, of a viewpoint that I encountered many, many times throughout my journey.

Brad: And so, in countering these viewpoints, you go into your plan, how, you know, you’re studying, you’re learning. How did your plan differ from reality, once you actually got in the arena, and started making decisions?

Maria: I think that they had nothing accomplished. So, if you look at what I thought my book was going to be and what my book ended up being, I mean, they’re just like, at opposite ends. Not quite at opposite ends, but there, there’s very little overlap.

Brad: What did you think it was going to be? And then what did it turn out?

Maria: I mean, originally, I was supposed to. So, I met Eric in the summer of 2016. And I was supposed to play the main event in 2017, and do like this year long thing and talk about it. And that’s it. What really ended up happening was that I didn’t actually go to Vegas for the first time until the winter of 2017. It just took me so much longer to get started and to, you know, gear up and like, read and just figure out what was going on. And so, from the onset, my timeline was so shifted from that, you know, your timeline that I had thought. But in my mind, that summer main event was still the endpoint. And so, I just kind of pushed through no matter what. I was, like, I’m playing the main event this year. I shouldn’t have played, you know, spoiler alert, I was ready to play the main event. But, but that was kind of that was the initial idea. And I didn’t really readjust given, you know, what I was learning and that the game was much more difficult and much more complex and had so many more layers, and I was learning a lot and I was really enjoying it. But it was very clear that I needed to spend more time on it, if I wanted to be any semblance of good. So, it ended up becoming, you know, much, much different thing than, than I had originally envisioned in like my one year long timeline.

Brad: At what point did it hit you that poker is going to be a larger part of your life than just this one year, in and out type deal?

Maria: So after, you know, after my main event fiasco in 2017, I

Brad: Tell me about the fiasco, by the way. Let’s talk about the fiasco.

Maria: It’s not really spoiler alert, because it starts off the book. I am a lifelong migraine sufferer, and I got a migraine on day one. I wasn’t ready to play even without the migraine, but adding a migraine was not the full thing. Yeah, it was not helpful. So, I spent almost an entire level. And as anyone who’s played the main event knows the levels are long, or several hours long. And I spent almost an entire one of those on the bathroom floor of the Rio Hotel and Casino,

Brad: Just like you imagined it.

Maria: Just like I imagined, just like I’d always imagined. It was the perfect little thing.

Brad: Tiny, little bow on your year long journey through poker.

Maria: Oh my God, so that I do not wish that on anyone. And I ended up making it today too. But being quite short, stacked and then making a really bad decision in the first level because I was just, you know, I was exhausted. I didn’t have a migraine anymore. But after a migraine, I’m just completely drained. I wasn’t thinking clearly. I didn’t listen to Eric’s advice. And I panicked and shut down my 30 big blinds in the middle when I should not have done that. And that was the end of my main event run. I mean, I made day two, that’s something. But, but it wasn’t, it wasn’t a stellar performance by any stretch of the imagination. And Eric didn’t even know that I had had a migraine until he read my book. I never told him.

Brad: Why not? Why didn’t you tell him? 

Maria: Oh, no. I was, I was, I was sheepish that, that I would have kept it from him.

Brad: What did he say when he found out?

Maria: I think he found it amusing. I mean, you know, enough time had passed. But, you know, he’s, he found out in 2019. It was two years later. And I’d had enough good results since then, to kind of make that a, to make that a thing of the past.

Brad: How did it feel after you busted the main? Like after that experience, what are you thinking? How are you feeling?

Maria: I was really upset. I was more upset the year after when I actually had a deep round and made the money and all this stuff, like it hadn’t, at that point, I still hadn’t quite internalized how bad it like, how much it means to bust the main. The following year, I’d had it fully internalized, and I was really mad at myself. But yeah, I was very deflated. I thought, man, I shouldn’t have played. I knew I shouldn’t have played. I can’t really afford this. Now I’m just, what do I do now? And then I

Brad: So, you paid the 10k just out of your own pocket?

Maria: Well, out of the book advance. And then I just kind of thought okay. Well, how do we how do we move forward? What do we do? And by the way, and I’d earned some money from poker like, it’s not like I was because Eric was very clear that I needed to be very good at bankroll management. So, I started off playing like these 35, 45, 55 nightly tournaments in Vegas. And until I started winning those he didn’t let me move up. So, I actually was able to pay my way up in stakes.

Brad: What is it like living in Vegas being from, from New York playing in these tournaments?

Maria: I mean, I hated Vegas. I was totally a fish out of water, which is a great metaphor because I was an absolute fish, people probably loved me at the table. But, but I, I hated Vegas. I don’t hate Vegas anymore. I actually have made my peace with it. And even there’s some things about it that I really enjoy. If you stay far away from The Strip, it can be lovely. But, but at the time, I just, I hated it because I hate I hate casinos like I, they depress me. If I, if I could find a way to play live, I love live Poker. If I could find a way to play live poker without entering in a casino, like if all tournaments were in these lovely places where there were no other games, I’d be no slots. I’d be very happy.

Brad: LA, LA’s got a lot of card rooms win those slots.

Maria: Yeah.

Brad: Why did the casinos depress you so much?

Maria: Because I’m not a fan of gambling. I’m not a fan of slot machines. I think that they know they cater to really base instincts where there’s really nothing to it, except for a reward gratification where you have people who can’t afford it. It’s like lottery tickets. I hate lotteries. I think it’s a tax on poverty, on people who can’t rationally think through, you know what’s going on and spend money they shouldn’t be spending on this chance that they might get rich.

Brad: And it is not just rational, logical thought, either right? Emotions come into it. And

Maria: Absolutely.

Brad: For everyone that designs, scratch offs, and lotteries and casinos, you can bet everything you have that everything is strategic.

Maria: Yeah.

Brad: Every piece of the puzzle is strategic to push all of our buttons and influence us to lose as much money as we possibly can while we’re there.

Maria: Absolutely. And that really upsets me.

Brad: Me too.

Maria: And I don’t like, I don’t like that at all. Um, yeah, that’s why. And, you know, I wish that poker could be played somewhere else. But most of the time, it’s not.

Brad: How does it make you feel that poker is lumped in, like online poker?

Maria: I really, that’s why I really, I really rebel against it. That’s why I really, you know, sometimes people will just casually mention something, and like, get a 10, 10-minute-long diatribe from me, because I feel so passionately that they need to clear this myth because misconception, you have no idea how many people when they find out that I play poker, like oh, so you count cards? Like that’s the first thing they said. I’m like, no. You don’t count cards

Brad: Oh, Maria. Maria, I’ve been a professional for 16 years. These are the same question. Are you, are you addicted to gambling?

Maria: Yeah.

Brad: Do you have a gambling problem?

Maria: Yeah.

Brad: And then, basically, the 16-year argument is like, I pull it out straightaway. They’re like, I’m a professional poker player. Oh, and then they, you know, go into their thing. And I’m like, yeah, I’ve been doing it for 16 years. And then the next question is really? You can make money doing that. That’s the next, the follow up, right?

Maria: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So, I get the counting cards thing. And I’ve, I’ve had to explain the difference between poker and blackjack, more times than I care to.

Brad: Do you count the cards, though? This is a serious question.

Maria: Well, at the beginning, I’m a lot better than I was at the beginning where I thought that there were 54 cards in a deck. So, I have advanced beyond that. Eric still will never let me live that down.

Brad: Well, if you count

Maria: The Joker

Brad: The Joker,

Maria: He always says that when the Joker has come into the deck, I will be world champion.

Brad: There you go. You have it.

Maria: Yeah. I’m just waiting for the 54 cards. That’s where my edge is. That’s, that’s where I’ve really, I’ve worked out the 54-card game tree better than anyone else.

Brad: And that’ll, you know, that’ll last for like a week once it actually gets introduced.

Maria: So funny.

Brad: All the all the Wizards will plug it into their computers and they’ll have amazing strategies right from the get go

Maria: Yeah.

Brad: When we introduce the Jokers.

Maria: Yep.

Brad: Going back to the book. So, you’re playing these small tournaments. You don’t do so hot at the WSOP. Now you’re recalibrating.

Maria: Yeah.

Brad: For your next step. What did the recalibration look like?

Maria: I just went through what I’d learned. And just checked in with myself. I said, well, okay, you know, this book was never predicated on me being successful. I don’t have to get good at poker. That’s not the idea. The idea is to use this as kind of a way of learning about all these different component parts. Am I there yet? And the answer was, no. The answer was I don’t have a book yet. There’s still way too much for me to learn. I need to stay in this world. And so, I decided, let’s push on. Let’s play a little longer. Let’s kind of stick around and keep learning and not take this as kind of the fiasco that it was, but take it as a learning experience and keep moving and see if I can do better.

Brad: Okay, lesson number one, it’s already, it’s coming into play.

Maria: Yep.

Brad: Let’s frame this in a positive light and move forward.

Maria: Exactly. Exactly.

Brad: So, tell me about your experience the next few years in this role the cards.

Maria: So, I kept playing. I moved back down from this was not a this was not a permanent move up in stakes. But I also, like I started figuring out how to do things like, okay, you know, let’s, you know, let’s sell pieces, or, you know, the way that I did it was I had a lot of people were coaching me. And they just took pieces of

Brad: Like, who? Who are all your coaches?

Maria: Well, the two main ones were Eric and Phil Galfond.

Brad: Yeah, they’re okay.

Maria: Yeah, I guess,

Brad: I guess if you’re going to have a Poker Coach, you can, those are okay.

Maria: So those are the two people I’ve worked with the most. But everyone was just, I think what I loved was that everyone was open. Because I mean, they weren’t, I was introduced to them by Eric. So, like, he opened a lot of doors. A lot of people really love Eric. And I think people were genuinely excited by the project. And they wanted me to succeed. You know, they wanted me to do well, they wanted to help me. So, like I, Caxton would sit down with me and do hand reviews, like, Jason Koon is the one who taught me how to use PIO and what bed sizings to use, and how to do the inputs. So that might, so that my game treats were right, and so that it would help me more than hurt me. This was later. I didn’t start using PIO until, until later. But like, everyone was there whenever I wanted to. Because at the beginning, like when I had some questions that Eric thought weren’t necessarily up his alley, he’d be like, oh, that’s much more mathematical. Go talk to Jason. And Jason would sit down with me. And he’s like, okay, this is what you need to understand about set mining, like, here are your rules for this situation. Here are your rules for that situation. And I didn’t, like I appreciate it that I was getting an experience that was a little skewed. I didn’t appreciate just how skewed until much later.

Brad: Yeah. What do you make of that, like?

Maria: I mean, I got ridiculously lucky, like, some, a lot of people are like, oh, wow, you know.  You, you got good quickly. And I was like, well, I worked my ass off, which I did. You know, I work every single day, seven days a week. I was studying or playing or doing something poker related for 7, 8, 9 hours a day, you know, and when I was playing longer, obviously, because the days are longer and tournaments. But I was really, really working hard. But like, I also had these insane resources that know, that other people don’t have. Sure, like some of what Phil did was like, tell me which one it was videos to watch. And that was a wonderful resource to have. But then I could actually text Phil and be like, hey, you know, can we talk through like this part of the video? And he’d be like, yeah, let’s hop on the phone. And, and having that, having Eric to review all of my hands. You know, I started off playing online. And I would just record all of my sessions. And then Eric would review them. Like, that’s, that’s insane. And I realized now just, it not only made sure that I wasn’t developing bad habits, but it taught me the good ones right away. And the good ways of thinking through it, how to analyze a hand, what you need to be paying attention to. Just these things that now I take for granted. But then when I hear someone else describe a hand to me, I’m like, wait, you’re missing all of these things that you need. And I wouldn’t have known that had Eric not insisted, you know, over and over and over, that these are the things I need to pay attention to. And so, all of these elements, were really just, I think, yes, I worked hard. But I also had resources that aren’t available to everyone. And I do not take that for granted. And I know just how crucial it was. And some I mean, and some of the things were things that are available to everyone. So, when I started doing better, and like, you know, when went back down, I started doing well again, you know, I started getting some second places and like, you know, the Venetian bigger tournaments, like the $300 ones, stuff like that. That was great. I went to Dublin and I actually final tabled something at a PokerStars festival. And it was a much smaller buy in. You know, I just went way back down to like, I don’t remember, like 100 something euros. I don’t know you people can check it on hand. And I honestly don’t remember. But it was a, it was a small tournament. And I came in second, it was great. But that was also, I kept coming in second. Like that actually happened a lot. And this particular Dublin was a turning point for me because I, the guy who beat me was just blind drunk. He had been drinking the whole day. And he was just abusing everyone and he was just being a total jerk. And he was just, he was so drunk and I was like, how did he beat me? You know, I should have won. And so, then I actually took I talked to people and asked what I should do. And Phil recommended someone at once coaches who specialized in heads up and I watched those videos, but then I also signed up for Doug pokes upswing course, and actually spent the two months prior to PCA, which I ended up, like that was my big win. I own, I exclusively did heads up to try to actually focus on that element of my play. So, the reason I mentioned this is some of the resources I use, like that is available to everyone. Like my Heads-Up Prep, I actually didn’t use anyone, like there were no private resources.

Brad: But you asked the right questions, right?

Maria: I did. Yes.

Brad: You asked the right questions to find what you needed to break through that barrier, which is just you know, it’s pivotal in the learning process.

Maria: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Brad: You’ve heard me talk early and often about how improving your awareness while you’re playing cards so that you make better decisions in the moment and notice trouble spots that merit deeper consideration is one of the most valuable things you can do to make more money on the felt. In my conversation with the only four-time WPT Main Event champion ever, Darren Elias, he told me that his ability to shut out all of the distractions in the world and fully focus on making great decision after great decision is his superpower he most attributes to his success. And you cannot improve your awareness at the tables without being fully present. When you learn how to stay fully in the moment on the green felt, you can finally have a clear path to becoming the absolute best version of yourself. Which leads me to Jason Sue. Jason is one of the foremost authorities on the planet when it comes to playing poker with presence. As a matter of fact, he even wrote the book on it. Here’s a direct quote from Nick Howard at poker detox on Jason’s ability to help you stay focused. Quote, Jason’s work is a new paradigm in poker and performance, end quote. And these aren’t just empty words. Nick has put his money where his mouth is by hiring Jason to coach up the poker detox crew. And as a loyal listener of chasing poker greatness, you know, by now that I would not be promoting anything I didn’t 100% believe would improve your poker skills and your life. So, if you want to master your motions, and perform at your peak with presence while doing battle in the arena, you’d be doing yourself a grave disservice if you didn’t check out Jason’s work at One final time, that’s

Brad: Jason Koon, by the way, on run at once I remember his coaching sessions are like 5k for an hour of coaching with Jason Koon. You can’t even buy coaching sessions with Eric Seidel.

Maria: No, you can’t.

Brad: And what do you make of these, you know, the best minds in the game, taking time out of their lives to help you?

Maria: I think it shows how pure their love of the game is. I think they were all motivated by the same thing, which is this girl’s writing a book. That’s for a general audience that will get you know, that hurt because my platform was not a poker platform. The people who follow me are not poker players. So, the people I brought with me were the people who like my prior books, and those had nothing to do with poker. Sure, there’s a little bit of overlap, but not, not really. And so, I think that they all saw it as an opportunity to grow the game, and to really make other people understand what the game was about. So, I think they were all just rooting for my success and really happy to do it. I’m not saying that’s insane. It’s so selfless. It’s really, like, just, just to be clear, it’s not like I paid any of th,e any of them, you know, I, I couldn’t afford their coaching. You know, that was really beyond me. And I tried, I mean, I did try to be really careful not to overstay my welcome. Like, I tried not to, like, call them every single day. I tried to like really save the questions and really make and really do preparation for any time I asked so that I had very specific questions. And then I knew I was asking the right person.

Brad: Well, these guys are amazing at one thing that I think the general human population may not be so great at. And that’s thinking long term, right.

Maria: Yeah.

Brad: Seeing the big the big picture. And knowing that you’re reaching an audience that maybe hasn’t had poker in their space is beneficial to everyone. It’s beneficial to the game. So yeah, I just, you know, I’m always blown away by the generosity in poker. Even when folks don’t gain anything. They are still very generous in their time and their energy and teaching and helping folks.

Maria: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I really, you know, I really wanted to convey how wonderful the poker world can be. And I think it can. It can be, it can be horrible too.

Brad: Absolutely.

Maria: But soak in everything, but that it really does have these incredible people who I truly believe could have done, you know, whatever they want it. These are really, really smart individuals. And they just happen to love poker. And that’s, that’s how they’ve chosen to, to spend their time. And I think that that’s wonderful.

Brad: What do you suggest folks do who are maybe just getting started in their journey or maybe hitting some roadblocks that have none of these Wise Masters to help them on their path? What do you suggest they do?

Maria: I mean, I think it’s really important to work hard. A lot of people really undervalue that, and they think that they just deserve to get good quickly.

Brad: What does work hard mean to you?

Maria: To me, it means that you need to put in the time and actually work productively. So, you need to figure out okay, you know, what do I need to learn? Like, in my case, it was everything. And then, you know, when I watch a poker training video, for instance, there are tons that are free. You don’t actually even have to sign up for a coaching site. Even though I think coaching sites are great, I ended up, you know, using, using multiple of them. And I think that, I think that you can find great resources, but there’s so much free stuff on YouTube. You know, there are so many great strategy videos. But you know, in, in my experience, like when I was watching like a half an hour video, it would take me like, multiple hours to watch, because you need it, it has to be active watching. And when you read something, it has to be active reading. You need to actually pause, and rewind and take notes and make sure you’re understanding the concepts. Like I have notebooks filled with notes from poker strategy videos, where like I dutifully writing down the hands and like writing down the boards and figuring out if I don’t get something, I’m like, wait, why are we, you know, why are we playing monotone boards this way? Like, I don’t understand. And that would be a question that I would ask Eric. But I also think it’s really important to just have some peers, like find other people who play poker there. So many message boards. There are so many, you know, these days discord channels or whatnot. So, you just find other people and talk through things with them. But also make sure that you find the right people. Because, because you can get a lot of bad advice. And I think that can actually be hurtful as well. And a lot of I think, in my mind, the first red flag this is what Eric taught me to look out for, is if someone tells you how to play a hand, never ask them again. Because what Eric told me over and over is there’s never a right way to play a hand. There’s, you have too, there are too many variables. I can’t tell you how to play this hand. And even how I played this hand in the spot isn’t how you play this hand in the spot, because you’re not me. And people aren’t looking at you the way they look at me. So, I can do things you can’t do. You can do things I can’t do. Every single situation is different. Whenever anyone tells you, this is the only way this is the right way. This is how you play it. No, you’re an idiot for doing this. That’s a huge red flag. So that’s one of the ways to figure out whether the people you’re sharing hands with are good people or not.

Brad: And coaches.

Maria: Yes.

Brad: The people that you’re getting information from absolutes are the enemy of growth in poker, because there are no absolutes. There’s a reason why you ask a coach a question. And their answer is it depends, right?

Maria: Yup.

Brad: It depends on so many variables. And so,

Maria: Yup.

Brad: When you ask a coach, what to do, you’re actually asking the wrong question. And the right question is, what are the variables that I’ve missed that could have led me to a closer decision in this specific instance?

Maria: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think that it’s just I mean, one of the first things Eric told me, which is such a beautiful phrase that I’ve actually used it in just all of my life since then it’s something that I constantly go back to is, less certainty, more inquiry. What a wonderful way of just looking at the world, less certainty, more inquiry. If you have that mindset, it’s just helpful in everything, not just poker, that you just need to be willing to question. That’s why Eric is still so good, because he’s always willing to learn and to grow and to take on new things. I mean, Eric has used PIO solver, like, surprise, surprise, you know, he, he got it. He like sat and figured out how to use it. And there was a very funny moment where I was playing, and he was, he was actually watching a screen for me. Usually it’s the other way around. But I happen to be on a televised table. There was a hand and he’s like, would you like me to run this through PIO for you? And it was just such a funny moment. You know, Eric Seidel asking if he should run a hand through PIO for me, and I said, yes, please. I would love to know. He’s like, this was a really interesting spot. I’m not 100% sure you know. Do you want to do we want to see what Mr. PlO says? And I said, yes. Let’s, let’s say

Brad: That doesn’t surprise me at all, that he’s at least tinkering around with

Maria: Of course.

Brad: All the new technology because you have

Maria: He’s open to everything. He’s open to everything. And he’s, that’s it less certainty, right? He doesn’t think he knows it all. He is actually he doubts himself more than almost anyone I know. He’s like, oh, I don’t know. It was so funny. We were talking the other day because I’m actually planning to go to New Jersey for part of July to play WSOP online. And he was saying, oh, you know, I feel like I’ve been getting, you know, very stale, because I haven’t been playing. Maybe I should do that too. Because I think, you know, maybe I suck now. Maybe I think I forgotten everything. And I’m like, Eric, you haven’t forgotten everything. You’re fine. But that’s how he always thinks. And he’s not trying to, he’s not saying that to be funny. Like, he actually truly believes that. He’s like, oh, you know, maybe something has happened in the game has evolved. And like I’ve skipped, I’ve missed a step. Because I haven’t played no limit in the last few months. Like, I need to make sure that I’m on top of it.

Brad: This is a trait of what makes him great.

Maria: Yeah.

Brad: And perpetually great. In the game of poker, I’ve said many times on this show that the folks who don’t inquire and aren’t curious, the guys that played the 90s, that just played super tight, super nifty, and beat cash games, one day, woke up in the mid-2000s. And we’re not able to make money playing this game anymore.

Maria: Yeah.

Brad: And thought that for years, I’m just getting unlucky. Because they rested on their laurels. Because they didn’t question. They didn’t have curiosity as to what the new breed of folks are doing, right?

Maria: Exactly.

Brad: What are the what are these Whiz Kids doing that is allowing them to achieve success? Maybe you don’t emulate it exactly. However, you can take, you can take nuggets that you can work with, right? Like PIO gives you a great baseline strategy and spots that you may be confused about. You may not have the answers.

Maria: Absolutely. know, I think actually one of the reasons that it has helped me the most is that it makes up in a in a little, in some way for the short, the shortness of my experience. You know, I don’t have multiple decades to go back on. Oftentimes Eric has a really good feel for a spot. And his intuition is right on point with the solver, because he’s just seen it so many times. And he’s, you know, he knows how to navigate it. And he seen what works and like he, his instincts are actually just, you know, so much experience at the highest levels that he kind of can, can get there. And it ends up and then I run the, I run the sermon and ends up that like what he said was exactly right. He’s like, well, you know, like, basically, like, I’m checking here, like, most of the time, but sometimes and like, PIO will spit out that you know, you want to check, you know, 80% of the time, but 20% of the time you want to do this. And it really actually lines up nicely. I don’t have that, you know. I’m someone who came to poker just a few years ago. And sure, I’ve had amazing resources, and I’ve really worked hard and I’ve played a lot. But I know what I don’t know, like, I am still a beginner, you know? Yeah, sure, I’ve had some tournament success. But like, you keep, you know, the game is so much more complicated. And I have so much to learn. And what PIO solver does for me, is you know, it runs all of these hands. And so it’s in a way like it’s, it’s a cheat for that experience I don’t have, because it will give me what experience gives someone else it will, you know, it runs thousands of simulations for me to tell me, you know what I should be doing here. And it gives me a little bit more confidence, because sometimes I will spend multiple days on one solver output, because I really want to understand why you do certain things in certain spots. Because that way it’s applicable, not just to this hand, because I know I’m not going to memorize this exact output. But if I understand the reasoning behind it, then I can kind of recreate a lot of it, you know, how did it choose its bluffs? Why is it raising this hand but not this hand? Why does it need to have a club in his hand or, you know, hates having a club in his hand? You know why? And it can it can be, it can take so many hours to actually go through that. It’s really interesting, and it helps you understand things on a different level. But then it makes me more confident when I’m playing because sometimes, now I can pull off bluffs I couldn’t pull off before because I don’t think oh my god, I’m bluffing. Is it going to work? I’m thinking, oh, I’m have the perfect cards with which to do this right now. This is the right strategy. So, it doesn’t feel like a bluff. It just feels like I’m playing correctly, right.

Brad: The ultimate variable that we introduced to the equation is our fellow man and our, our fellow human being and how they react in these relations.

Maria: Yup.

Brad: And this is why Eric Seidel is great, because if I had to imagine the way that he uses PIO, there’s likely some node locking with things that, information that he has picked up that he intuitively understands then basically you can set the strategy in a certain way and then figure out what the response is to that specific strategy. Right?

Maria: For sure. For sure. 

Brad:  And also, you know, you said you don’t have the two decades of experience to fall back on

Maria: Three. He’s got three.

Brad: Decades, three decades. He’s still uncertain, right?

Maria: Yes.

Brad: He’s still scared that the poker world is passing him by.

Maria: Yep.

Brad: So that certainty will never come to you.

Maria: Nope.

Brad: As you get better at this game. You know, 16 years in, I still learn. I still make many, many, many mistakes, every single session that I play.

Maria: Yeah.

Brad: There’s still many spots that I can comp, I can, the only thing I can say with confidence is that I don’t know.

Maria: Yeah. Yep. And I think you know, something I said, I don’t remember if I said this in an interview or to someone I said, if you’re, if you stopped making mistakes, it means you’re not seeing the mistakes you’re making. And you’re in trouble.

Brad: Yeah, you went into delusional land. When, when I see somebody interviewed in there, like, this is just the best poker that I’ve ever played in my life. I didn’t make any mistakes, like,

Maria: Yep.

Brad: I want to see the guy that’s like,

Maria: Yep.

Brad: Oh, I screwed up a hundred times. And I just randomly got here. I didn’t play that well

Maria: Oh, for sure. For sure. So, when I was writing the section of the book, there’s one chapter, which is my PCA national one, where I go through the tournament, and in order to do that actually reviewed all the hands. And there were some moments that I had totally forgotten, like, getting all my money in with sevens against aces at the final table. That should have been it like, I should not have won that tournament, like, not most of the time, I’m out, like that’s can’t get in your money, much worse than sevens against aces. And I suck out, you know. I ended up getting a straight and doubling up and went on to win the tournament. You have to remember moments like that, where you just got insanely lucky. And you know, then you can’t win without that when it comes to tournament poker. No one plays perfectly.

Brad: Well, the psychology of it is always interesting. And the same thoughts always in our minds, when we’re running well, that we’re not running that, well. We’re not getting that lucky. And then when we’re running bad, we just, everything gets blown up in our heads is like, do I even, do I know how to walk and breathe at the same time anymore? Like, am I capable of doing any surfing ever?

Maria: For sure.

Brad: Right?

Maria: For sure. Well, I actually went through, went through a period last year, when like, I just couldn’t cash. And I decided to actually write down all of my online competitions, like all of the showdowns to see. And then I did kind of this little mapping of like, where, where I was running in terms of variants. And it ended up that I actually was losing more than my fair share of flips, that I actually was running pretty badly. And that was a huge confidence booster. It actually really helped. And it would have been amazing if it had shown the other thing too, because I would have been like, okay, something’s happened, I really need to work on this. And so that was like, it was so, it was so wonderful that I had a tool, you know, that I was able to actually see, okay, like, what’s happening? What’s supposed to happen, like, where, where am I running? And it’s harder because these were all live events. It’s not like I have software that can do this for me. So, I actually had to, like, make, I wrote down every hand I played, and try to and every single time there was a showdown. I mean, it was very laborious. But it was so worth it. Because I could then see, okay, you know, do I, what’s going on? And it was actually it was I breathed a big sigh of relief, when I saw that. I was just, that I wasn’t just feeling like I was losing every flip, I really was losing 70% of them.

Brad: I think if you’re, if you’re the type of person who’s going to track these results out in a notebook, and like you said, laboriously look through them to make sure that you’re actually running bad, you’re probably quite ahead of the curve, just in general as a starting point, right?

Maria: Well, to me, that was the natural thing to do.

Brad: And to be fair, I always recommend to my students that they never look at the EV, the adjusted EV on the graphs, because even that can be fake and mystery, right?

Maria: Sure.

Brad: Like, if it’s a preflop over a large sample, then that’s okay. You know, that’s something that you can quantify and measure. But like the times where 80% of the money gets in on the turn, they hit the river, and we just can’t fold because we have the pot odds to call.

Maria: Right.

Brad: It will show your equity as zero.

Maria: Right.

Brad: At times when we make what we think is a good bluff on the river, and we think we have 75%-fold equity and they happen to be in a part of the range that they call. Well, our EV in that spot is negative all the money that was spent on the bluff.

Maria: Right.

Brad: So, it’s, it’s really hard to get an accurate picture of what your decisions, you know, what’s actually happening behind those decisions. So, for the listener in the audience,

Maria: Yes.

Brad: I do recommend turning off adjusted EV. You know, there’s only two ways it can go. A, you feel horrible, because you’re running really bad, you fell super unlucky or B, you’re running super well, and you feel horrible, because you think you’re running super well, right? Like,

Maria: Yeah.

Brad: Not much good comes from it. But having, you know, inquiring on all this decision points that you think a tournament hinges on. And asking yourself, was this correct? How do I think about this better? What was my thought process? Those, that, those are the spots that yield the most value.

Maria: For sure, for sure. And I think going into, you know, I was actually really lucky. And I think that, you know, when you asked me a little while ago, you know, what would I recommend to people who don’t have a lot of these resources, I think it was really valuable that I knew that I would have to be explaining hands. So, whether it was to Eric or to Phil, that because one of them was going to be reviewing what I was doing, especially when I was playing online. And that actually helped my thought process in the moment so much, because instead of just clicking raise, or like clicking call, or fold, or whatever it was, and it’s to me, it’s much easier to just click online than live. Because it’s, you know, it’s just, you could just click the button,

Brad: There’s a term for it, finger tilt.

Maria: Yeah, exactly. So, knowing that, like I would, I’d hear like one of their voices in my ear, saying, why did you do that? And I was like, wait, why am I doing this, right? And actually, having to think in advance what you’re going to tell someone helps you avoid a lot of mistakes. Because just that, you know, that brief moment of reflection, where you actually think through wait, these are all of my options. Why am I choosing this one? You know, what is the reasoning behind it? Why aren’t I choosing the other ones? I’m sure it feels like you don’t have enough time to do it. But all this stuff happens really quickly in your mind, as you’re, as you’re going through the options. And sometimes now that I don’t talk through every single hand, I don’t do that. And then I always regret it.

Brad: Later, accountability certainly helps.

Maria: Yeah, because I sometimes just reflexively even live, like I’ll just reflexively fold. I’m like, oh, you know, I’ve got 10 high fold. Eric has called huge pots with 10 high and beyond, right? You know, you have to, you don’t ever do that, like, don’t ever just reflexively do something. And I find myself doing it. Like, even though I had this insane training. And even though I’ve had this just wonderful opportunity.

Brad: Do you ever have any hands just throughout, where you just make a decision? You’re like, oh, hi. I’m never showing this to Eric. I’m never, I’m never going to bring this to him because I’m just too mortified.

Maria: Um, no, because he’s never judged me. He’s always, because there were hands that I should have thrown out. But I was too dumb to know that. I didn’t know enough. So, I already like at the beginning, I already showed him some like truly horrific hands. There was one in particular where I remember like we went through, he’s like, okay, now you fold. This was preflop. I was like, well, no, actually, I called. He’s like, okay, well, and then like the, we’re talking about the flop. He’s like, now you fold. I was like, well, no, actually. He’s like, okay, now you fold. And he’s, and then at some point, I was like, and then I fold, and he’s like, how many times do we have to fold before you actually fold? It was a very, and then there was another very funny moment. So, he had me read, he noticed pretty early on. Sorry, I’m in New York, there are lots of sirens.

Brad: Oh, no. It’s fine.

Maria: So, I apologize for the background noise. And there was, early on, he realized that like I really needed to work on being more aggressive. That like my natural tendency was not aggressive at all. I think, I think a lot of people have natural tendencies, like some people come in. And they’re way too aggressive. Some people come in, and they’re way too passive. It’s rare to have a player who just comes in and plays like perfectly balanced, aggressive when they need to be, you know,

Brad: Yeah, where we call it a risk averse in the DGN. If we want to throw it, throw it into two different archives.

Maria: Great. So, I was much closer to the risk aversion. And Eric really wanted me to work on that, because he, he had a few points when you can’t win tournaments that way. And I’m playing tournament poker, not cash games. Two, I’m female. And at the time, no one knew who the hell I was. So, like, exploit that. And you can get away with stuff that other people can’t get away with. And it’s just good to balance out your natural tendencies. Like if my natural tendency had been super aggressive. I think he would have been telling me to okay, bring it back a little bit, just to, just to make sure that you’re comfortable in all the elements of the space. So yeah, he had me read Gus Hansen’s every 100 field. And he’s like, okay, look at Gus. Gus is an incredibly creative player. And he has no problems with aggression. And so, I remember I read this book, I thought it was amazing. And then I did, I did this like, absolutely crazy thing. And the next tournament, I played with deuce, three off suit in the small blind. And, and Eric had to tell me, he was like, okay, I think we need to channel a little less Gus.

Brad: Maybe it really was your natural tendency to be on the degenerate side. You just needed a green light.

Maria: It’s so funny. Because before that, he’s like, okay, we need more Gus. We need like Maria plus Gus, that’s going to be great. And then after, after that one hand, were like, I don’t know, it was pretty early position open, and I decided to three bet, deuce three off suit from the small blind. I don’t, I don’t remember the entire hand. But it was pretty, like it was pretty out there. It was not the best place to be doing.

Brad: I can make it, I could make an argument for it. I guess if I tried.

Maria: Yes. If you try, you can certainly make an argument for it. This was not the place to do it. Anyway, but so afterwards, from channel more Gus, he said, okay, we need to channel a little less Gus. And I’m actually Gus is one of the players I’ve never met. So, so I, I can’t, I can’t channel him from, from personal experience. But I think it’s a great book. It’s so valuable, I think to actually see the thought process of any player. I would love to see every hand revealed from a number of players.

Brad: Yeah, I remember him carrying around that little recorder that he had speaking into it after he played all the hands that all the tournaments and then it turned into that book and that, that book was going back into books that I about poker that I love. I did love that book. Actually, I just enjoyed it. It was a great story.

Maria: It was.

Brad: It was cool. Just seeing the systematic approach to winning a bump

Maria: Absolutely. Absolutely. And you know what, there’s actually one hand from that book that made it into my book. And it was a hand where Gus folds ace, king preflop. And I was just shocked that someone like Gus, who’s so aggressive, and like so, you know, out there that he would do that. And his reasoning for it was just so, it shows that yeah, he can be a legion. But he’s also really smart and really, you know, really in touch with what he’s doing. And most people wouldn’t have been capable of that fold.

Brad: I have a feeling that if the poker world when Gus entered it was over aggressive, and spewing money away that his strategy would have been contrary to the population he was playing against.

Maria: Yeah, very, very likely. And that was the head. So funny that that’s the hand that has really stayed with me, is his folding ace, king preflop. Because he explained it. He was like, I was the trip leader, you know, yeah, I can call. I’ll still have chips, like, my position is going to be different, my mentality is going to be different like, and he explains all of these, all of this reasoning. He’s like, even though I know that there’s a good chance I’m ahead because they know that I’m being super aggressive. Like, but like, do I want he’s capable of thinking, not just multiple steps ahead in the hand, but he’s capable of thinking like what is future Gus going to feel like in 10 minutes at the table with these different chip stacks. That’s such a hard thing to do.

Brad: That’s what makes poker a beautiful game, and makes it very, very, very difficult to just take on, you know.

Maria: Yeah.

Brad: It’s hard going back to what Eric said

Maria: It is.

Brad: About not telling the bad beats like you, we have to navigate all kinds of emotional pitfalls, and do things that are contrary to maybe something we’ve read or seen

Maria: Yeah.

Brad: In an individual situation, because all situations are unique, and individual. And they’re all a vacuum, just

Maria: Absolutely.

Brad: A specific moment of you and them. And that’s why it’s hard to give feedback on hand histories. And

Maria: For sure.

Brad: I do want to get you out of here in time. So, let’s buzz through the lightning round, real quick.

Maria: All right.

Brad: If you could give all poker players one book, what would it be? And why?

Maria: Well, I mean, I think we one of the books we have to give is, obviously, Every Hand Revealed Now. 

Brad: Sure.

Maria: Just because we’ve talked about it

Brad: What about something that’s valuable, that’s maybe not a poker book?

Maria: Thinking Fast and Slow. Daniel Kahneman. I think it’s a really wonderful book that shows you so much about biases, about decision making, about the pitfalls that your mind can make. And I think poker is a really good tool to actually working through a lot of these biases. I tried to show that in my book. But I think what Danny’s book is going to do is give you a mental framework to actually understand a lot of what’s going on inside your mind. And having a language for it. Having words for it. Being able to pinpoint it directly is, I think, a really, really important thing to mastering it and getting better, and having the thing for me poker was incredibly valuable because I came from a different world. I came from psychology. I had the vocabulary and so I was able to have not just kind of the poker experience, but a metacognitive awareness of what was going on that then let me take those skills outside of life.

Brad: How big? How beneficial was the psychology background to poker in retrospect?

Maria: Very, very beneficial. And I mean, listen, I didn’t just do, I didn’t just have a psychology background. My PhD was in cognitive psychology in decision making under risk and uncertainty. And so, like, I, like I studied this. And yeah, I didn’t know what poker was at the time. So, all of my studies were with stock market games. But I, you know, I looked at how people make decisions under pressure, when they’re stressed, under time pressure, like we created this whole thing where we had a counter counting down. And then the first time I played online poker, I was like, oh, my God, these poor people, what did I do to them? This is awful. This isn’t enough time, how am I going to decide? So that’s, I actually studied so many things that are directly applicable to poker, that in retrospect, it was very helpful, but I needed both. It was actually kind of the circle, where I was able to take my psychology and apply it to poker. But then poker helped me correct some of these biases in a way that I hadn’t been able to do. The only reason I was able to take the poker skills, I think and apply them outside of poker, is because I had the vocabulary and the self-awareness and kind of this metacognitive approach. I think a lot of times poker players don’t do that. Because they just don’t think too. They don’t think how it applies. But I think that we,

Brad: Oh, I for sure, do not do that enough. You know, I started playing cards as a 19-year-old kid,

Maria: Sure.

Brad: And then it just kind of became my life and it’s been my world ever since.

Maria: So, I think Danny Kahneman his book is a really wonderful entry into that world that will help you build a framework around a lot of these things.

Brad: Awesome. If you could erect a billboard, every poker player got to drive past on the way to the casino. What’s it say?

Maria: Less certainty, more inquiry.

Brad: Thief, thief, Eric Seidel, thief.

Maria: Also, Eric Seidel, thief number two, pay attention.

Brad: Pay attention, Darren Elias, who is on the podcast, said, you know, put the phone away.

Maria: Yep.

Brad: We’re here to play cards. We’re here to gain information on every single decision. And that’s where the edge is.

Maria: Absolutely.

Brad: Lots of. 

Maria: I hate Darren.

Brad: You hate Darren?

Maria: Yes. No, I actually love Darren. He’s wonderful. But I hate having Darren, to my left at a table. Oh, he pays attention.

Brad: Right. You are not going to, you’re not going to get anything past him that you’ve shown. And so, it becomes a meta game of what level are we on.

Maria: So, so Darren and I have become quite friendly over the years. And I remember the first time we were going to be playing together. I sat down and he was to my immediate left. And I had seen it was a day two. So, I knew that this was going to happen. And I texted him. I was like, if you stare me down, I’m going to kill you. You know, he has this very intense stare. He’s like, I promise I won’t stare you down. And then he stared me down. I was like, you, you jerk. I told you. I did not kill him. And all as well. I don’t think he busted me from the tournament.

Brad: That’s good. That’s good. It’s tough being under the stare of somebody

Maria: Yes, serious, intense.

Brad: Yeah.

Maria: He’s a he’s a brilliant tournament player. Let’s just case, he’s incredible

Brad: He’s one of the best. And there’s, there’s many reasons for it. Let’s, let’s close. And for the chasing poker greatest audience, where can they find you on the worldwide web?

Maria: So, I think the best places are either Twitter where I’m @MKonnikova. Or Instagram where I’m grlnamedmaria. But girl doesn’t have an i. It’s just grl, because someone already took girlnamedmaria. By the time I got Instagram, and I wasn’t able to convince them to give me the handle.

Brad: Well, you know,

Maria: I need to work on my negotiation skills. Maybe, maybe now that I have poker as a skill set. Maybe I can try again. I can girlnamedmaria with an i.

Brad: You can’t win them all. And when’s the book come out?

Maria: June 23. So, the book is out on Tuesday.

Brad: Oh, wow. So, we got

Maria: A week.

Brad: In a week. Awesome. Check out the book, highly recommended. Thank you very much for your time and your energy. It’s been a pleasure. I look forward to seeing how your poker journey develops over the years.

Maria: Thank you. Thank you so much. It’s been an absolute pleasure.

Brad: Thank you. Take care. You too. 

Thanks for reading this transcript of Chasing Poker Greatness Podcast Episode 071: Maria Konnikova

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