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The Biggest Bluff How I Learned to Pay Attention Master Myself and Win by Maria Konnikova – Book Review

9.1 Total Score

In 2016 Maria Konnikova, New York Times bestselling author didn’t even know how many cards there are in a deck. About one year later, she won a PCA National event and became Poker Stars “Ambassador.” How is that possible?

Relevance today
Writing style
  • Entertaining
  • Very well-written
  • Poker tips from Erik Seidel (however limited)
  • Not enough strategy
  • Some parts are overwritten
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How a Female Writer with a Ph.D. in Psychology Became a Sponsored Poker Pro Player?

The Biggest Bluff - Book Review

The heart of the book is Maria’s story of going from complete novice to sponsored pro in less than two years. She accomplishes that thanks to the coaching she gets from Erik Seidel, Poker Hall of Fame inductee with millions of dollars in earnings. Her intelligence, self-discipline, and willingness to learn also played an important role. Maria and Erik travel together to various tournaments, including the World Series of Poker; they discuss hands, strategy and the mental part of poker.

What poker knowledge did Konnikova have before writing the book?

Maria Konnikova had never actually played poker before writing the book. She had no clue about Texas Hold ’em rules when she approached Erik. Thanks to Seidel’s associations, she also receives advice from other well-known players. Konnikova is lucky to meet some of the greatest in the game, who won tens of millions of dollars:

  • Dan Harrington,
  • Phil Galfond,
  • Paul Magriel,
  • LuckyChewy,
  • Ike Haxton,
  • and Patrik Antonius.


Is Maria Konnikova’s goal to become a poker champ?  

In the beginning, her intention is not to become a successful poker player but to study the concept of personal decision-making. She wants to explore the skill-luck balance:

“My reasons for getting into poker in the first place were to better understand that line between skill and luck, to learn what I could control and what I couldn’t, and here was a strongly-worded lesson if ever there were: you can’t bluff chance.”

Maria Konnikova studies poker insights and explains how those apply to many of the choices we all have to make. 

 “I don’t have the guts because I’m afraid–still–of looking stupid, of making mistakes, of being judged and judging myself.”

Multi-lingual Konnikova has a phd in psychology; she is a very talented writer and beautifully describes the similarities between poker and life. Both require critical decision-making with limited data, and both are controlled by chance.

She is an excellent student of human behavior and tries to answer the following questions: 

  • How much control do we have over our lives.? 

 “Choice of attention–to pay attention to this and ignore that–is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer. In both cases man is responsible for his choice and must accept the consequences.”

  • Are winning people successful because of luck or correct decisions? 

” There is the draw—clearly chance—and there is the betting—clearly decision. But where success falls into the mix of these is nearly as complicated as success in life.”

  • Do superstitions assist us with overcoming the whims of fortune or succumb to them? 

Did Erick Seidel commit so much time to teach a person he doesn’t know for free?

I wish Maria had shared more information about the funding of her coaching. It’s difficult to believe that one of the best players in the world turned her into a professional player for free.

Who is the “The Biggest Bluff” for?

If you are interested in psychology, the book is for you. However, if you are looking for poker tips, you should choose another book.

The book will teach you more about the psychology of the game than about poker strategy. It will help you improve your mindset and realize the importance of preparation, persistence, and regular training.

To some extend, I found the book to be well balanced. The amount of storytelling and lessons on mental poker, luck, and development is adequate. Nevertheless, some psychology parts seemed to be overwritten as if it was a science book, although someone with a Ph.D. in psychology could have a different opinion.

On the memoir aspect, The Biggest Bluff is first class. But, considering that Maria trained with one of the greatest poker players, I would love to see some more texas hold’em strategy tips.

Best Quotes

Telling bad beat stories is like dumping trash on your neighbor's lawn: it just stinks.

Defeat teaches you more than victory.

Don't play a tournament if you don't feel at your best.

Table Of Content

  • A Prelude. Lag Vegas. July 2017
  • Ante Up. New York. Late Summer 2016
  • The Birth of a Gambler. Boston. Fall 2016
  • The Art of Losing. New York. Fall 2016
  • The Mind of a Strategist. New York. Late Fall 2016
  • A Man’s World. New York, Winter 2016
  • NO Bad Beats. LasVegas, Winter 2017
  • Texting Your Way out of Millions Las Vegas. Winter 2017
  • A Storytelling Business. Lag Vegas, March 2017
  • The Gambler and the Nerd. Monte Carlo. April 2017
  • The Art of the Tell. New York, May 2017
  • Reading Myself. New York. May June 2017
  • Full Tilt. June 2017
  • The Heart of the Gambling Beast. Macau. March 2018
  • The Ludic Fallacy La, Vegas. June 2019
  • Glossary of Poker Terms
  • Acknowledgments

Customer Reviews - The Biggest Bluff In The Newspapers

“Fascinating. . . . Konnikova is like your smart friend who instantly contextualizes everything by sharing the latest data and sharpest insight, whom you come to quote too often. . . . Konnikova keeps the lines so clean and even, so steady and unshowy that she might be the Charlie Watts of prose: While the backbeat never ceases and the narrative propels along, it’s her curiosity that proliferates. In fact, one of the biggest bluffs of The Biggest Bluff may be that Konnikova hasn’t written a book about her success with cards and chips exactly, but bet the house on the power of her mind to synthesize big philosophical ideas and psychological insights at a time when we, too, find ourselves questioning our fortunes, hoping to master our fates and playing much bigger odds than ever before.”
New York Times Book Review
“The tale of how Konnikova followed a story about poker players and wound up becoming a story herself will have you riveted, first as you learn about her big winnings, and then as she conveys the lessons she learned both about human nature and herself.”
The Washington Post
“The Biggest Bluff feels particularly timely in the current pandemic. As governments design policies based on limited data, and individuals are forced to grapple with the probabilities of contagion – we could all do with the greater understanding of uncertainty, and how to think about it under pressure, that comes with the game.”

Video - Maria Talks About The Biggest Bluff

Book Details

  • Title: The Biggest Bluff
  • Author: Maria Konnikova
  • Number of Pages: 368
  • Game/Theme: Psychology
  • Live/Online: Live
  • Required Skill Level: Beginner
  • Format Available: Audiobook, E-book, Paperback
  • Free with Kindle Unlimited: No
  • Free with Audible: Yes
  • Publication date: 23rd, June, 2020
  • Reprinted: No
  • Publisher: Penguin Press
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