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3 Lessons on Decision-Making from a Poker Champion

Liv Boeree – 3 Lessons on Decision-Making from a Poker Champion

First, let address the elephant in the room, I don’t play poker or any related card game nor gamble since neither are permissible.

And here’s why

“They ask you [Muhammad] concerning wine and gambling. Say: ‘In them is great sin, and some profit, for men; but the sin is greater than the profit.’… Thus does Allah Make clear to you His Signs, in order that you may consider”

 (Quran 2:219).

“O you who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, dedication of stones, and divination by arrows, are an abomination of Satan’s handwork. Eschew such abomination, that you may prosper” 

(Quran 5:90).

“Satan’s plan is to excite enmity and hatred between you, with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of Allah, and from prayer. Will you not then abstain?” 

(Quran 5:91).

Now, back to the ted talk.

Liv Boeree Main Talking Points

  • Liv Boeree learned three decision-making hacks during her career as a professional poker player.
  • First, don’t underestimate the role of luck. When you’re on a winning streak, ask yourself whether skill or luck is responsible. And as Robert T. Kiyosaki mentioned with regards taking up business opportunity, never over-estimate your smartness because the odds of success is always the same regardless of our previous successes.
  • Second, “quantify your thinking.” Use numbers and percentages to clarify your process. 
  • Third, when making life’s biggest decisions, prefer careful analysis to intuition. Try as best as possible not to succumb to our personal biases.
  • Gut feelings are reliable for reaching everyday decisions in which you have lots of experience. For major decisions, analyze your options.

Professional poker player career taught Liv Boeree 3 things about everyday decision making:

  1. “Life is…a game of skill and luck” – Be aware of the role that luck plays in your life. The element of luck makes it difficult to discern whether your strategies are the reason for your success. People love to believe their success is the result of talent and strategy, so it’s important to question whether a win is due to skill or to luck. Why? Well, winning because of luck would not likely to go down well with our ego. 
    • In 2010, Boeree, a relative newcomer to the game, won a major poker tournament. The win inflated her self-confidence. She became lax about studying the game, started taking more risks and entered more competitive tournaments. Her winnings nose-dived for the next several years until she realized that her early success had caused her to overvalue her skill level.
    • Example #1: Cancer may strike a nonsmoker while someone with a packet-a-day habit may live to an old age.
    • Example #2: The cryptocurrency market. In 2017, investment specialists credited their investment savvy for turning a profit, yet even poor strategies were making profitable returns in the fast-rising market.
  2. “The future is unknown, but you can damn well try and estimate it” – Poker, a game of probabilities and accuracy, teaches the importance of quantification. When you find yourself  saying the word “probably,” train yourself to “quantify your thinking.” Replace vague possibilities and forecasts with numerical estimates.
    • For example, when someone asks Boeree if she’ll attend a party, she attaches a number to her chances, such as proposing a 60% likelihood that she’ll show up.
    • The word “probably” means different things to different people, so if you want to convey accurate information, use numbers.
  3. “Your gut is your friend but I prefer a cost-benefit analysis” 
    • Internet memes glorify the power of intuition with phrases such as, “Always trust your gut feeling, and never second-guess.” Alas, your gut is often wrong.
    • Top poker players don’t expect to get by on instinct or a sharpened sixth sense.
    • Instead, they rely on analysis and strategizing.
    • Innate biases and wishful thinking influence gut feelings.
    • Intuition is useful when drawing conclusions about things with which you have ample experience or familiarity. You instinctively know, for example, when your best friend is peeved with you or whether you can maneuver your car into a tight space.
    • For big decisions, such as who to marry or what job you should take, employ a slow, methodical analysis.


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