“The Biggest Bluff” Quotes

I recently read “The Biggest Bluff” by Maria Konnikova. Below are the quotes I found most interesting (using Kindle locations). If you like the quotes, buy the book.

I wanted to disentangle just how much of where I’d ended up had been my own doing as opposed to a twist of fate—like so many before me, I wanted to know how much of my life I could take credit for and how much was just stupid luck. (Location 192-194)

Because they thought they knew more than they did, they ignored any signs to the contrary—especially when, as inevitably happens in real stock markets, winners became losers and vice versa. In other words, the illusion of control is what prevented real control over the game from emerging—and before long, the quality of people’s decisions deteriorated.(Location 218-220)

People failed to see what the world was telling them when that message wasn’t one they wanted to hear. They liked being the rulers of their environment.(Location 222-223 )

Here was the cruel truth: we humans too often think ourselves in firm control when we are really playing by the rules of chance. (Location 223-224)

But here’s what psychologists find, over and over: you can show people all the charts you want, but that won’t change their perceptions of the risks or their resulting decisions. What will change their minds? Going through an event themselves, or knowing someone who has. (Location 239-241)

Our experiences trump everything else, but mostly, those experiences are incredibly skewed: they teach us, but they don’t teach us well. It’s why disentangling chance from skill is so difficult in everyday decisions: it’s a statistical undertaking, and one we are not normally equipped to deal with. (Location 247-249)

If there’s anything Mom taught me, it’s that life has no concept of fairness. It’s just tough luck. Deal with it. (Location 258-258)

Luck surrounds us, everywhere—from something as mundane as walking to work and getting there safely to the other extreme, like surviving a war or a terrorist attack when others mere inches away weren’t as fortunate. But we only notice it when things don’t go our way. We don’t often question the role of chance in the moments it protects us from others and ourselves. When chance is on our side, we disregard it: it is invisible. But when it breaks against us, we wake to its power. We begin to reason about its whys and hows. (Location 280-284)

Life is based on making the best decisions you can from information that can never be complete. (Location 318-319)

When the economist Ingo Fiedler analyzed hundreds of thousands of hands played on several online poker sites over a six-month period, he found that the actual best hand won, on average, only 12 percent of the time and that less than a third of hands went to showdown. (Location 528-530)

Understanding probability wasn’t enough to tame the luck factor. (Location 630-631)

Be solid, fundamentally. Cultivate the solid image. And then add the hyper-aggression, but at the right place and the right time. Not always, not continuously, but thinkingly. (Location 786-787)

“You become a big winner when you lose,” Dan says. “Everyone plays well when they’re winning. But can you control yourself and play well when you’re losing? And not by being too conservative, but trying to still be objective as to what your chances are in the hand. If you can do that, then you’ve conquered the game.” (Location 840-842)

When it comes to learning, Triumph is the real foe; it’s Disaster that’s your teacher. It’s Disaster that brings objectivity. It’s Disaster that’s the antidote to that greatest of delusions, overconfidence. (Location 870-871)

We lose early, we have a shot at objectivity. (Location 884)

While practice is not enough and there’s not even close to a magic number for its effectiveness, you also cannot learn if you do not practice. (Location 964-965)

And the thing I’m worried about? Not whether I’m thinking through this correctly, but whether or not I look weak. A good commander never cares what others are thinking. Perception matters only insofar as you’re using it strategically to shape your image for future actions. (Location 1134-1135)

Hanging back only seems like an easy solution. In truth, it can be the seed of far bigger problems. (Location 1403)

You want to be a good player, you must acknowledge that you’re not “due”—for good cards, good karma, good health, money, love, or whatever else it is. Probability has amnesia: each future outcome is completely independent of the past. (Location 1520-1521)

The relationship between our awareness of chance and our skill is a U-curve. No skill: chance looms high. Relatively high skill: chance recedes. Expert level: you once again see your shortcomings and realize that no matter your skill level, chance has a strong role to play. (Location 1594-1596)

“You never can tell whether bad luck may not after all turn out to be good luck. . . . One must never forget when misfortunes come that it is quite possible they are saving one from something much worse; or that when you make some great mistake, it may very easily serve you better than the best-advised decision.” WINSTON CHURCHILL, “MY EARLY LIFE,” 1930 Location 1617-1620 

“Focus on the process, not the luck. Did I play correctly? Everything else is just BS in our heads,” (Location 1840-1841)

How we frame something affects not just our thinking but our emotional state. (Location 1844)

A victim: The cards went against me. Things are being done to me, things are happening around me, and I am neither to blame nor in control. A victor: I made the correct decision. Sure, the outcome didn’t go my way, but I thought correctly under pressure. And that’s the skill I can control. (Location 1853-1855)

“Luck dampener effect: because you’re wallowing in your misfortune, you fail to see the things you could be doing to overcome it.” (Location 1859-1860)

If you think of yourself instead as an almost-victor who thought correctly and did everything possible but was foiled by crap variance? No matter: you will have other opportunities, and if you keep thinking correctly, eventually it will even out. (Location 1862-1863)

“If a man look sharply, and attentively, he shall see Fortune: for though she be blind, yet she is not invisible.” FRANCIS BACON, “OF FORTUNE,” 1625 (Location 1890-1892)

“In everything, stability and support are important components in success.” (Location 1925)

You’re not lucky because more good things are actually happening; you’re lucky because you’re alert to them when they do. (Location 2050-2051) 

How often do we go off on someone for making a decision that we, personally, wouldn’t have made, calling them an idiot, fuming, getting angry? How much time and emotional energy we’d save if we simply learned to ask ourselves why they acted as they did, rather than judge, make presumptions, and react. (Location 2206-2208)

The better you get, the worse you are—because the flaws that you wouldn’t even think of looking at before are now visible and need to be addressed. (Location 2625-2626)

It’s important not to let a minor victory lull you into thinking you’re doing great, when all you’re doing is better than before but not good enough to actually make it count. (Location 2628-2629)

That we often don’t really know why we make decisions—and we justify them with objective-sounding reasons even when, in reality, we were acting based on faulty intuitive reads. (Location 2750-2751)

“A lot of people think that acting robotic at the table is the best way to conceal tells. It’s actually the worst way,” (Location 2937-2938)

Mastery is always a struggle for balance. How much time do you devote to the craft, and how much to yourself? And can you really do one without the other?(Location 3108-3109)

Never feel like you have to do something just because it’s expected of you—even if you’re the one who expects it of you. Know when to step back. Know when to recalibrate. Know when you need to reassess your strategy, prior plans be damned. (Location 3329-3331)

“You need to think in terms of preparation. Don’t worry about hoping. Just do.” (Location 3447-3448)

If our attention is drawn to the actual cause of our mood, it stops having an effect. (Location 3477)

Think of your game as a resting inchworm divided into three sections, A, B, and C, Jared tells me. A is my best game. It is infrequent—I have to be at my peak to achieve it. C is my worst game, which should, at least in theory, also be infrequent. The B game is the bell curve part of the inchworm. It’s the longest and most visible part. To improve my game, I need to move my bell curve the way that an inchworm moves, slowly pushing so that my C game becomes my B game, my A game drifts to B, and an even better A game takes its place. (Location 3507-3511)

I know all the places to go that will give us a more genuine Vegas experience. Here’s a cheat sheet. For sushi, Yui and Kabuto. For dinner close to the Rio, the Fat Greek, Peru Chicken, and Sazón. For when I’m feeling nostalgic for the jerk chicken of my local Crown Heights spots, Big Jerk. Lola’s for Cajun. Milos, but only for lunch. El Dorado for late-night poker sessions. Partage to celebrate. Lotus of Siam to drown your sorrows in delightful Thai. (Location 4294-4297)

We have won the impossible, improbable lottery of birth. And we don’t know what will happen. We never can. There’s no skill in birth and death. At the beginning and at the end, luck reigns unchallenged. (Location 4411-4412)

Here’s the truth: most of the world is noise, and we spend most of our lives trying to make sense of it. (Location 4412-4413)

You can’t control what will happen, so it makes no sense to try to guess at it. Chance is just chance: it is neither good nor bad nor personal. Without us to supply meaning, it’s simple noise. The most we can do is learn to control what we can—our thinking, our decision processes, our reactions. (Location 4420-4422)

Nothing is all skill. Ever. I shy away from absolutes, but this one calls out for my embrace. Because life is life, luck will always be a factor in anything we might do or undertake. Skill can open up new vistas, new choices, allow us to see the chance that others less skilled than us, less observant or less keen, may miss—but should chance go against us, all our skill can do is mitigate the damage. (Location 4461-4464)

And the biggest bluff of all? That skill can ever be enough. (Location 4464)

If you liked the quotes, buy the book.

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