Maria Konnikova eyed her fellow poker players from across the table. The New York Times bestselling author had just gotten her hole cards when an opponent dealt her something else.
“I was given a room key and told how much money I was going to be paid to accompany this person upstairs,” she recalls. “If I weren’t a journalist, some of my early experiences in poker would have made me turn around and say, ‘No thank you, I don’t want to deal with this s***.’”
Fortunately, times are changing. In 2021, women made up half of the final table at the World Poker Tour. Programs like Poker Power, where Konnikova serves as an advisory board member, give women the confidence to play the game and win.
What Brought Maria Konnikova to Poker?
Maria Konnikova entered the world of high-stakes poker tournaments while researching her third book, The Biggest Bluff. That’s when she realized the connection between learning the ways of poker and taking a more confident, successful approach to life. Now she’s a determined advocate for other women to join the game and build the life skills that poker offers.
It’s paid off, in book sales and poker tournament winnings.
“Poker is an amazing arena to test out your skills and learn how to be a powerful version of yourself,” she says. “I’ve met some of the most brilliant women and men in my life through poker.”
Can You Learn Risk Tolerance?
A Harvard grad with a Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia University, Maria Konnikova is deeply familiar with how expectations differ between sexes—in poker and business. Though researchers acknowledge that many factors come into play, Konnikova says there’s only one essential separation between men and women.
“Risk is the one area where you actually do find stable gender differences,” she says. “You don’t see that in almost any other area of psychology.”
Data suggests that testosterone levels likely play a part. But socially, risk-taking behavior is rewarded and reinforced for men more than women. Despite that, studies show that women are equally (if not more) successful at the highest levels in business. And the life skills that poker teaches can play a crucial role in ensuring that more women find themselves in those leadership roles.
How Can You Beat Gender Bias?
Poker can also bring to light ways in which people hold themselves back. As a result, the game can almost immediately alert players to inherent biases and limitations that influence their decision-making in all aspects of their lives.
Konnikova is quick to point out that these emotions are natural and not necessarily negative.
“Biases are everywhere, but they don’t have to be this irretrievable thing that hobbles us,” she says. Research suggests that identifying a bias can be enough for it to disappear. “It’s not about being unbiased. That doesn’t exist.”
She recommends taking note of frustrations, fears, and aspirations. Every player will have a unique plan of action. However, they should remember that when it comes to playing poker, it’s not personal. It’s business.
How Do You Learn Poker?
Learning to play poker is a process that requires practice, strategy, and theory. Whether you want to go pro, have fun, or learn business skills, Konnikova offers these tips for beginning poker players:
- Start with low stakes – “Taking advantage of some of those free materials that are out there is really important.”
- Be an active learner – “Watching a video doesn’t mean you’ve learned anything. You should be taking notes, you should be rewinding if you don’t understand something.”
- Go all in – Konnikova spent upwards of 11 hours a day studying and playing, but that’s not necessary unless you want to go pro. “Study hard, work hard, play hard, have fun.”
“One of the things I’ve found is that even some of the best poker players don’t have that awareness,” Konnikova says. “They don’t take the time to think about poker in a wider sense and consider, ‘What skills am I using, what is this actually doing?’”
Our community poker lessons teach you how to see poker in that wider sense. They’re a great place for beginners to learn the basics from expert instructors, or for those with advanced skills to join a group of players who identify as women.
Take a page from Maria Konnikova’s playbook and bet on yourself. Sign up for free Poker Power lessons today.