A contributor to The New Yorker, Maria Konnikova also wrote Mastermind and The Confidence Game and worked for The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Paris Review, The Wall Street Journal and other publications. As you might draw from that list, Konnikova’s authorial persona is that of a New York intellectual, except that she’s fascinated by hustles, street cons and the psychology that fuels them. Her studies of decision-making led her to wonder what she might learn from poker. Her answers are fascinating: Playing poker, she believes, gave her better decision-making skills, deeper self-knowledge and more resilience. She didn’t merely learn how to play poker, but “how to play the world.”
Konnikova’s book falls into a limited but compelling genre: the first-person poker memoir by a poker dilettante. This genre features poetic prose like Positively Fifth Street by James McManus and gossipy confessionals like Molly’s Game by Molly Sloane. They commence with a journey none of the authors thought they would take and for which all claim to be ill-prepared. Yet, each author finds big-stakes No Limit Texas Hold ’Em captivating. They detail the rich metaphors the game provides. This demands a certain narcissism, because the primary subject is not poker, but how poker changed the authors. So, to enjoy her journey, you have to vest in Konnikova as much as Konnikova does. Fortunately, she makes that easy.