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Professional poker player Maria Konnikova spoke at Kelly Writers House on Nov. 1. Credit: Max Mester

New York Times bestselling author and professional poker player Maria Konnikova spoke at Kelly Writers House on Nov. 1 for the annual Weber Symposium

Professor of English and Faculty Director of Kelly Writers House Al Filreis led the conversation with Konnikova. They discussed her two recent bestsellers, "The Biggest Bluff" and "The Confidence Game."

The conversation focused on how the skills needed for decision-making in poker can be applied to everyday life.

“Both poker and life are games of imperfect information, of incomplete information,” Konnikova said. “That's kind of the heart of poker — your goal is to make the best decision you can with the information you have, knowing that the information is never going to be complete, and that the decision is inherently going to be probabilistic.”

In "The Biggest Bluff," Konnikova explains how she became interested in the game of poker after a tough stroke of bad luck in her own life led her to look into the role that chance plays in people’s lives. She described the journey of learning the skills to make poker decisions based on the limited information available during the game. 

Konnikova also discussed how despite having the odds overwhelmingly in your favor, you can still lose — an instance she described as a “bad beat.” She told the audience that she learned from her mentor Erik Seidel that it is better to not dwell on those moments, because your decision-making process should still be the same. 

“Let go of the outcome that you can't control, and just keep asking yourself, 'Do I have a question about how I play that hand? Do I have a question about my thought process? Is there anything I would do differently next time?' Focus on that. Don't worry about how it all turned out,” she said. “It's actually a really important mental discipline, in poker and in life.”

In addition, Konnikova explained at the event what she had to learn about herself — at one point, getting help from mental game coach Jared Tendler, despite being a psychologist herself. She discussed the process of gaining insights into her weaknesses and how certain opponents could make her go on “tilt,” or inject unnecessary emotion into her decision-making.

“Talking through things with another person can help you understand some of the flaws and triggers and just hang-ups in your own reasoning,” Konnikova said. “[Poker] is such an effective teaching tool for making you realize all of these things, because you have to put your money where your mouth is, and there's a feedback mechanism where, if you don't deal with your issues, you are literally going to go broke.”

In reference to "The Confidence Game," Konnikova explained the storytelling involved in con artistry and how people often con themselves, forming narratives to fit into an idealistic view of themself and their situation. 

“We're constantly telling stories that we want to believe in, of the type of person we are, the type of person we want to be, and we're constantly conning ourselves,” Konnikova said.

She discussed how her background as a non-English-speaking immigrant and her reliance on  observations to learn how to fit in led her to become a psychologist and a writer. 

Konnikova graduated from Harvard University and received her Ph.D in psychology from Columbia University. In addition to publishing her own books, she is a contributing writer for The New Yorker.

Penn students expressed that they felt connected to Konnikova's advice, as it pertains to their Penn experience.

Engineering sophomore Lindsay Park said that she resonated with Konnikova’s words. She told The Daily Pennsylvanian that she sometimes feels as though she can make a situation out to be more ideal than it actually is, particularly at Penn.

The Weber Symposium was founded in 2009 by 1985 Wharton graduate Stacey Weber and her husband, Jeff Weber, to discuss the importance of writing as it pertains to business, this year focusing specifically on decision-making.

“[The Webers] challenged us to create programs that would attract psychology students, business students, economics students, and have them walk into a house that says ‘writers’ on it, and feel comfortable that they belong there, too,” Filreis said.

The event’s audience of over 50 students and faculty included students of many different majors, Wharton professors, and others involved with Kelly Writers House.