Poker and the Psychology of Uncertainty
The game has plenty to teach about making decisions with the cards we’ve been dealt–on and off the table.
By Maria Konnikova
Outside the realm of games, accurate probabilistic thinking is a rare skill. The betting in poker forces you to pay attention. If you keep following your hunches instead of the mathematics of the thing, you’re doomed. Sure, you might get lucky a time or two. But eventually, variance will catch up with you.
When Chicago economists Steven Levitt and Thomas Miles looked at live play and compared the ROI, or return on investment, for two groups of players at the 2010 WSOP [World Series of Poker], they found that recreational players lost, on average, over 15 percent of their buy-ins (roughly $400), while professionals won over 30 percent (roughly $1,200). Poker isn’t just about calibrating the strength of your beliefs. It’s also about becoming comfortable with the fact that there’s no such thing as a sure thing — ever. You will never have all the information you want, and you will have to act all the same. Leave your certainty at the door.
In many ways, poker is the skilled endeavor. The job market is the gamble. How did my job talk go? Where did I go to college? To grad school? Did I rub someone the wrong way in an interview? These details, all subject to a big dose of chance, can make or break me. At the table, I play how I play. And I rise or fall on my own merits.
I think job seekers are so consumed by job applications and accustomed to losing that they actually forget they’re gambling with real money! This Wired article explains why it’s smarter to play the job market like a professional poker player. This means boosting your odds by applying sound probabilistic thinking. This means stop betting on every job posting!
Is job hunting a crap-shoot? Who or what controls your odds of winning a job? Maria Konnikova hints at how to apply poker skills to job hunting. Okay, let’s deal some good ideas of our own! How can we actually improve our probabilities of success?