Terri Hanson Mead
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Terri Hanson Mead

More Women Need to be Playing Poker (Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke)

I am officially obsessed with poker.

I’ve spent the last few months playing WSOP (free) online, watching YouTube videos, listening to podcasts, and reading books. And this past week I was able to put my new knowledge to the test in a cash game at an angel investor summit in Napa.

Until night three, I was the only woman at the non-trainer table just like previous years at this event. On the last night, one of the gals (Jen) gathered up her courage and joined me at the $1/$2 table. I moved to the $5/$10 table and later I heard she lost about $80 and she said to me, “It was money well spent and I am now hooked!” (We won’t talk about how much I lost but I also felt it was money well spent)

I’ve talked before about how I think more women should be playing poker as there’s so much to learn from the game. I recently listened to Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke and decided to summarize mykey learnings from the book (and my limited poker playing) just in case you don’t want to read the book (Note: all quotes are from the book).

  1. Life is like poker, not chess. With chess, you can reverse engineer where you made mistakes because all of the information is available to you. With poker, as with life, you have to make decisions with imperfect and incomplete information. There is uncertainty and luck. “Chess contains no hidden information and very little luck.” If we acknowledge this, I think we women can be bolder and less afraid of failure.
  2. The focus needs to be on the quality of the decision making and not on the result. Sometimes we can make all the right decisions and still have a bad outcome. Sometimes we can make all of the wrong decisions and have a good outcome. We only have control over our decisions and not the outcome. Avoid the “tendency to equate the quality of a decision with the quality of its outcome.” This is called resulting. If we acknowledge this, I think we women can be bolder and less afraid of failure (yes, exactly the same thing I said in point 1).
  3. “The relationship between decisions and results isn’t so perfectly correlated…Luck plays a significant role in our lives…and despite our best efforts, things might not work out the way we want.” A lot of us women internalize failures (men tend to place the blame on others) and give credit to others if we have success (men own their successes). We need to stop blaming ourselves for things that are outside of our control. And we need to stop giving others credit for things that are. This means we can be bolder, take more chances, and then benefit from taking risks.
  4. Take risks with each hand. And then once you play the hand, learn what you can from it and move on. I’ve been using online (free) poker to build my risk tolerance by taking risks on each hand. As I learn more, I put into practice what I’ve learned with no downside. I am not playing for real money and each day I can earn more chips by watching a video or playing some silly game or even sending them to other players (they send some back). And sometimes I even win. I am beginning to see life decisions and actions similar to playing a hand of poker and am able to be less risk intolerant. This is huge! We women need to take more and bigger risks!
  5. Get “comfort[able] with the world being an uncertain and unpredictable place.” It’s ok to say, ‘I’m not sure.’ This isn’t a lack of confidence, it’s the truth. We never have perfect information and we can never be 100% certain. We will never be perfect and we need to stop striving for perfection. It doesn’t exist.
  6. “All decisions are bets…Whenever we make a choice, we are betting on a potential future.” We can never be completely sure because we never have complete information. So, if we don’t have complete information, and we will never be perfect, we can be taking more and bigger risks to reach new heights.
  7. Let go of the need to be right. When we need to be right, “we don’t let facts get in the way” of disconfirming our beliefs. It’s ok to be wrong even if it doesn’t feel good. “The more we recognize that we are betting on our beliefs…the more we are likely to temper our statements getting closer to the truth.”
  8. We should be “incorporating uncertainty in the way we think about our beliefs.” This means that when we state a belief, we provide some confidence estimator like ‘I’m 80% sure of that’ just like when we calculate the probabilities during a poker hand. “Declaring our uncertainty in our beliefs to others makes us better communicators…Expressing our level of confidence also invites others to be collaborators” because they don’t have to ‘confront a difference of opinion or belief; we leave room for discussion. They don’t have to say ‘you’re wrong.’
  9. We can use probabilities (or likelihood of occurrence) to “determine worth or expected value” of situations in our lives. The example in the book is around the expected value of grants a non-profit was seeking versus the award amounts. If you only have a 50% likelihood of being awarded a $100K grant, then the expected value is $50K. I think a lot of us focus on absolute values of future benefits rather than the expected value which is likely less than the absolute value. We can use this when we are deciding between various options whether it is a job, a sales contract, or how we spend our time. Discounting the award based on likelihood of benefit occurrence gives a better sense of what the real potential benefit could be, thus helping us make better decisions.

Why aren’t women playing poker?

While playing poker with Jonathan Little (yes an actual professional poker player; I think I took a hand from him!)at the big kid’s table this past week, this very question came up. The guys at the table couldn’t relate to my response. I said because we weren’t encouraged to play when we were younger, and we didn’t see women playing it, we didn’t know it was an option for us (kind of like angel investing). I went on to say that there was an intimidation factor because we didn’t feel like we belonged. I don’t really think men want us at the table (yep…this goes beyond the literal poker table).

I watched a presentation by Liv Boeree (professional poker player) at Oxford where she was asked why there aren’t more women playing poker. She responded that there are more now than when she started 10 years ago. She didn’t really have a good answer but she did say that when women do get into the game, they love it more than men.

I can relate to this. When we were playing the other night, I looked around at all the men and they all looked serious and miserable. I, of course, was having a great time (despite ending up down for the week). I am competitive and want to win but at the end of the day, it really is just a game, but one that can teach us some very helpful life skills.

So now to find a game to play…or create my own. I have the dealers (Blue Dog Events), just need the players. Or a need someone to go to a local casino with me and show me the ropes. Anyone game?

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Terri Mead

Terri Mead

IT consultant, expert witness, YouTuber, helicopter pilot. Making the world a better place, especially for women. Award winning author of Piloting Your Life.