How to deal with uncertainty like a poker champion

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Annie Duke beat 234 players in the World Series of Poker, mothered four children, and won one televised championship in rock-paper-scissors. She’s comfortable with uncertainty and wrote a whole book about how poker taught her to deal with it.

But in the final episode of our member-exclusive show RISK, we’re more interested in where her career started 30 years ago– and with what.

When Annie was still in grad school studying psychology, she flew to Las Vegas with her brother Howard. He was already pursuing his professional poker career, and she wanted to dabble. So Howard scribbled a list of hands on a napkin that, if dealt, Annie should play.

That napkin became her Holy Grail. Annie went from winning $300 that week to $3,000 in a month. But then she started losing, and she couldn’t figure out why.

We all use some version of Howard’s napkin in our lives. They’re called risk models; they’re crucial when it comes to measuring and managing risk, which we covered in the first two episodes. But risk differs from uncertainty, which is basically all the things we cannot fathom. And confusing the two leads to danger. Sometimes we want new information to fit the model so desperately that we end up with a distorted view, and we miss what’s directly in front us.

Berlin-based psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer says this kind of thinking can lead us to everything from financial crises to plane crashes to the wrong life partner. But there’s an alternative.

Watch the final episode of RISK to learn what exactly that is, and how we can all apply it daily before disaster hits.




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