Archives for December 14, 2020

Striking the Balance Between Luck and Skill

Maria Konnikova:

A few years ago, I went through a period in my life where it seemed like everything that could go wrong did.

Out of nowhere, I came down with an autoimmune disorder that no one could diagnose. My grandmother, totally healthy, slipped on her way to the bathroom, and never woke up. My husband lost his job. My mom lost her job, all in a span of weeks.

We don’t really think about the importance of luck in life when things are going our way. But all it takes is a series of events totally outside our control to make it clear just how limited our agency can sometimes be.

So, what should we do? For an answer, I turned to a less-than-traditional teacher, the game of poker. And more than any experience in my life, including my Ph.D. in psychology, it has taught me both the crucial importance of skill and its limits.

Most people assume that poker is luck. It isn’t. You can win with the worst hand and lose with the best hand. Remind you of anything? In fact, it turns out the actual best hand wins only some 12 percent of the time. What happens the other 88 percent? The best hand gets outplayed by superior skill…