It has been a few years since I played Texas Hold’em with any regularity. It is a game that, in addition to chance, introduces player interaction in the form of betting. In the book Range, Epstein discusses learning in kind (closed and deterministic, like Chess) and unkind (open and variable, like natural disasters) systems. In this book, author Annie Duke introduces a similar framing device in which Poker becomes a useful metaphor in which she examines decision making.
Poker is intriguing because it is a game of reading your opponents in addition to a game of chance. Many of the stories in the book ring true to my experience. People at my game table would go All-in on an off-suit seven deuces hand. (This is the hand with the statistically most improbable rate of winning the game. To be fair, we played with very low stakes.) Occasionally someone would win and this causes massive excitement and uproar at the table. Over time, this turned into a meme and superstition for some.
Of course, we were having fun but people were trying to win it and it was an objectively bad strategy. One of the core ideas in this book is we often link outcomes to the quality of the decision making. In this case, just because someone made an out of left field bet on a seven two hand and won doesn’t mean it is a good decision. Duke calls this type of behavior Resulting. Resulting can feel intuitive but does not hold up under scrutiny. A good decision does not always yield results and conversely results can sometimes be plain dumb luck. By separating the decision making process from the outcome it generates, we can then examine how we decide and take measures to improve quality there.
The book encourages us to think of decision as bets, “In most of our decisions, we are not betting against another person. Rather we are betting against all the future versions of ourselves that we are not choosing.” Like bets, decisions are a sum of our beliefs and the outcomes a combination of our skill in navigating those beliefs and luck. If life is about making a series of decisions (bet), then we want to be in a position where we can both learn quickly (make a lot of bets) and observe.
Duke provides a few suggestions on how to better our decision making: get an accountability group (preferably people you really respect), seek out alternative viewpoints, and working backwards from your desired outcome. The decision making process is a process of iteration and the more diverse inputs you can give it the better the skill will get over time.
I listened to both How to Decide and Thinking in Bets and they are very similar to each other. The former lays out information in a format that makes for a better reference while the latter reads like a typical pop business book, full of entertaining stories and anecdotes. Whichever you prefer will depend on how you retain information; as for myself, stories help with recollection.