Stuart Firestein in Nautilus:
Most poker players didn’t go to graduate school for cognitive linguistics. Then again, most poker players aren’t Annie Duke.
After pursuing a psychology Ph.D. on childhood language acquisition, Duke turned her skills to the poker table, where she has taken home over $4 million in lifetime earnings. For a time she was the leading female money winner in World Series of Poker history, and remains in the top five. She’s written two books on poker strategy, and next year will release a book called Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts.
In it, Duke parlays her experience with cards into general lessons about decision making that are relevant for all of us. If a well-reasoned decision leads to a negative outcome, was it the wrong decision? How do we distinguish between luck and skill? And how do we move beyond our cognitive biases?
Stuart Firestein, a professor of neuroscience at Columbia University, sat down with Duke in October to talk to her about life and poker.
How did you get into science?
From when I was very young I set out on an academic path. My parents were both teachers. My dad taught at a small private school in New England. My mother taught at the local public school until she had babies. (It was the ’60s, and that was the usual path for women then.) I grew up on the campus of the school and then went to Columbia. When I entered Columbia I thought I would follow in my father’s footsteps and major in English and go on to graduate school. In my family, it was really this idea of, “Where are you going to go to graduate school?” not “if.” I ended up double majoring in English and psychology. The whole time I was at Columbia, I worked in Barbara Landau’s lab as a research assistant. She was looking at first language acquisition, which was a topic I fell in love with—it’s what I ended up actually studying when I went to graduate school.