Annie Duke on playing poker and making good decisions under uncertainty

Poker player Annie Duke appeared on the Slate Money podcast this week to discuss decision science, and it reminded me that I should blog about her. On the podcast, she talked about how thinking in terms of betting can help make everyday decisions and decisions in engineering systems.

I first heard of Annie Duke on The Moth podcast, where she talked about imposter syndrome as one of the few women who played poker professionally. Her story on imposter syndrome was compelling, because in a tournament on television, her cards were shown on camera during play. This transparency made her vulnerable to judgment, because the viewers could assess her choices with full information and possibly second guess her strategies. She didn’t just feel transparent, she was transparent.

Annie Duke pursued a Ph.D. in cognitive science, which she ultimately did not finish, and has written about how to make decisions. Her knowledge of decision-making helped her to be one of the best poker players ever. Duke uses heuristics instead of optimal decision strategies, which is appropriate for playing poker and making decisions in real-time. She understands that humans are not rational decision makers who think differently about short term decisions versus long term decisions. She wrote a book called “Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts” about decision making under uncertainty.

In many of her interviews, such as her interview in Slate Money and in the video below, Duke articulates how the decision-making strategies she used to win at poker can inform decisions in systems, including engineering systems. In poker, quite often having a good process does not guarantee good outcomes. In poker, unlike chess, information is incomplete and other plays may be adopting sub-optimal or deceptive strategies.

For more reading: Decisions sciences was instrumental in substantially improving predictions in the Netflix prize.


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