079: Maria Konnikova on The Psychology of High-Stakes Poker and How it Applies to Financial Services

079: Maria Konnikova on The Psychology of High-Stakes Poker and How it Applies to Financial Services

Bo Eason

Welcome to The Elite Advisor Blueprint – The Podcast for World-Class Financial Advisors. I’m Brad Johnson, VP of Advisor Development at Advisors Excel, and it’s my goal to distill the best ideas and advice from top thought leaders and apply it to the world of independent financial advising.

In today’s conversation, I’m talking to Maria Konnikova. Maria holds a PhD in psychology, is a writer for The New Yorker, and is a 2x NY Times Bestseller as the author of Mastermind and The Confidence Game. In her newest book, The Biggest Bluff, she tells the story of her deep dive into the world of professional poker with mentor and Poker Hall of Famer, Erik Seidel. Over the course of her studies, she went from the idea of planning a 1 year project, as an observer and student trying to understand the psychology of professional poker (while mentoring under Erik Seidel), to being fully immersed and drawn in as a participant who walked away with over $300,000 in winnings.

Today, Maria joins the podcast to share insight into the psychology behind high-stakes poker, and how pressure and big money can impact our decisions. We also get into her previous work from her book, The Confidence Game, where she deconstructs ponzi schemes and common themes for identifying them.  

So, whether you’re a fan of Texas Hold’em (like me), or simply interested in an eclectic conversation around psychology and money, this was a fun one, and it applies to financial services on many fronts.

Here are 3 of my big takeaways from this episode:

  • #1: Why high stakes poker is such a powerful way to study decision making, especially around risk, uncertainty, and money. [11:35]
  • #2: The remarkable overlap between poker and investing philosophy – what’s the same versus what’s different. [19:42]
  • #3: High level takeaways from Maria’s studies of ponzi schemes, like those of Bernie Madoff, and how to recognize them. [45:44]


  • [5:52] How Maria ended up witnessing a high-stakes push-up competition in the midst of a high-stakes poker game in Monte Carlo – and why many of her best stories from this project had nothing to do with poker. 
  • [13:35] How poker reveals the player’s emotional and psychological hang-ups in real-time.
  • [26:26] Why “Pay attention” was the best advice Maria received from Erik throughout her entire project.
  • [28:39] What led Maria to seek out Erik, a notoriously private person, as her mentor – and why he said yes.
  • [36:17] What women in finance can learn from Maria’s experiences playing a game whose participants are 97% male. 
  • [45:44] High level takeaways from Maria’s study of con artists – and the tricks Bernie Madoff used to keep his operation going until the last possible moment.




This week’s featured review comes from Apple Podcasts user Jepcuhimihn, who said…

Elite Advisor Blueprint podcast review

As always,  I really appreciate these reviews. I’ve found that they really help me hone in on the content, and invite on great guests who can serve you all. I find the marketing episodes really tend to hit home. I’ve also found that in working with financial advisors for nearly 15 years, one of the most common themes is “how do I get good qualified prospects on my calendar?” So I will continue to go down that path. Today’s episode was a bit more on the psychology side of things, but I think you’ll love it. Thanks again for the kind words and for listening in!


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