Liv Boeree Discusses Skill and Luck in TED Talk

Posted on by RTR Dennis

Liv Boeree knows a thing or two about skill and luck. She’s been a professional poker player since 2009 and has managed to earn $3.85 million in live tournament winnings since then.

Boeree isn’t playing as much poker recently. However, she still has plenty of knowledge on the game thanks to her lengthy career.

The TV presenter and speaker recently put her knowledge on display during a TED Talk. She discussed whether it’s better to be lucky or skilled on the path to success. Here’s a look at the highlights from her talk.

Life Is Like a Game of Poker

Boeree began the discussion by mentioning that poker has taught her some important things about decision making, the first of which being luck.

“Like poker, life is also a game of skill and luck,” she said. “And when it comes to the biggest things we care about — health, wealth, and relationships — these outcomes don’t only depend upon the quality of our decision making, but also the roll of life’s dice.

“For example, we can be perfectly health conscious, but still get unlucky with something like cancer. Or, we can smoke 20 a day and live to a ripe old age.”

Boeree went on to describe how she benefited from luck when winning the 2010 EPT San Remo Main Event. She’d only been playing professionally for a year and thought that winning this tournament meant she had already arrived.

Boeree got lazier in studying the game while also increasing the buy-ins of the events she played. What ensued was a downswing in her profits, which motivated Boeree to get her act together.

“When we’re experiencing success, how much of it is truly down to us?” she questioned. “Because our egos love to downplay the luck factor when we’re winning.”

Poker Taught Boeree to Quantify Her Thinking

Bad poker players have a habit of making decisions without any real substance behind them. But as Boeree explained, one needs to quantify their thinking in order to experience true success.

“When you’re playing, you can’t just get away with going, ‘Ah, they’re probably bluffing,’ That’s just going to lose you a bunch of money, because poker is a game of probabilities and precision. And so you have to train yourself to think in terms of numbers.”

Boeree drew a parallel between quantification and her TED Talk. Rather than thinking she “probably won’t forget anything in her speech,” she instead thought about the chances that she’d lose her train of thought (25%). Boeree then used this info to motivate herself to put more dedication into preparing.

Intuition Doesn’t Mean as Much as People Think

Poker is often stereotyped as a game where players use their intuition to make huge decisions. For example, they’ll stare down an opponent and make a read off them blinking three times or drinking water from a certain side of their mouth.

However, Boeree made it a point to dispel this notion by mentioning how successful poker players don’t just use their intuition to win.

“The game has outgrown the days where pure street smarts and people reading can get you to the top,” she said. “That’s because our intuitions aren’t nearly as perfect as we’d like to believe.

“It’d be great if whenever we’re in a tough spot to just have some answer appear to us from some magical source of inspiration. But in reality, our gut is extremely vulnerable to all kinds of wishful thinking and biases.”

Boeree added that our gut isn’t the best full-time decision-maker. However, she did point out that intuition is good for everyday situations, such as whether we can fit our car into a tight parking spot.

Boeree concluded her speech by offering her own funny, but true, motivational sayings:

  • “Success is sweetest when you achieve it across a large sample size.”
  • “Your gut is your friend. And so is cost-benefit analysis.”
  • “The future is unknown. But you can damn well try to estimate it.”

These motivational sayings were a response to some of the bad ones she’s seen, which make it seem like intuition rules all.

Is Boeree Set Up for a Career in Speaking?

Liv Boeree is more than just a poker player. She holds a degree in astrophysics, co-founded the Raising for Effective Giving (REG) organization, and has presented several TV shows. The 34-year-old also seems to have a knack for public speaking, as her TED Talk showed.

She’s also spoke at Oxford University Union, the Cheltenham Science Festival, Jesus College Cambridge, and Websummit Dublin. It’s unclear how far she’ll dive into he speaking world, but Boeree could definitely continue finding speaking engagements if she wants them.

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