Thinking in Bets:
Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All the Facts
by Annie Duke
After finishing this book in September of 2021, I wrote,
"Written by a woman who won over $4 million in competitive poker, this book turned out to be more of a gem than I thought it would be. Excellent, lucid coaching on how to make better life decisions."
My clippings below collapse a 288-page book into four pages, measured by using 12-point type in Microsoft Word.
Here are the selections I made:
What good poker players and good decision-makers have in common is their comfort with the world being an uncertain and unpredictable place. They understand that they can almost never know exactly how something will turn out. They embrace that uncertainty and, instead of focusing on being sure, they try to figure out how unsure they are, making their best guess at the chances that different outcomes will occur.
There are many reasons why wrapping our arms around uncertainty and giving it a big hug will help us become better decision-makers. Here are two of them. First, “I’m not sure” is simply a more accurate representation of the world. Second, and related, when we accept that we can’t be sure, we are less likely to fall into the trap of black-and-white thinking.
At one such tournament, I told the audience that one player would win 76% of the time and the other would win 24% of the time. I dealt the remaining cards, the last of which turned the 24% hand into the winner. Amid the cheers and groans, someone in the audience called out, “Annie, you were wrong!” In the same spirit that he said it, I explained that I wasn’t. “I said that would happen 24% of the time. That’s not zero. You got to see part of the 24%!”
Look how quickly you can begin to redefine what it means to be wrong. Once we start thinking like this, it becomes easier to resist the temptation to make snap judgments after results or say things like “I knew it” or “I should have known.” Better decision-making and more self-compassion follow.
The same thing happened after Donald Trump won the presidency. There was a huge outcry about the polls being wrong. Nate Silver, the founder of FiveThirtyEight.com, drew a lot of that criticism. But he never said Clinton was a sure thing. Based on his aggregation and weighting of polling data, he had Trump between 30% and 40% to win (approximately between two-to-one and three-to-two against) in the week before the election. An event predicted to happen 30% to 40% of the time will happen a lot.
Redefining wrong allows us to let go of all the anguish that comes from getting a bad result. But it also means we must redefine “right.” If we aren’t wrong just because things didn’t work out, then we aren’t right just because things turned out well. Do we win emotionally to making that mindset trade-off? Being right feels really good. “I was right,” “I knew it,” “I told you so”—those are all things that we say, and they all feel very good to us. Should we be willing to give up the good feeling of “right” to get rid of the anguish of “wrong”? Yes. First, the world is a pretty random place. The influence of luck makes it impossible to predict exactly how things will turn out, and all the hidden information makes it even worse. If we don’t change our mindset, we’re going to have to deal with being wrong a lot. It’s built into the equation.
Poker teaches that lesson. A great poker player who has a good-size advantage over the other players at the table, making significantly better strategic decisions, will still be losing over 40% of the time at the end of eight hours of play. That’s a whole lot of wrong. And it