The bestselling author who planned to spend a year playing poker for a book project is sticking with it.
After a year spent learning the game from poker luminaries like Erik Seidel, and racking up tournament earnings north of $200,000, 34-year-old Maria Konnikova has signed on as an official PokerStars Ambassador:
“I’m incredibly excited to be joining the PokerStars team. It’s been wonderful to be an unofficial ambassador with PokerStars for this past year, and I feel it’s a tremendous honor to be joining the team officially now. I never could have imagined poker becoming as big a part of my life as it has, and joining PokerStars offers me an incredible opportunity to take my game to the next level and to represent a brand that I’ve come to admire greatly.”
Psychology, creative writing, and poker
The New York City-based writer has an A.B. in psychology and creative writing from Harvard University. She also has a Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia University.
Konnikova previously worked as a TV producer for the Charlie Rose show. Plus, she’s written about psychology and science for a variety of newspapers and magazines. Her credits include The New York Times, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and Scientific American.
Konnikova has also written two New York Times bestsellers:
- Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes (2013)
- The Confidence Game (2016)
In January 2017, she convinced Seidel and various other high-stakes poker pros to teach her the game. It was all an effort to prepare her for a writing project she was calling The Biggest Bluff.
The book would document her experiences playing on the professional poker circuit for a year. The idea was to examine the role luck plays in life. She also hoped to examine how poker skills can be applied in the real world.
Konnikova started playing tournaments and put together more than $30,000 in cashes in 2017. In January 2018 at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure in the Bahamas, her story went viral.
Konnikova won the $1,650 PCA National Championship event for $84,600. Media outlets from across the globe were suddenly filled with her story. No one could resist the tale of a New York Times bestselling author researching a book on poker and finding tremendous success.
The win also came with a $30,000 Platinum Pass. This made Konnikova the first woman to earn free entry into the PokerStars Players No Limit Hold’em Championship in the Bahamas in 2019. Plus, it gave her a compelling reason to stick with poker for at least the next 12 months.
Continued poker success
It wasn’t long before she pushed the publication of The Biggest Bluff to the end of 2019. Plus, she took on a role as an unofficial ambassador with PokerStars and continued playing in more events around the world.
She hit it big again in March 2018. That’s when she finished runner-up in the Asia Pacific Poker Tour Macau HK $20,000 event for $57,519.
Now, about a week after recording her fourth and fifth career World Series of Poker cashes, finishing 120th in the 2018 WSOP Event #37: $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em for $2,641 and 227th in Event #45: Big Blind Antes $1,000 No-Limit Hold’em for $1,549, Konnikova has become an official PokerStars Ambassador:
“I’m so excited to officially be joining PokerStars. I’ve worked really hard at learning the game but I never thought this would happen – it’s been an incredible experience. I’m very lucky to be offered this opportunity and I can’t wait to see what my future holds with PokerStars…I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to share my passion for poker with the world and, hopefully, bring many new players into the game.”
PokerStars there from the start
The Stars Group Vice President of Corporate Communications Eric Hollreiser told PokerStars Blog he saw something special from the start:
“I first met Maria in early 2017. It only took a few minutes to realize that she had caught the poker bug and was genuinely a student of the game. But it was when Maria told me that her working thesis is that Poker is a metaphor for life, that I told her on the spot that we would support her project in any way we can.
“I didn’t know – or frankly care – whether she would become a good enough player to turn pro. I knew from her past literary work that she’d be able to distill the essence of poker into life lessons in ways that would resonate with people. That was good enough for me. The fact that she’s now a competitive professional player is a testament to Maria and her work ethic. And it will also make her story even more compelling.”
Konnikova both surprised and committed to poker
Konnikova remains surprised by all the success she’s enjoyed so far:
“I don’t think it was possible to predict that I’d actually end up doing as well as I have and I still can’t quite believe it, to be honest. I keep thinking it’s some terrible mistake and that someone will tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘OK, the fun’s up.’ But it has inspired me to work even harder, to prove to myself that I can keep doing this and keep improving. I’m going to do everything I possibly can this year to raise my game to the highest level I possibly can.”
She added that a complete commitment to the game, her unique background, and a little luck have helped:
“I think it’s a combination of factors. First, I’ve completely immersed myself in poker. When I’m not playing, I’m studying–8, 9 hours a day. It’s an incredibly intense regime, but one that I determined was necessary if I had any shot of ramping up and improving in a short period of time. So, hard work is definitely a huge part of it.
“That, and the fact that I do have a different background from most players, in psychology and writing; I’ve tried to leverage that to poker to gain an edge at the table in situations where I don’t necessarily have the same level of experience as everyone else.
“And obviously, I’ve been lucky. You can’t discount that! I’ve been lucky in having access to some of the best poker minds in the world to help me–and I’ve been lucky at key times in a few important tournaments, enabling me to do well.”