Maria Konnikova: From Best-Selling Author To Best-Playing Poker Player

Written By Katie Callahan on January 16, 2018 - Last Updated on December 21, 2021
Stacks of paperback books on table

New York Times bestselling author and journalist Maria Konnikova definitely has something to write about after winning the $1,650 PCA National, snagging the first-place prize of $84,600.

“It feels really amazing. I’ve been working really, really hard and it feels so validating to achieve this,” Konnikova said in a release.

Konnikova is also taking home a Platinum Pass to the 2019 PokerStars Players No Limit Hold’em Championship, valued at $30,000.

While Konnikova started as second and was a short stack for a time, she outlasted 230 players, including Harrison Gimbel and Chris Moorman, to take the title. Her final opponent, Alexander Ziskin, faced her flush draw with an attempt to spike one of two undercards or face a gut shot. The river brought a king to end it all.

With a year of poker playing under her belt, Konnikova approached the game like a seasoned professional. The Harvard and Columbia graduate is not new to the scene of mind games though.

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Konnikova is on a mission of the mind

After hiring Erik Seidel to coach her in the ways of poker for her new book, Konnikova, a Russian with a Ph.D. in Psychology, took her own understanding of chance and control and redirected it to continue her inquiry into how the brain works.

Konnikova said this to PokerStars in 2017.

“Now the thing about poker — and this was kind of my ‘a-ha’ moment — is that you’re learning from experience and you’re sampling correctly. So over time, if you’re playing correctly and not just gambling, you’re actually figuring out how often chance comes into play. You’re absorbing this on a level where your brain can actually learn from it, because you’re learning from experience and not from someone telling you or reading a book.”

Konnikova has written for:

  • Scientific American
  • The New York Times
  • The Atlantic
  • The Paris Review
  • Times
  • The New Republic
  • Wall Street Journal
  • The New Yorker

Previously, she worked for Charlie Rose as a producer. She spoke at various events, including:

  • IdeaFestival
  • TEDx
  • SXSW
  • CSICon

While her inspiration has come from the likes of J.D. Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Vladimir Nabokov, Mikhail Bulgakov, and W.H. Auden, her journalistic writing is more in the modern vein of Malcolm Gladwell.

She produced two New York Times bestsellers. Her dominant writing topics follow her education: psychology, science, and now, poker.

Konnikova uses mental strategy to win

The two bestsellers under Konnikova’s belt both potentially proved useful in her poker exploits. The first, Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, reveals how humans can incorporate Sherlock Holmes into their own mindfulness, observation, and deduction. Konnikova takes the idea of mental storage and organization to develop strategies to strengthen perception and solve problems.

This book was nominated for the Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction, and was translated into 17 languages.

The second, The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It…Every Time, investigated the con and the best con artists of all time, drawing conclusions on what makes cons similar, why people believe con artists, and how others can manipulate sense of truth.

Konnikova’s game plan

Konnikova started with zero knowledge of poker. She plans to use her poker knowledge and skill to write about how people can become better at poker by learning to play it correctly, as well as learn to make better decisions and become smarter about life in various ways.

Konnikova treats poker like a job and it’s paid out so far. She had three cashes in Monaco, and three more at the WSOP last year. This latest cash is her best live cash to date. Her total live earnings bank out at almost $140,000.

Photo by Imfoto /

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Katie Callahan

Katie Callahan is a freelance journalist, blogger and copywriter who covers everything from poker, business, education and politics to construction, startups and cybersecurity.

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