Everyone loves a great story about a fish out of water who figures out how to survive with the big dogs. In this instance, Maria Konnikova was a quick learner. The award-winning author and journalist realized she didn't just have a knack for poker... she was exceptional at it. It was an undiscovered talent she never knew she had until she started researching a book about mastering a craft.
Last March, Maria Konnikova, a frequent contributor to high-brow lit rags like the New Yorker, announced she was taking a deep dive into the underworld of professional poker for a year and then would write a book about her experiences. Ah, and don't forget about the "apprenticed by a reclusive champion" trope! Hey no snark here. Any time you can get super-quiet, low-key Erik Seidel to open up about poker... it's a remarkable thing.
Deadspin said it best, "Writer picks up poker for book stunt, wins so much her book is on hold." In a brief time since she started playing, Maria Konnikova banked over $203K in tournaments. In short, Erik Seidel took Maria Konnikova under his wing and she's been crushing the tables ever since.
The convergence of high brow/low brow has been a huge attraction for the literati. There's no shortage of daring Upper East Side, Ivy League-educated intellectuals who relish in the opportunity to go slumming with degenerates, hustlers, sharks, and other miscreants in the gambling ecosystem.
English poet Al Alvarez was one of the first notable authors who shared his astute observations and experiences in the high-stakes poker world when he visited Las Vegas in 1981 to soak up the World Series of Poker. To this date, The Biggest Game in Town is the single-greatest book ever authored about poker.
Lit prof, author, and journalist James McManus rose to fame at the peak of the poker boom 15 years ago after he final tabled the WSOP Main Event in 2000 and parlayed his parallel experiences at the tables and in the court room following the Ted Binion murder trial in the sensational best-selling book Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker. If you like true crime, seedy old Vegas, and poker, then McManus' book is for you!
Vicky Coren Mitchell was a well-known journalist in the U.K. before she began sharing her experiences playing in posh London card rooms and running with several larger-than-life characters from the infamous Hendon Mob (**not a real mafia). Coren parlayed her success at the tables in a book deal and several high-trafficked columns. Not to mention a sponsorship deal with PokerStars after she became the first woman to win an event on the EPT in September 2006. In due time, Coren also made history when she became the first player to win two titles on the EPT after she binked the EPT10 San Remo in Italy in 2014. To date, Vicky Coren Mitchell earned $2.4 million in tournament winnings.
Now you can add Maria Konnikova's name to the growing list of scribes who slugged it out in the trenches and survived to write about. Konnikova won a side event at the triumphant return of the PCA in the Bahamas this past January. Not only did she win $86,400 by binking The National, but she also locked up a coveted Platinum Pass to the $25K PSPC at the 2019 PCA. Yup, she's going back to the Bahamas next year. I wonder how much more she'll win in that short time?
I picked up a copy of Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova after her run at the PCA. She's an exquisite writer and it was obvious that she had a special ability to explain high-end concepts in a succinct manner. Her ability to boil something complex down to its raw essence is what gives her a solid foundation to be a winning poker player. Throw in natural instincts, a little math, advanced game theory, and tutelage from one of the GOATs... and you have a perfect recipe for success.
I usually encourage people to avoid gambling as a profession, but in this instance as a fellow author struggling to get compensated for creative work, this is a rare incident when I'd advise Maria to keep playing poker! Ride the rush and maximize the freshness because poker can get stale and old real quick. It doesn't take a lot to wear someone down, especially on the road. Might as well let the tap flow until it slows to a trickle. After all, she can always return to writing. Then again, Maria Konnikova looks like the real deal, so it might be a while before she returns to her old life. I wonder if there will be anything resembling a publishing industry by then?
Listen to Maria Konnikova's story on the Poker Life Podcast with Joey Ingram...