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Maria Konnikova, Nate Silver Team Up For “Risky Business” Podcast

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Poker players are used to being put to a decision. It happens all the time, in every session, in every hand. So when best-selling author Maria Konnikova, and renowned political prognosticator Nate Silver got together for dinner in the East Village a year ago to decide on a project in which they could join forces, it didn’t take too long for the pair to land on a project involving the art of making optimal decisions themselves.

In short, that’s kind of how “Risky Business”, a new weekly podcast co-hosted by the poker-playing duo came to be. Described as a show about “making good decisions”, it has designs to bring mainstream audiences a look at life through the eyes of a poker player.

“It wasn’t ‘Risky Business’ from the start, we were just trying to figure out what would work,” Konnikova said. “Originally we’re just thinking it’s going to be a podcast about risk/gambling in some sort of capacity. So, yeah, over the last year, we’ve kind of talked about it and honed how we wanted to approach it.”

Having met through the world of New York City journalism, the pair have been friends for more than a decade, long before they find themselves in a similar place in the world of poker. For Konnikova, who has a Ph.D from Columbia University, her entry into poker was documented in the New York Times best-selling book “The Biggest Bluff” while Silver, the founder and former editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight, on the other hand, has been playing competitive poker for more than a decade including playing online after the Moneymaker boom. Today, they join forces as two high-profile professional personalities who also take the game of poker very seriously.

“I mean, I think Maria and I have a lot of very natural overlap,” Silver added. “I think we’re both kind of relatively sort of introverted people, probably on the introverted-extroverted boundary, but I think doing a podcast with a co-host and a friend gets you out of your own internal monologue a little bit, which I think is helpful.

“I hope that our real-life friendship carries over to the podcast. We’ll have to kind of experiment with the dynamic a little bit. I’ve never hosted before but Maria has, but yeah, I mean, the idea is that we have the right amount of overlap in the Venn diagram where a lot of things in common in terms of poker and risk and decision-making and things like that, but also different enough perspectives, different enough personalities. Maria, I think is a little bit more even keel, have a little bit more hot-tempered, and we can interview one another about subjects where one person might be more knowledgeable. So I think it’ll work. I hope it’ll work well.”

But make no mistake, while poker is destined to be a big part of their project this is not a “poker podcast” per se. “Risky Business” will use the duo’s experience and knowledge of both the game and their individual areas of expertise and apply it to a wide variety of topics, both big and small – whenever and whatever decision needs to be made. But with the World Series of Poker starting just two weeks after the launch of Risky Business, the pair agree – there’s going to be a good deal of poker content right from the start.

“I love poker. I consume a lot of poker media myself. I think translating poker to wider audiences is something that we’re going to have to work on pretty well,” Silver said. “Look, if there had been the Robbie/Garrett scandal when the next Robbie/Garrett scandal happens, we’ll want to cover that. And probably that’s the case where we would want to interview the principals and the people close to it and to try to translate it for people. We both have experience in writing books that are about poker and gambling and things like that that are intended for wide audiences. And so it’s like people have this fascination with poker. If you kind of bring up at a dinner party, oh, I’m going to the World Series of Poker later this month. People are very intrigued by that, but maybe have all these misconceptions about what poker is like. They’re like, do you count cards? No, it’s not even poker at all. What about tells is that important? But not quite as important as you might think. And so finding ways to bring that to a wider audience is part of our goal, I think.”

“And it’s also poker, not just as metaphor, but as a lens,” Konnikova said. “The mindset that you need to succeed at poker, using that as a decision-making framework that you can apply to evaluating and taking measured risks, calculating expected value, just trying to make better decisions outside of poker in life. So it’s more poker as an approach to life as opposed to ‘poker.’ So I would say this is absolutely not a poker podcast, but just both Nate and I are absolutely not full-time poker players, but we are both very serious and very much a part of the world.”

Part of the challenge for the pair may be having the rest of the world see the game of poker for how they view it, an intellectually challenging, skill-based game with elements of luck in which the best players make the best decisions the majority of the time. Coming from the larger professional world of media, it’s understood that not everyone is going to take what they say about poker and how to integrate it into daily life as gospel.

“There are lots of people who get it and they’re like, ‘Oh my God, this is amazing’,” Konnikova said. “And then there are some people who, to this day, even though I wrote a bestselling book…I don’t know how I can drive home the fact that poker is a skill game. And I still get messages all the time about how I let my career go down the drain and what a disappointment I am that I’ve made a devil’s bargain and that now all I care about is money. I’m like, whoa, whoa, whoa. Do you know tournament poker? Did you realize that if all I cared about was money, this was not a good way to go?

“I feel incredibly strongly that poker is a very big net positive for society in terms of thinking, helping people become better decision makers. And I will continue to shout from the rooftops that it is a skill game and those skills are so incredibly valuable. So I hope that our other backgrounds and the other things that we bring to it will help for the audience – for the naysayers – will help them see the light a little bit and help them be a little bit more open-minded. That said, I think there are some people like my grandmother whose mind can never be changed.”

“I think being a poker player is more honorable than being a political pundit or something like that…” Nate added.

The “Risky Business” podcast will be available weekly, every Thursday starting on May 16th.

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