Poker Teaches

Poker Teaches

>>ALLEN: Hi everybody. I’m sorry we didn’t
get a larger room. We really didn’t know that
we’d have such a great crowd. But, thank you
very much for coming. I’m Peter Allen and
I’m the director of Google University and
I’m honored to invite today–introduce Charles
Nesson, a professor at Harvard Law School,
the founder of the Berkman Center for Internet
and Society, which focuses on the legal study
of cyberspace, has many great legal credentials
which I’m going to skip over. I will mention
that he’s a graduate of both Harvard College
and a summa cum laude graduate of Harvard
Law School, where he’s been a member of the
faculty since 1966. He is also a founder of
the Global Poker Strategic Thinking Society
which focuses on developing an academic curriculum
that uses poker as a teaching tool. Charlie
has been an active player in some of the most
high stakes episodes in recent legal history.
Among his many accomplishments, he hit the
jackpot litigating the case White v. Crook
which made race and gender-based jury selection
in Alabama unconstitutional, and defending
Daniel Ellsberg in the Pentagon Papers case.
I’m as happy to welcome him here as if I drew
an ace high flush on the river, Charles Nesson,
Andrew Woods, Poker Teaches.
>>NESSON: Thank you very much Peter. So,
I’m a child of the 60s who smoked too much
grass back then and really never stopped and–I
got into this poker stuff on a sabbatical
at one point, in 1980, when I ordered an IBM
PC and waited for it to be delivered and I
had learned Pascal thinking that I would do
some programming. And when it came, of course,
it didn’t have Pascal. That turned out to
be vaporware. But, it did come with Basic
and I wound up programming five-card draw
jacks or better poker in basic. And found
myself fascinated with the bluffing algorithm.
It’s like my major in math in college was
mathematics and I’d had the experience of
programming on UNIVAC I when I was an undergraduate,
and then to be able to actually write a program
that played reasonable five-card draw jacks
or better was just an amazing thing to me.
I get into the internet really 1994 in my
law class, I teach a class called Evidence,
which is like an amphitheater, Harvard Law
School class about how you proved the truth
in court, and was blessed with a small grant
that let me get a bunch of computers into
the classroom. I rented 20 Quadra machines
and formed my students into groups of eight
and had them work on these machines to do
projects and–then we brought them into the
classroom and actually networked them all
together and it was–it was our first learning
network experience. And the idea of combining
an interest in poker which to me is like a
fascination as game theory, a strategic game,
Poker is the quintessential strategic game.
And if you–if you’re into thinking of games
as languages for, perhaps, more complicated
things, that is simplifies forms that allow
you to think about more complicated subjects,
Poker as a strategic game is just surpassingly
eloquent. I want to introduce you to Andrew.
I met Andrew at a poker tournament held at
Harvard Law School. It was a charity tournament
done for the benefit of our public service
auction in which hundred plus students and
faculty all put up 20 bucks, played the tournament
through to a conclusion one winner no financial
prize, all money going to charity. And Andrew
was the son of a bitch who put me out of the
tournament. And we got started on this Global
Poker Strategic Thinking Society, which I’m
going to ask him to tell you about, the next
year when we weren’t allow to do that tournament
because our general council told us it was
illegal. And I got pissed. And the result
of that is we have in a sense started an enterprise,
one of the objectives–one of the objectives
of which is to legitimate poker as a genuine
educational enterprise. For me, I see it as
the basis of the distance, the scalable distance
education environment that I in the Berkman
Center hope to lead Harvard into. Poker to
me is just the most wonderful way to engage
young minds and expands people’s thoughts.
So, here I want to ask Andrew, Andrew come
forward and tell us about GPSTS.
>>WOODS: Well…
>>NESSON: Oh, you got a mic, good.
>>WOODS: The first thing I have to say is
it–it’s just as well that they cancelled
the poker tournament. I think it’s ashamed
they told us it was illegal. But, in the tournament
where I met Professor Nesson, I had no idea
he was a professor, I thought he was just
some crazy old guy sitting across from me
at a poker table. And there came a place where
he had pushed all in and I had a better hand.
And I asked him, I said, you know, and he
said, “I’m a professor.” And I said, “What
do you teach?” He said, “I teach Evidence.”
So, I said, “Well, I’m going to teach–I’m
going to take Evidence next year.” And I said,
“If I put you out of this tournament, if I
beat you, will you give me an A in your class?”
And he said sure. [INDISTINCT]
>>NESSON: Oh, I did?
>>WOODS: Oh believe me, because I made sure
to take your class. He gave me a B+, so, I
was a little frustrated by that. Yes, unbelievable,
>>Oral contract.
>>WOODS: So, after that, I took the opportunity
to have dinner with Professor Nesson with
a couple of other students and we started
talking poker, mostly because I was upset
that I hadn’t gotten my A. And when we were
talking about poker, we started talking about
the number of students that we knew at Harvard
Law School, that we’d run into–would play
poker quite seriously, who’d played a lot
of poker, and then, who had gone on and left
the poker [INDISTINCT] gone on to law school.
And had an–been incredibly successful at
the law school and in that experience. And
what we came to realize is that there’s this
incredible parallel between the type of thinking
that allows you to succeed at poker and the
type of thinking that allows you to succeed
in the law school environment, and by proxy
the legal environment. And we started talking
about what those skills were. And Professor
Nesson came up with the idea of, why don’t
we get together some great poker players and
let’s get together some great academics and
some very intelligent people and put them
in a room. And so, in April 24th, I believed
it was, of this year, we convene a meeting
at Harvard Law School and we had Howard Lederer,
and Annie Duke, and Andy Bloch in attendance
to represent the professional poker players.
We had the executive director, at that time,
of the Poker Players Alliance there. We had
the head of Harvard’s Division on Addictions.
We had–a very important consideration.
>>NESSON: Yeah, you bet.
>>WOODS: We had a signaling expert from MIT
there, to discuss the ways in which the human
face can give away information. And we convened
these people among–with an artificial intelligence
program and some other individuals to study
poker. And after a daylong session, what we
came out of it was that, there’s this incredible
need and this incredible thirst to investigate
this very useful and very interesting game.
From that conference was born this idea of,
why don’t we get together students all over
the place and give them an opportunity to
learn from this, to study the game, to have
some fun talking about it and exploring the
various ways. And I said, “Great professor.
We’ll start poker clubs everywhere.” And he
said, “Great.” He’s like, “But they shouldn’t
be poker clubs because poker’s only a tool.
It’s like a carpenter with a hammer. You don’t
call it ‘hammery’, you call it carpentry.
And so, we should call it something else than
a poker club. We should call it a Poker Thinking
Club. It’s about thinking and–but it’s strategic,
it’s a strategic game.” So I said, “Okay,
the Poker Strategic Thinking Club.” He said,
“No, no, no. It’s a society.” I said, “A society?
Oh, okay, whatever.” And he said, “But it’s–we’re
everywhere. This poker thing, it cuts across
all boundaries of race, and religion, and
nationalism, and every one loves it, and gender.
People love to play poker. It should be global,
the Global Poker Strategic Thinking Society.”
I said, “That’s a horrible name.” And he said,
“Well, I already ordered the stationery, so
we’re stuck with that.” So, we have this great
concise name, the Global Poker Strategic Thinking
Society, which I think focuses exactly on
what we’re doing. And the goals of our organization
are these; we have four basic tenets. The
first one is to start and encourage the development
of clubs and chapters at universities around
the country and around the world. We’ve had
an extraordinary amount of interest. We launched
on August 22nd in Singapore. Since then, we’ve
either have registered a student group, we’re
developing 18 to 20 groups around the country,
another 4 or 5 in Singapore, and in Iceland,
in the UK. We’ve had interest everywhere.
And we’re continuing to develop that. We’re
developing a speaker series, an educational
curriculum, bringing in speakers to talk about
issues surrounding poker, to talk about how
poker communicates life skills. We had Howard
Lederer come to Harvard and talk. We’re sponsoring
Annie Duke at UCLA on Friday [INDISTINCT]
I guess that’s tomorrow. She’s talking about
gender roles and psychology. We had Mike Sexton
in to talk, and Jim McManus, an author, all
talking about the ways in which poker communicates
skill that have allowed them to succeed in
a poker table, but also communicate skills
that allow you to succeed in the larger world.
We’ve also convened conferences, we had an
academic conference last year and we’re going
to do another one in the Spring, probably
here at Stanford. And the idea being that
let’s call some academic attention to these
games. And the fourth thing we’re doing is
just providing students a place to have some
fun, play in amateur poker exhibitions, playing
games where schools take on schools. Harvard
played Yale last week, UCLA is playing USC
tomorrow. Next year we’ll have Stanford playing
Cal in their version of the big game. And
the idea being that these games are fun and
is a great opportunity for people to explore
the types of strategic thought that are in
poker, while being able to have some fun and
engage in a game that can really engage students
in learning and continuing to develop types
of thinking. So, that’s basically what the
GPSTS has done so far and kind of where we’re
moving going forward.
>>NESSON: But let me focus on the thinking
part. In my class to my students, I don’t
start with poker. I start with the idea of
what truth is in a rhetorical environment,
how two-sided it is, how there’s always two-sides
to a story, and how important it is in trying
to persuade someone else that you’re capable
of seeing their story from their point of
view and articulating that to them so that
they understand that you understand their
problem. It’s only at that point that they
start listening to you. Before that they’re
just tuning you out. And I use poker as a
way of focusing this thought of seeing from
another’s point of view. But first I start
with a riddle that I would love to give to
you and see how you do with it. So, here’s
the riddle; once upon a time, a queen lived
in a kingdom that she ruled with an iron hand.
You are supposed to laugh when the queen lives
in the kingdom. She had a son that she wanted
to marry the most intelligent, perceptive,
woman in the kingdom. So, she gathered all
the eligible women together and gave them
the Law School Aptitude Test.
>>WOODS: [INDISTINCT] lawyers.
>>NESSON: And three of them scored perfectly.
So, she had to choose from amongst these three.
She brought them to the palace and sat them
around a round table and gave them the following
instructions, “I’m about to blindfold you.
Once you’re blind folded, I’m going to put
a hat on your head, a small little hat, so
that you won’t be able to see the hat on your
own head, but when you open your eyes with
the blindfolds off, you will see the hats
on the heads of the other two. Now here’s
what you must do, when the blindfold is taken
off, I’m telling you in advance, I am going
to place on your hat–your head either a red
hat or a white hat. When your blindfold is
taken off, if you see one or two red hats,
you’re to raise your hand.” All right, now
do we understand the set-up? The blindfold
is going to come off, I’m not going to be
able to know what colors the head–on my hat,
it’s either red or white. If I see one red
hat, I raise my hand or if I see two red hats
I raise my hand. And the queen says, “The
first of you that can tell me the color of
the hat on your head, take your hand down
and stand up and marry my son, explain why.”
She then put red hats on each of the three.
And then took off the blindfolds and immediately,
of course, seeing two red hats each. Each
of them raised their hand. And they sat at
the table looking at each other for five seconds,
ten seconds, fifteen seconds, and then one
young woman took down her hand, stood up and
said. “I have a red hat on my head,” and she
explained why. How did she know? Put your
hands up when you get the riddle, I just want
to just see how fast it happens here. So,
let me say about poker, as you’re letting
this noodle in your heads, the point in poker
where you become a poker player is the point
at which you look up from you own hand. When
people start learning poker, their first pre-occupation
is their own cards. Is it–if I got a straight
or a flush, or does two pair beat up one pair,
what is the–all these things. They look–they’re
like this. The point at which you start to
play poker is the point at which you are more
interested in what is happening around you.
You’ve got time, wait, you can look at your
hand just about anytime. That point where
you start to look and see what’s happening
in the environment and as the game unfolds,
you start to see how the others at the table
are seeing you, that’s when the poker game
really starts. So, how many hands up with
the red hats? Who’s going to explain it to
us? Stand up over here, loud and clear.
>>Come on. It’s kind of…
>>[INDISTINCT] sitting down. It’s–each of
them have to–each of them have to assume
that the other ones are perfect logicians.
Also, if there’s only one red hat then one
person will have their hand down, and two
persons–people will have their hand up and
they’ll be able to figure it out. I know if
there’s two…
>>NESSON: If there was only one red hat,
one person would have their hand down…
>>If–it’s the…
>>NESSON: …and two people would have their
hands up because two people would see the
one red hat.
>>Right. Right.
>>NESSON: And that’s not the case with these
three people.
>>So that’s not–so…
>>NESSON: So we know there’s not one red
hat, but of course I knew that, I’m looking
at two red hats right there.
>>Right. I have it in my head I can’t give
it–I know what’s going on, it’s kind of…
>>NESSON: It’s not–this is what my mother
taught me as a young lawyer.
>>But don’t…
>>NESSON: Oop, oop, oop. She said, Charlie,
it’s not what you think of going home in the
cab that counts.
>>Each one knows that the other ones will
have figured it out too, and since the other
ones haven’t figure it out, they’ve gained
information from the fact that the other people
haven’t figured it out.
>>NESSON: Now you’re talking, now you’re
>>NESSON: But who can talk better? Who can–go
for it.
>>I actually have a different solution.
>>NESSON: [INDISTINCT] so they all see you.
>>I have a different solution. All you have
to do is say, for this test to be fair, we
all have to have the same color of hat. And
since I see red hats, mine’s red too.
>>NESSON: You’re–you’re–you’re absolutely
right, that’s not the right answer.
>>If she had a white hat, then other two
participants would have figured that their
hat are red because everybody–like everyone
else sitting raised their hands. So, they’re
already seeing some red hat, and now if I
have white hat and this guy’s raising hand,
that means they both are–they both are raising
hands. And nobody’s standing up, that means
they are confused as well. See what I mean?
>>NESSON: You’ve confused me.
>>Okay, I repeat.
>>WOODS: I think his point [INDISTINCT]
>>If I had–if we three are playing. I have
white hat, you two have red hats. And if we–all
three are raising our hands, that means I’m
sure he’s seeing your hat, he’s seeing your
hat, but you both–you both are kind of–you
both are not standing up, that means you are
also confused that who–why you are not standing
up. And since you are not standing up, that
means I also have red hat because you are
>>NESSON: You got it? Did he explain it?
>>Yeah. Kind of.
>>NESSON: He did not.
>>WOODS: Yeah. Absolutely he did. He explained
it perfectly.
>>NESSON: He missed a [INDISTINCT] he missed
a [INDISTINCT] wait a second. One more, one
more. Okay. Good. Give it [INDISTINCT]
>>I think–I think there’s a–there we go.
I think there’s a base assumption that all
three people are approximately equivalently
smart. And…
>>NESSON: Yeah. they took the test.
>>They took the test and they passed it.
So, you can’t assume that somebody has not
figured it out. If they–if the facts are
plain, then everybody would have figured it
out, but that’s not the case which means that,
for example, if you are two are wearing red
hats and I’m wearing a white hat, and you
have raised your hand but you have not figured
it out yet, right? That means that I–that
you cannot possibly be wearing a white hat,
right, because you’re not wearing…
>>NESSON: So you’ve got a white hat?
>>No, no, right. Because you know–you know
that you’re not wearing a white hat, because
if you were wearing a white hat, I wouldn’t
be raising my hand. Right?
>>WOODS: You can raise your hand if you saw
my hat.
>>No, no…
>>No, no, no. That’s right.
>>That’s right.
>>NESSON: Pass the microphone [INDISTINCT]
>>So, it–he pretty much nailed it except
for the last part, which is if, if there were
indeed two white hats, he would have seen
two white hats since if I’m wearing a white
hat and both of you are raising your hands,
Andrew would see two white hats, and he would
not have raised his hand. The fact that he’s
raised his hand and equivalently you have
raised your hand, therefore, there’s got to
be, at least, two red. Does that make sense?
>>NESSON: [INDISTINCT] I tell you, there
are, at least, two red hats.
>>Well, I know…
>>NESSON: Everyone sees two red hats. [INDISTINCT]
>>Well, I’m trying to prove that there aren’t
two whites, and if I can prove that then…
>>it’s already a given, I mean, you see two
red hats.
>>No, from the perspective of these guys…
>>NESSON: [INDISTINCT] the two of them are
not white.
>>Well, from the perspective of the two of
you. If you see two whites, you would not
raise your hand, is that correct?
>>We know they don’t see two whites, [INDISTINCT]
>>And–and you’d–right, and the only reason
both of you are doing it is because there
is an additional red that you see.
>>WOODS: So, if I’m–let’s say, I’m raising
my hand right…
>>NESSON: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. No
>>WOODS: I just want to ask a question.
>>NESSON: There’s a guy back there, he knows,
he knows.
>>If I see a…
>>NESSON: Wait a minute, you’ve had your
>>WOODS: It’s very strict around here.
>>So, there’s only two possibilities, right?
I either have a red hat or a white hat. So,
if I have a white hat, this means that you
will see a white hat and a red hat. And he
will see a white hat and a red had also. So,
which means that you must–you will figure
out you have a red hat.
>>NESSON: How?
>>Because you would know that I have a white
hat and you have a red because he’ll see the
red hat. But you also raised your hand, so
he must have a red hat.
>>WOODS: So, hypothetically you’re describing…
>>WOODS: Charlie and I both have red hats
on and you have a white hat on, is that correct?
>>Right, right. Because there’s only two
possibilities, you have a white or a red,
>>WOODS: So, in that case, then one of us
would figure it out, is that what you’re saying?
>>That’s right because you would know that–because
you will see a red and a white. Ands therefore,
since I raised my hand you must have a red.
No, sorry, sorry. I’m confusing myself.
>>WOODS: Red hat, red hat, white hat.
>>Right. So you see a white and a red and–hold
on. I had it just a second ago. I just–I
just confused myself…
>>NESSON: [INDISTINCT] here you are–here
you are, you said, suppose you have a white
hat on your head.
>>NESSON: And you see Andrew with his hand
>>And your hand up.
>>NESSON: And my hand is up.
>>He will figure out…
>>NESSON: And then you’re thinking Andrew
is just as smart as you.
>>NESSON: And there he’s looking at you with
the white hat on your head and me with my
hand up. What am I seeing? I must be seeing
the red hat…
>>see red–that’s right.
>>NESSON: …on his head.
>>That’s right.
>>NESSON: If you have a white ones on yours.
>>That’s right.
>>NESSON: And therefore, you don’t have a
white one on yours.
>>That’s right. That’s right.
>>What if [INDISTINCT]
>>WOODS: They were beheaded. [INDISTINCT]
to some extent though, what you’ve just describe
is the step that poker players have to take
in order to be successful. Is that what the
point which he realized it, is what hat you’re
wearing is completely irrelevant, it only
matters what your opponent sees. If they had
seen a white hat on you and a red hat, then
they would have figured it out and you would
have lost already. The fact that they’re confused
means that you must be wearing–that everyone
must be wearing a red hat. Because the rules
of the game worked with everyone’s hand in
the air if all three are red or if there’s
two reds and a white. So, all the information
you have is that you know there’s at least
two reds out there. If there was one more
white hat then one of your opponents would
have figured it out, and you would have already
lost. So, in this case, it’s a case of stop
trying to figure out what you can’t see, you
know you can see two red hats. Start trying
to figure out what your opponent must be seeing
in order for them to act the way they are.
This is the very same thing that happens in
a poker game. What you have, the strength
of your hand is only relevant in terms of
the strength of your opponent’s hands. Your
position, whether you have a pair of aces
in a poker hand and then it comes out that
there’s four cards to a flush and you don’t
have the fifth card to that flush, suddenly
your aces aren’t as strong as they were. In
real world situations, in a case where you
may think you starting in a strong position,
or you may think that your position is strong
because of the own merits that you assigned
your hand, it’s only worth as much as the
opposing parties think it is. The flexibility
of thought, and being able to see your own
self from the perspective of others, be able
to assess your position unemotionally and
from a perspective that your opponent see
it, is a key element in developing business
skills, legal skills, litigation type skills,
negotiation, all of those components in a
personal relation, etcetera, etcetera. All
of those components are based on the ability
to understand how you’re perceived and be
able to understand what the other parties
in any transaction are thinking.
>>NESSON: So, let me say why I think that
this should be exciting to Google. The part
of this that’s exciting to me is the prospect
of poker as a driver for open education. That
to me is a tremendous goal that’s still in
front of us. As a teacher I know that the
key to scalability is solving the problem–it’s
like any good–any good trick, it’s got two
sleights. You have to put something out that’s
really engaging, and poker is certainly that.
But you then also have to be able to aggregate
response coming back to you from a mass audience
in a way that allows you to respond to it
and create the loop that is involved in a
teacher sending out a stimulus message, stimulating
a response and then the teacher responding
to it. And so, working through the Berkman
Center largely, we’ve been working to–really
trying to figure out the distance education
problem and working with tools to try and
aggregate response coming back so that a teacher
can actually deal with it. So, to me, poker
has the following amazing quality; it’s got
huge appeal, it’s a magnificent game, it’s
the quintessential strategic game. It’s the
first game–it’s the game on which von Neumann
focused when he wrote his original game theory
papers. It’s strategic–let’s–let’s get the
taxonomy straight. There are games of chance;
those are games that you cannot loose purposely.
Those are games where there is nothing strategic
on the other side. You’re playing solitaire
or you’re playing roulette or playing something
of that order. There can be some skill in
a game of chance–in learning the best odds
against whatever is offered to you. That’s
possible. There are some games of chance which
have no skill whatsoever like the slots. And
okay that–those are the kinds of games that
have been–those have caused difference over
the years, as to whether those are good things
or bad things, edicts against playing lotteries.
Lotteries are on one view a way in which hope
is sold to poor people at bad odds and therefore
is exploiting and you can have a position
against it. From another point of view, lottery
is selling amazing products to poor people,
namely hope which nobody else is offering
them. So, it’s a pretty damn good product
from another point of view. None the less,
you get into games of skill, and there are
two kinds of skill games that we’re talking
about. Poker is the quintessential strategic
game in which winning the game depends upon
evaluating an opponent’s play and anticipating
it, that’s the key to it. And that’s a key
to so much in the life of lawyers and so–all
the way through life. That here’s this–this
wonderful quintessentially American game that
through Internet has been extended across
the world in a development that has huge muscle
in it. There’s as almost as much muscle in
poker as there is in pornography as a spreader
of Internet. And yet here is an environment
that generates money. So, from my educator’s
point of view, I am looking for business models
that will support the development of the open
net. I’m looking for business models that
will support open education. And I can see
a potential unity of interest with Google.
I think I see it in that–it is to Google’s
advantage if there is a vibrant, explosive,
educational, searchable environment on the
net. If you think of Harvard education coming
up on the net, its videos now with technology–I
was just reading about from MIT searchable–word
searchable through audio recognition software
so that you can search a video and get right
to the words, the part of the lecture where
the teacher speaks. If you imagine the wealth
of university education available open on
the net, it’s good for the search business,
I would think because people like to search.
And so, I’m–I’m looking for ways of interesting
Google in what we’re doing. I would love to
do some kind of–I don’t know whether you
do them, kind of–some forms of conference
where we actually talk strategy of longer
level and we teach poker and do a poker tournament
or something of that variety that would be
a kind of a corporate learning enterprise,
kind of focusing on the core idea. And I’m
sure that if you put your minds to where you
would see any number of other ways in which
a linking of Google with a Harvard-based enterprise
educational game-based driving internet would
be a plus. It–there’s the additional interest
from my point view of poker being the most
wonderful law subject. It–poker is interesting
from a lawyer’s point of view at every level,
from the institutional level of my school,
how does my school feel about having a Global
Poker Strategic Thinking Society and what
constrains are put on it. To my town, Cambridge,
which has a commissioner that wants to get
a license for me to play charity poker, to
my state which calls poker a lottery and a
game of chance, to my national government
which discriminates against online poker to
a point where the World Trade Organization
has now held us up for contempt and obloquy.
And to international law, it’s now–we’re
now–we’re now out of step with the rest of
the world in terms of online gaming. America
which should be the source–I mean, thinking
in diplomatic terms, poker quintessentially
American, excitement around the world about
it. The world wanting to play and yet it’s
illegal in the United States. The United States
is try to repress it. It’s just seems so strange
to me. So, poker has this extremely interesting
quality to it, of interest at every level.
And as a teacher I–it just has been a God
sent to me, it’s lit the last part of my career
up and I hope we can really put it across.
So, at this point, I would love to open up
for questions and just spend the rest of the
time with–back and forth. Andrew?
>>WOODS: In any event when–when you talk
about education, you talk about poker. Poker
has the unique ability of engaging people
and developing thought in a way that’s really
fun, which is something that at times is missing
from a regular education. I mean when I learned–when
I took my math classes, they weren’t always
as dynamic or as fun to me as some of my other
classes or my “not classes” as I called my
time when I wasn’t in school. But the key
of it is, is that poker teaches a flexibility
of thought. It teaches skills that are very
useful. Poker is realty, when you think about
it, the natural evolution of sport. Sport
began–you know when we want–we had skills
we wanted to encourage youth to develop it,
when we had skills that we wanted to maintain
in society. The Olympics were about the javelin
throw, about running, and about times when
we wanted to be able to develop the skill
[INDISTINCT] to throw a spear along ways,
and run really quickly, and throw a brick
a ways, and things like that. Now a days,
it’s not as useful to me to be able to throw
a spear a ways. I mean I very rarely go boar
hunting with a spear. I mean, that’s just
not something that I do. On the flipside,
it’s incredible useful to me to be able to
make good unemotional decisions that have
realistic considerations about numeracy and
probability and elements that are common to
a poker game, elements that I develop when
I have to be able to play poker. Be able to
really understand what my skill level is.
Be able to pick an arena to do battle in,
be able to understand when other players are
better that me, because I’m not that good
of a poker player, but I understand that.
So, I’m able to play at levels where I am
better than the players that I’m better at–or
that I’m playing with. And so, poker teaches
a development of what I call situation assessment
decision control. The ability to really understand
where you sit in a negotiation, whether it’s
at a poker table, if you take that to the
metaphysical level and you’re talking about
a negotiation, or if you’re talking about
international diplomacy and the interactions
between nations, understanding the rules of
the game and understanding the point of offer
and counteroffer or bet and raise. And more
than anything else, understanding when to
fold. What separates a good poker player from
a bad poker player is the use of the fold.
When is the situation too risky? when is the
return not going to be beneficial to you?
When is it the time to just say, “Look, it’s
dead money, cut my losses and run.” That skill
is something that I don’t see being taught
in traditional education the way that’s engaging
to students. And poker, by using a tool, a
game that’s so engaging, teaches resource
management. Teaches all these issue, risk
assessment, in a way that really engages students
and is something that I think–I’m sure most
of you have played poker once or twice or
>>NESSON: How many people play poker in this
room? Way to go.
>>WOODS: I mean…
>>NESSON: We had a question in the back there.
>>This is a little bit more [INDISTINCT]
philosophical question.
>>NESSON: Go for it.
>>I’m a big fan of poker, and I think one
of the things that makes it interesting [INDISTINCT]
that you can also teach [INDISTINCT]
>>NESSON: We should get you on the mic here.
>>Oh, sorry. One thing that makes it interesting
is things like risk preference and risk aversion,
but there you have to have real resources
at stake. And so, when you have real resources
at stake the whole of question of gambling
and the various kinds of ethical questions
that come up around gambling come up. And
so, I’m wondering from a philosophical standpoint
when you think about, you know, policy and
the United Stales sort of being behind the
rest of the world in this regard, I think
there’s a lot of ethical considerations in
there. How do you see overcoming some of those,
you know, preconceptions that the people have?
>>WOODS: There’s absolutely no question whatsoever
that compulsive gambling, gambling in of itself,
are issues that need to be dealt with in a–in
a way that makes sense, that need to be talked
about and need to be really discussed in a
common sense way. Right now what we do in
this country is we say things like poker,
craps, roulette, blackjack, those things are
bad forms of gambling. Putting your money
on the stock market is a responsible choice.
Let’s do–let’s fix social security, let’s
return the money to the people so that they
can invest it on their own on the stock market.
That’s a good decision, that’s something that
we recommend as a nation. And yet I don’t
necessarily know if most people have sufficient
levels of education to be able to engage the
market in a way that makes sense, or if they’re
taught that way. You talk about things like
addiction. Well, addiction’s an issue and
it should be dealt with. I would say that
there are statistics that prove or that suggest
that the levels of addiction in poker aren’t
nearly as high as they are in games of chance.
In games where there’s a big payout like the
lottery, or games like a roulette wheel, if
you put it on your double zero and it hits,
it pays 35 to 1. Poker is a fundamentally
different game because there’s no house, there’s
no big payoff you’re just playing against
another player. But that–the addiction question
remains. But there are addiction at all levels
of society. I mean Google–I’ve searched on
Google before, often times it sends me to or a similar thing like that. There
aren’t very many restrictions about how much
stuff I can ran up on my credit card bill.
I would say that the addiction to shopping,
addictions like that are things that we need
to deal with as a society. And right now,
we do a miserable job of approaching them
in any level of education. So, when you talk
about poker, yes addiction and gambling are
issues and they need to be dealt with. But
taking a tool like poker and throwing it to
the side because there’s a danger in it doesn’t
make such sense. It’s like asking a carpenter
to build a house without using a hammer because
he has the potential to hit his thumb with
this hammer.
>>I agree with you. I’m just wondering how’d
you do that?
>>WOODS: well, I mean, I think it has to
do with a couple of things…
>>NESSON: Well, let me–let me have a shot
at it.
>>WOODS: Go.
>>NESSON: The politics of poker are totally
fascinating at this point because there mixed
up with the politics of gambling more broadly.
And the politics of gambling more broadly
is mixed up with a bunch of other stuff. So,
the big drivers as far as poker is concern
has clearly been the television success of
the tournament poker play which has brought
home to millions of Americans the picture
of poker [INDISTINCT] a fairly benign thing.
You don’t–you know–as you’re watching those
television things you may be bored but you
don’t have the feeling that you’re watching
evil. It just–you don’t come away with a
moral twist in your stomach like you’ve just
been watching something bad. And so, I think
that a tremendous change has taken place in
the public from the game having the image
that came out of the early days. Poker–poker
comes out of a gambling background no doubt
about it. And a fascinating one, that migrates
with–Texas Hold ’em migrates from Texas to
Las Vegas, is connected with the Casinos and
organized crime, is prosecuted out of the
justice department as part of the overall
gambling spectrum of–you know culture that’s
there. But poker goes through a transition
in the public mind, at least I think it’s
still in process, stimulated heavily by this
huge success of television and the huge success
of online poker, all right. People who play–you
know two penny, five penny poker on their
laptops in there bedroom, it’s hard to convince
them that they’re doing something evil. It
just doesn’t–it just doesn’t feel it. On
the other hand, politically, separating poker
from any other kind of gambling, runs up against
strong libertarian arguments. The basic libertarian
argument is, I can do any damn thing I want.
Whether it’s poker, or a game of chance, or
pornography, or any other thing you can do
in your house. Including a lot of physical
things that the Supreme Court now says I can
do in my house if I want. So the problem of
articulating the subject at a higher level
of sophistication then has been the case in
the past, is to me the political problem of
putting it across. You know, it’s like–you
used to just be able to say gambling and all
right the right wing will turn out against
it. But boy when you look at that now the
churches run bingo, when you look at the bingo
stuff in the churches it looks pretty much
like a casino when they’re running it. And
the states are running lotteries, like 40
states running lotteries and what state that
isn’t doing casino isn’t thinking about doing
it because why do we let the Indians make
the money and all that sort of things. So,
I think we’re in a very dynamic time and I
think that poker potentially can be one of
those things where you go from having your
first thought about it being gambling, bad,
evil, negative reaction, politicians don’t
want to be associated with it, to a much more
positive image. I was very pleased when Obama
came out as a poker player, you know, it’s
like okay, it’s okay to be a poker player.
Of course, our presidents have been poker
players and I mean it’s amazing when you actually
look at the history of the game. Yes?
>>Question here. So, when I was a kid–well,
when I was younger, I used to play five card
studs, seven card studs, a five card draw,
a five stud high-low with a one card draw
at the end, and so forth. Now a days, poker
is virtually synonymous with Texas Hold ’em.
So, I want to know–I’m actually ignorant
in these matters. Why did this happen? How
did it happen? And is it a good thing or a
bad thing?
>>WOODS: It happened for two reasons. The
first of which is probably the more important
one, is television. Texas Hold ’em is the–in
one sense, the simplest form of poker, two
cards down, five cards up. You can teach it
in–you know, what do they say, it takes a
minute to learn, a lifetime to master? It’s
something that can be taught and is very easy
for people to understand. So, for television
reasons, it works well. From a poker players
perspective Texas Hold ’em is the ideal game
because you get four opportunities to influence
the action. And a poker game for those of
you who may not know this, and in Texas Hold
’em, at least, there’s pre flop action, flop,
turn, river. Each time, there’s a round of
betting. So, in terms of poker much more than
a five card draw or some of the stud games,
you have four opportunities for skill to rise
to the–rise to the top because in poker the
skills is in the betting, pricing your hand
appropriately. How do you price your hand
at the appropriate level to induce the opposing
party to do what you want them to do? How
do you price it in an appropriate level to
get them to buy or how do price it in an appropriate
level to get them to fold? And so, if you
have opportunities to do that in Texas Hold
’em, so it’s a better game for that purposes,
>>So, in your example you gave–in the puzzle
you gave, you kind of assumed that I’m playing
poker against people who are roughly of the
same intelligence as I am and who roughly
think the same way I am. And this is clearly
not the case. I will be playing against some
people who are dumber or some people who are
smarter, some people who have completely different
ways. How does your strategy work with–I’m
not working with logicians, I’m not working
with people that I know how they’re going
to view my cards?
>>WOODS: Well, I would say that there’s a
couple of different points on that. The first
one of which is the riddle is designed to
demonstrate a type of thinking or a concept
that’s integral to any poker success. The
second thing I would say is that often times
how players act, something we call table image,
your reputation as it were. And you can trade
on that, the same way you can trade on any
commodity. So, how we–how the–the perception
you develop of your opposing players, that
they’re smarter than you, that they’re dumber
than you, is something that affects how you
act. This is exactly why poker is such a good
game for teaching strategic thought because
just like this in a market situation–in any
situation, you’re going to be dealing with
opposing parties, some of whom are better
than you, some of who are worst than you,
which will affect which markets you choose
to enter. Which will affect what–how you
interact with these people. And the way that
reputation develops is a very interesting
thing, and it’s something that poker players
often try to cultivate, very specific reputations.
They want to be able what’s called a tight-aggressive
player. Maybe I don’t play very many hands
but when I play I’m going to get you to pay
me a lot or something, which is meant, in
part, to scare people away from hands that
you don’t want them to be on. But all these
reputational facts are skills and strategies
that develop at the able precisely because
there are various types of play and various
types of people. And this is one of the reasons
why poker is so good at modeling some of the
other interactions that you want to develop.
>>NESSON: In law, there is the image, for
example, of the country lawyer. I’m just a
country lawyer. It’s like, watch out when
somebody tells you they’re just a country
lawyer, right? There must be something similar
in engineering, that is the presentation of
a low key posture on the part of someone who
is in fact deeply sophisticated and is about
to clean you clock in some fashion or is engineering
not competitive in that–in that way?
>>Well, when somebody’s [INDISTINCT], right?
>>I mean…
>>Because Google’s interface is so simple
and it’s very forward but I think a lot of
people don’t understand the underlying complexity
>>WOODS: Look around the room. I mean, as
a corporate, Google’s probably one of the
most important corporations in the world,
in terms of corporate prestige and the influence
it’s had. The dress code here is slightly
more lax than most Fortune 500 companies.
I’ve only walked around here for a couple
of minutes, and I’ve been to several, like,
law firms and things like that, very rarely
do they have an organic garden in the middle
of the office. And it’s a very different perception.
But why? Why does Google make those decisions?
Why are you trying to project that image?
What are you doing in terms of, from a management
level, retaining employees and keeping employment
happiness high? What are you doing in terms
of a competitor’s thing, and as your competitors
or your business partners come here? What
are you trying to project to your business
partner who come here for a meeting? Walks
around and sees kids zooming around on scooters.
I mean, I think the average age here is like
14. I don’t know how young the people are
who work here. But–I mean, you know, what
are you trying to project? I mean, it seems
to me that it’s, “Look, our results speak
for ourselves. You can take us–you know,
we’re incredibly smart people. We don’t have
to dress up to impress you.” I mean I’m, you
know, one of the only people here wearing
a suit. So, I mean, I’m trying to impress
people. But…
>>WOODS: Are you going to tell me?
>>That’s bad.
>>Hey. You said one thing I’m–a minor point,
but curious about it. You said your charity
poker tournament was declared illegal. Now,
I come to live in Massachusetts for a number
of years, so I know one other factoid. So,
my question is, why is playing backgammon
for money legal but playing poker isn’t?
>>WOODS: We actually–we over simplifies
a tad. It wasn’t that it was exactly illegal.
What happened was the Massachusetts State
Attorney General release an opinion letter
that said that for their considerations, they
thought poker was a lottery which gave the
local municipalities the authority to decide
how they wanted to deal with it. Cambridge
took the most conservative stance which required
any 501(c)(3) or any none profit organization
to apply for and get a permit before they
are able to hold a charity poker tournament,
in this case. So, we couldn’t hold it without
going and getting a permit. So, it was illegal
to hold the tournament without getting a permit.
A Permit is difficult to get. It’s a big pain
in the butt.
>>Okay. I was making assumptions.
>>WOODS: So, yeah. So…
>>NESSON: And I was really discouraged when
I went down to the commissioner and asked
him about getting a permit and he told me
that Harvard was not a 501(c)(3). It’s not
a charity. Harvard is non-charity. Yes, pass
>>So, you say that you want students to learn
like the strategy and the things behind poker.
There is also a mathematical sides say–say
kids in–in high school, you know, the odds
of some–you hitting a certain hand or something
like that. How would you see–I guess the
government reacting to teaching high schoolers
how to play poker when it’s illegal? I mean,
we teach kids how to drive before they’re
16 but that’s illegal to drive before you’re
>>WOODS: It’s a couple of different things.
First of all, poker is not really illegal.
It’s restricted in…
>>Right, right.
>>WOODS: …some places. It’s not illegal
anywhere. In California, I mean, Bay 101 is
like three blocks from here.
>>WOODS: Some of you may have been there.
But the point is, is that like, when it comes
down to…
>>NESSON: Nervous laughter.
>>WOODS: When you talk about teaching poker,
it’s always going to be a political sensitive
issue. Right now poker is still essential
being chastised for the neighborhood it grew
up in. Poker came out of Vegas, came out of
the wild west, came out of, you know, hustlers
and card [INDISTINCT] and all these stuff.
And that’s–that’s still kind of hanging over
the game. So, it’s going to be political sensitive.
But the more you unpack the game, the more
you see there’s really nothing morally objectionable.
It’s no more morally objectionable playing
poker than it is to playing chess. And I think
that carries over. When I say things now like
poker is really much closer to chess than
it is to craps, that resonates to people.
People say, “Okay, that makes sense to me.”
And so, I think that that perception is changing.
All it’s going to take is school districts
being comfortable with it, and parents being
comfortable, and teachers being comfortable
introducing this game which can really interest
students in concepts of numeracy and things
like that.
>>NESSON: So, let’s make it the last one.
Pass it back–pass it back here. We’re right
up to 2 o’clock here.
>>So, a couple of things that this reminded
of. Do you [INDISTINCT] that Aaron Brown’s
the poker face of Wall Street?
>>WOODS: I–I’m familiar with the book. Yes.
>>Because the–one of the things he said
in it–because you were saying that poker
comes from this dodgy background. But what
he says in there was that poker was the original
venture-capital environment because people
would be able to go into there and come out
with money and start a business. And it was
a way of, you know, shuffling money around
in the community, literally it was. That’s
one of his key points in the book. So, you
just–I want to make sure that you get him
to speak of this in your next because he’s
>>WOODS: Yeah. I actually haven’t read his
book yet. I’ve picked it up in Barnes & Noble
the other day and I made note on my PDA to
go find him.
>>Yup. Track him down. And The other person
is Jane McGonigal, who I think, Charlie, you’ve
met before, who’s a–she does lots of work
on game design and development. And she’s
the person who’s responsible for getting everyone
at Techrons is playing Werewolf, which is
like–I don’t know if you know Werewolf, but
it’s like poker without any odds at all, it’s
just pure bluffing. And that–she’d be a great
person to talk about this because that–she
can guide you to other games that may be you
more acceptable to people that you can stage
into poker.
>>WOODS: Very interesting points. I mean,
we’ll certainly look them up.
>>NESSON: Thank you all very much for coming.

22 thoughts on “Poker Teaches”

  1. Poker can teach you a lot.
    Play online big or small tournament with free money
    and you don't risk a dime, but you can learn very much.
    A table poker is the place where you can learn from
    your errors and change your behaviour. Guarantee!
    This will help you in real life as well
    to stay alive on the long run!

  2. Poker for free, in my oppinion, can not teach you as much as poker for _your_ money. Because there is no risk involved in the loss. I believe that it is this risk that helps us and tries to keep us from making mistakes at a poker table. There are other factors aswell, but risk in loss of money brings poker to a state of being serious.

    And it is in no way Guaranteed. Believe me! Thats why good players win money in the long run 😉

  3. To clarify:

    By in no way it is being guaranteed, i mean that there is in no way implied that you will learn anything for playing poker. You may, if you want to.

  4. the whole red and white hat thing.
    I knew that before they did and i attend a a com college and they are harvard?

  5. no. the two lecturers are from harvard. theyre the ones posing the questions. the ones theyre lecturing to arent from harvard. theyre google employees. listen carefully. zzzz.

  6. wow, i figured the white hat red hat thing as it was being said, and im 19 are people really that retarded? bad video i wasted a lot of my time.

  7. Here's why she figured it out…if the girl who answered had a white hat on, then one of the other girls would be able to answer the question immediately. Here's why: if the girl who answered it correctly was wearing a white hat, one of the others girls would see a red hat, a white hat, and 2 hands up. From that information, it would be easy to deduce that your hat was red instead of white.

  8. The girl that got it right realized that since on one had an answer after 15 seconds , that this wasn't the case and her hat must be red.

  9. instead of Bloch, Duke and Lederer,
    get some more feel oriented players next time like Matusow,Ivey, Dwan or Negreanu! Or at least hire players that excel at mathematic poker playing like Cunningham, Galfond, Ferguson etc.

    These are the ones you can learn the most from these days…

  10. I wish i could listen to smart ppl talk all day long and ask them questions about their philosophies 🙂 Damn im gonna start looking up where i can go listen to ppl giving lectures about stuff i find interesting. Its fun to watch them online but i cant ask about stuff and its not the same if you send an e-mail as it is when you ask a person a question face to face. Then again the e-mail thing is not dumb if you think about where i live and where most interesting global entrepreneurs are.

  11. while loving poker on TV, I sometimes wonder if/when many younger players seem to play whatever dealt, eg 3.4, they conclude that they then eliminate high card holding opponents who only play with strong hands thereby increasing their own odds of the lay down holding less high value cards. What do you think?

  12. I have done this a few the tabIe there was a huge pot brewin 4handed (incIuding myseIf) I had Iike a 52suited and instead of instantIy mucking i came to the concIusion/gut-feeIing that thy're aII sharin their cards..after aII the prefIop bettin I was right..there was some KQ, QJ AK AJ hands out there and I won the pot with 2 pair..

  13. In fedral court, poker was ruled to not be gambling but a game of skill. Food for thought. I don't have the exact date in front of me, but this was a recent decision.

  14. Now i'm messing around with free of charge cash upon Poker stars today. I came across the marketing code psp15562 plus it bring you a 100% put in extra once you down payment the first time.

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