There’s a Time to Play It Safe and a Time for Risky Business With Maria Konnikova and Nate Silver

  • Maria Konnikova and Nate Silver will launch their new podcast Risky Business this week
  • As writers from different backgrounds, the duo will delve into the world of decision-making 
  • VegasSlotsOnline News caught up with Konnikova to find out a little more about the podcast 
Risky Business film still
Sharing its name with the 1983 film, the RIsky Business podcast will see Maria Konnikova and Nate Silver break down decision-making.

Risky Business (1983) 

Written and directed by Paul Brickman, Risky Business hit the silver screens in August 1983 and was an instant hit, launching the career of a 21-year-old symmetrically-faced whippersnapper by the name of Tom Cruise. In the film’s most iconic scene, Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” plays out over a wide-shot of the empty hallway of a suburban house, perfectly into the center of which slides Cruise wearing white socks, a pink shirt, and a pair of tighty-whities. 

A memorable dance routine follows but that instant when Cruise hits his mark was a quintessential moment, both in the context of the movie and in the way that it announced him as a movie star to the wider world. Famously, Cruise needed several takes to get it just right.

Cruise said that he knew how important the choreography of that scene was

In a 2023 interview, Cruise said that he knew how important the choreography of that scene was: “I had to figure out how I slide across the floor in my socks. I saw the opening frame… I want to hit center frame… And I tried to slide in my socks [but] it didn’t work. And I said, well, let’s just put stuff down on the floor – and I slid all the way across. I was like, that didn’t work!” It was only after a crew member laid down some sticky spray on the floor did Cruise stop exactly where he wanted and nail the take. 

Risky Business (2024)

Tomorrow, co-hosted by Maria Konnikova and Nate Silver, Risky Business – The Podcast will drop for the first time on audio platforms. It is a show about decision-making by two writers with very different backgrounds who found poker, learned to play it at a high level, and have brought the lessons from the game into their lives in a myriad of ways. 

Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website, founded in 2008 and now part of ABCNews, publishes articles which analyse statistical information on a variety of topics in politics, sports, science, economics and popular culture. His 2012 New York Times Best Selling book ‘The Signal and the Noise’ describes the discipline of making predictions with mathematical model-building using probability and statistics. In it, he argues that a lot of so-called experts disregard the data, citing case studies from baseball, elections, weather forecasting, climate change, the financial crash, and poker. 

‘The Biggest Bluff’ chronicles her journey from poker novice to champion

Konnikova’s 2020 New York Times best-selling book ‘The Biggest Bluff’ chronicles her journey from poker novice to champion, part thesis, part memoir, playing with themes from philosophy and psychology while also still grounded in real life. She scrutinises her own psychological reactions to chance, exploring her own decision-making and interrogating the roles of luck and skill. 

Konnikova and Silver re-united

In June 2020, to celebrate the paperback launch of ‘The Biggest Bluff,’ Konnikova sat down with her good friend Nate Silver to discuss the themes of the book. It was a fascinating meeting of minds on a subject with which both were intimate, albeit from different perspectives. 

In many ways, that conversation foreshadowed this project as the pair knew right away that they had something they could bottle. A future collaboration seemed inevitable, one that would tackle the subject of risk-raking and decision-making from the points of view of a psychologist and a statistician/data-journalist. 

The hotly anticipated Risky Business podcast will take a deep dive into their shared areas of interests with poker as the leaping-off point for fascinating discussions on information gathering, risk assessment, probability, variance and control. Konnikova and Silver have been preparing for months and I, for one, cannot wait to hear their thoughts and opinions as they put the idea of risk under the microscope. I suspect, like Cruise before them, they will hit their mark.

I was fortunate enough to chat with Maria ahead of the launch and this is what she had to say. 

Q&A with Konnikova 

David Lappin: You and Nate have been friends for a decade so that will presumably come across in great chemistry. You both give excellent interviews so presumably the conversation will flow. You are both intimately acquainted with the subject so there won’t be a lack of knowledge. So… what can go wrong?

Maria Konnikova: Ha! If we know one thing from our experience in risky decision making, it’s that uncertainty is omnipresent, no matter how well-prepared you think you are—and that even with all the skill in the world, luck plays a major role in outcomes. Nate and I have prepared as best we can and have been taping practice podcasts for the last month, but you just never know what the reception is going to be like, whether we will be able to gain momentum, whether we’ll be able to get the right kind of attention from the right kinds of people… and on and on. We’ll do our best, work hard, and make the best decisions we can. And then the cards will fall how they will! 

DL: You and Nate are both writers who take your poker very seriously. For ‘Risky Business,’ you have said how you will be using poker as a metaphor and a lens. Can you explain what you mean by that.

It’s like a psychology laboratory for every kind of decision making you can think of”

MK: Absolutely. People who’ve read my last book, ‘The Biggest Bluff,’ know that I see poker as a metaphor for life: tournament poker especially is like a three-act drama where the kinds of emotions, inflection points, high stakes decisions that you make away from the table are heightened and brought into sharp relief. It’s like a psychology laboratory for every kind of decision making you can think of. We’ll use the kind of decision process that you have to go through at the tables—the calculations that go into figuring out equity, EV, odds, and the like; the calculus behind weighting mathematics versus psychology—as a model for decision making in all areas of life.

DL: You both met through New York journalism circles. New Yorkers are known for snark and rueful realism – when discussing poker, will this podcast be warts and all?

MK: Always. I don’t think Nate or I ever shy away from warts. My next book is about cheating in games, after all. I’m a big believer in the old saying that sunlight is the best disinfectant. I think that showing the dark elements of any world help make it better, safer, and more sustainable in the long-term.

DL: The objective of this show is helping people with their decision-making – that obviously involves them using the best information available to them to figure out problems. However, it’s also getting them to better understand risk and luck and variance. How do you walk that fine line between empowering people to make good choices whilst also making them aware that they are in a chaotic world which they can’t control very much?

MK: I think I’ve already hinted at this in my answers above. Our goal as good decision makers is to make the best decision we can with limited information – knowing that there’s no such thing as a certain outcome and that every single thing in life is inherently probabilistic. So, think well, decide well, and then learn to not be attached to the outcome, even if it doesn’t go your way. If you keep putting yourself in a position to get lucky, eventually, variance will even out.

DL: I have a theory that the shelf life of a podcast is dictated by how much of themselves the hosts reveal. I think in that respect, you have to play hard to get… talk about the subject, give your takes but tease the audience with your own personalities or backstories. Your thoughts?

we’ll absolutely be talking about our personal lives to some extent”

MK: I think every pod is different, but we’ll absolutely be talking about our personal lives to some extent. Part of the appeal of the podcast for us is the personal element – we’ve been friends for over a decade! And I think it’s always good to have a personal angle on things to make them more relatable.

DL: Since the show is called ‘Risky Business,’ I have to ask… which of you is going to dance around the living room in your underwear to “old time rock ‘n’ roll”?

MK: Why must it be one or the other?

Episode 1 of Risky Business drops tomorrow on all the usual audio platforms. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *