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Alex O’Brien Lays Herself Bare in New Poker Article


Science writer and poker player Alex O’Brien laid herself bare in an article as she prepares for a heads-up match against Dan Bilzerian. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

An unlikely victory triggered her metamorphosis 

When science writer and amateur poker player Alex O’Brien won a freeroll online poker tournament for $10,000 back in December, she didn’t realize there was a bonus prize. She had won the right to play the controversial Dan Bilzerian in a heads-up match. 

The poker community rallied around O’Brien. Her friend Jennifer Shahade opened doors. Olivier Busquet opened her mind. It would take a village to slay the dragon. 

And so, for the last six months, via lessons in probability, variance, ranges, and frequencies, poker has transformed the way that O’Brien sees the world. She explained her metamorphosis in ‘How a $10k poker win changed how I think’, a fantastic piece for BBC Future and a must-read article which was published today. 

Book about poker as a framework for thinking

O’Brien is working on a book entitled The Truth Detective, the thesis of which is about how poker is a useful framework for thinking.

Poker is a mixture of a lot of things, with elements of maths, psychology, endurance, and even philosophy. But at its core, poker is a logical discourse. It is a question-and-answer game. A bet is a question. A call is an answer. A raise puts the question back on the other person. As the available information changes, our answers to the questions and those of our opponent become more and less plausible. Our stories stay consistent or become fishy. 

at its core, poker is a logical discourse

In her article, O’Brien explains how the question and answer game is not only with the other player, but it is also an internal dialogue. “What I learnt was that I wasn’t asking enough questions,” she says, adding: “Poker players ask themselves a series of questions for every single hand they play, trying to gauge ‘range’, which essentially means the scope of possibilities in the game ahead.”

If O’Brien’s book is rendered with the same vivid descriptions, rich introspections, and clarity of thought as her article, it will be a bestseller. 

Poker player lays herself bare

The article covers a lot, from that fateful night on the virtual felt to the many Bilzerian controversies, to her immersion in the poker community, to her heads-up poker studies and the negative gender biases she has faced as a writer. O’Brien deals in the profound but she does so with a lightness of touch that makes for a pleasing and accessible read for the poker uninitiated. 

Speaking to VegasSlotsOnline News, O’Brien described the personal challenges to producing this piece. She said: “I’m a very private person so it’s been hard to put myself out there and lay myself bare, particularly while I go through a steep learning curve.” It was nonetheless important to get that she put her experiences down on paper, warts and all.  

poker is so misunderstood by the non-poker playing audience”

O’Brien went on to explain that part of her motivation for writing this article and her upcoming book was because “poker is so misunderstood by the non-poker playing audience. I hope that writing this piece will help elevate the game and dispel some of the misconceptions about its players.”

Alex might be grateful to the poker community who welcomed her with open arms, but she herself has also contributed to it enormously in a short time. Poker struggles to get mainstream press, and when it does, rarely does that coverage shine such a positive light on the game as her wonderful piece does. You should read it immediately



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