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Liv Boeree: Meet the Poker-Playing Metalhead Teaching Us How to Make Better Decisions

Liv Boeree
There aren’t many guitar-playing astrophysicists out there with a multimillion-dollar poker career, but when they’re offering advice about how to make better decisions in life, we take notice — especially when that advice comes from someone like Liv Boeree.

Diehard goths and Cradle of Filth fans will recognize Olivia “Liv” Boeree from her stint playing lead guitar in Amber and Adrian Erlandsson’s Nemhain back in 2006, right after she cut her teeth fronting the garage band Dissonance during her university days. Since then, she’s gone on to top the rankings of the Global Poker Index and given us not one, but two enlightening TED Talks. And that’s on top of earning a First-Class Honours degree in Physics with Astrophysics, setting up an “Effective Altruism” (EA) foundation, presenting TV shows and even holding down a modeling career. But how did a little girl from Kent, who (among her numerous childhood ambitions) wanted to grow up to be a horse, manage to become such an all-around polymath?

A Change of Direction

Boeree’s combination of charisma, wit, intellect and smoldering good looks (which never hurt) marked her as someone born for the limelight, but it’s arguably her astonishing poker career that truly brought her to the world’s attention — as well as giving her plenty of material to write and speak. In some ways, she fell into championship poker by accident when selected to be a participant in the reality TV show “Showdown” during which top pros, including Annie Duke and Phil Hellmuth, coached her. She spent time on the circuit playing cash games at a variety of tournaments and after snaring the Main Event trophy at the European Poker Tournament (EPT) San Remo in 2010, along with an eye-watering cash prize of $1,698,000, Boeree joined PokerStars Team Pro, cementing her position as one of the greatest female (or male, for that matter) poker players on the current professional circuit.

After that, she would go on to win a championship bracelet at the 2017 World Series of Poker (WSOP), becoming the first, and so far, only, female player to hold both a WSOP and an EPT title. Poker has provided the ideal platform for Boeree to continue pursuing her various other projects and as well as earning over $3.5 million in winnings, has also provided the coolest and most metal nickname ever: the “Iron Maiden.”

When TED Came Calling

Boeree was no stranger to public speaking prior to her first appearance on the TEDx stage in Manchester. She has given talks about Raising for Effective Giving, the EA organization she co-founded since 2015 and has delivered presentations about her specialty areas of space and technology, existential risk, rationality and decision-making at venues as diverse as the Cheltenham Science Festival and even Cambridge University. However, when TED came calling the first time in early 2018, she was only given a month to prepare a talk given to an audience of 2,400 people, the biggest of its kind in any European TED event. Although it wasn’t much time to prepare, Boeree jumped at the chance, knowing it was an opportunity that “wouldn’t come along again for a long time, if ever.” The resulting talk, “A Number Speaks a Thousand Words,” is a unique eye-opener about thinking probabilistically and quantifying uncertainty.

The success of her first presentation means that TED would come calling again a few months later. This time, with the opportunity to present at an official TED conference. It may be half the length of her earlier TEDx Talk, but in “3 Lessons on Decision-Making from a Poker Champion,” Boeree packs a powerful and insightful punch. Focusing on the valuable things she’s learned about the concepts of luck, probability and intuition throughout her global poker career, this talk is an introduction to strategic thinking and effective decision-making that everyone should watch at least once. As any band or artist that’s ever had to make a comeback knows, “our egos love to downplay the luck factor when we’re winning.”

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