Exactly one year ago today, Maria Konnikova was basically a complete unknown in the poker world. Sure, some people knew that a New York Times bestselling author had enlisted the assistance of Erik Seidel to learn how to play poker so she could write a book about it all, but almost nobody would have been able to put a name to that person.
Then, over the course of the next seven hours, Konnikova became a known commodity, winning the $1,650 National Championship at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. The win came with $84,600 and one of the very first $30,000 Platinum Passes to be awarded. Suddenly every poker media outlet and a few mainstream outlets picked up her story.
She followed that up over the next few days by making a very deep run in the PCA Main Event, almost as a way of proving that it wasn’t beginner’s luck. That set the stage for a big year for Konnikova and changed the direction of what she had planned for her book and poker career.
“PCA last year really changed the trajectory of my relationship with poker because it had been, in the past, basically for the book,” Konnikova said. “I was really enjoying it and I was learning and had gotten much more into the game than I ever thought I would, but it was always still one of these things that I’m gonna do this for a year and be done.
Konnikova, who had originally planned to use the 2018 WSOP Main Event as the end of her poker journey for the book’s story arc, decided to take advantage of her good fortune and pushed the book deadline back indefinitely to play more and see where it took her.
The answer was, well, everywhere.
“I’ve been playing really full time this past year. I made a point of just hitting as much of the major stuff as I could,” said Konnikova, who played European Poker Tour, World Poker and World Series of Poker events over the 12 months. “And it’s still for the book in the sense that you never know what’s gonna happen and what’s going to be an important moment, an important thing. If you don’t do it, it doesn’t have a chance of happening, so it gives you more opportunities.”
Once the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure finishes, Konnikova is headed back home to New York City to focus on writing the first draft. Her editor has been very understanding of the shifting deadline, but has made Konnikova promise him one thing.
“The only thing he told me is, ‘just make this the best book you can’,” said Konnikova.
She’s looking forward to finally sitting down and just writing, but she’s also excited about getting a break from one of the toughest parts of the last year, the travel.
“The hardest thing has been just being constantly on the road because I do like being home. I like stability. I like to see my family, and it can be rough to just spend three days a month in my apartment,” said Konnikova. “I take my role as (PokerStars) ambassador really seriously because I want to share my excitement. I want to bring women to the game. I want to be a positive force and not ever be seen as someone who’s like, ‘Oh man, the constant travel’s such a drag’. That’s no good to anyone. Yeah, sure, the travel’s tough, and that’s the hardest part, but you have to put it in perspective and say, ‘Shit, I get to travel to all these places to play a game. That’s pretty cool’.”
Hopeful that the book will be on bookshelves by the end of 2019, Konnikova has no plans of walking away from the game entirely. She’s come to enjoy it too much.
“Once I’m done with the book, definitely playing full time until publication for sure. If I’m still playing well and if the book is doing well, I don’t see why I’d stop, because I’ll just start working on my next writing project,” said Konnikova. “At this point, I see a very possible future and once again, life has a way of getting in the way so I have no idea, but one possible future I see is just playing and writing in tandem because you can write from anywhere in the world. That’s the beauty of writing.”
Along the way, PokerStars added Konnikova to their group of Team Pros. That too has been an eye-opening experience for her. As she’s become more of a known commodity in the poker world, players and fans have approached her at various events to share their story with her.
“I’ve had so many people come up to me, and a lot of them women, be like, ‘You’ve really inspired me. You’re a model for what I want to do’,” said Konnikova. “That’s so wonderful and I’m happy to do any number of interviews and to just give as much of my time as needed because ultimately, that’s the dream, right? To inspire people. It’s what I hope my books do, so to be able to do it also through poker, it’s great to know that you’ve reached people.”
Having lived the life of a poker pro over the past year, Konnikova has noticed she’s also undergone personal growth that is directly related to her time at the table.
“I’ve always been pretty low stress, but I’ve just had to become really low stress because it’s something where if you let things get to you, you’re just gonna be so miserable,” said Konnikova. “So I’ve really gotten to the point where okay, let’s just go day by day and see what happens and be okay not knowing what’s going to be going on two weeks from now. I’ve just been much more sanguine about any given tournament. I busted the $25K on Day 1 on the last level. That wasn’t fun. I was bummed in the moment, but then I was like, you know what? On to the next one.”