Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The Boeree Principle

Amid the poker-related news of the past week, you might have heard something about a short video by the Institute of Physics featuring poker pro Liv Boeree that appeared last week. I wanted to mention (and share) it here, as it includes what I find to be several worthwhile messages.

The Institute of Physics is a U.K.-based organization that functions as a charity, a lobbying group, and a professional association for educators and scholars. First formed way back in 1874, the IOP currently boasts about 40,000 members from all over the world. The IOP’s mission involves promoting and advancing physics education and research, working with policy makers to help increase understanding of physics, as well as publishing and producing materials related to physics education.

The video featuring Boeree is an example of the latter, made to promote physics education and in particular to encourage girls to consider physics as a possible area of study. Before winning the 2010 EPT San Remo Main Event in April 2010 and becoming a Team PokerStars Pro a few months later, Boeree studied physics and astrophysics at the University of Manchester where she earned a 1st Class Honours Degree.

In the video Boeree persuasively explains how her background in physics has proven useful to her at the poker tables, among other topics. Take a look:

I particularly like what Boeree says when she insists that being a professional poker player hardly means she is “wasting” her physics degree.

“The beauty of doing physics as a degree is that it doesn’t mean you have to become a physicist... you don’t have to become a research scientist” explains Boeree. “The training that I got from physics -- the way it’s trained my mind to think -- has enabled me to go into such an analytical game as poker.”

I often find myself making an analagous point when talking to undergraduates who are uncertain about the usefulness of, say, a degree in English or some other major for which future job prospects aren’t necessarily obvious.

Many students are under the false impression that getting a degree in English necessarily means one is destined to become a teacher (and probably destined to earn a less-than-desirable salary, too). In fact, there are a lot of students who are under the false impression that any non-business degree is somehow going to be a waste of time for them, which to me largely misses the entire point of going to college -- i.e., to learn how to think and thus prepare yourself for later life, with the obtaining of a credential mostly incidental to that training.

Boeree goes on to talk about how playing poker and studying physics both involve making complex decisions with many variables and bits of information that you have to sort through when analyzing a problem. Her argument is similar to that posed by Jennifer Ouelette in an article titled “Big Game Theory” that appeared in Discover magazine a couple of years ago.

Ouelette draws many of the same connections Boeree does, in fact, when she talks about the way “poker appeals to physicists because it is an intricate, complex puzzle... steeped in statistical probabilities and the tenets of game theory.” Ouelette also brings up how poker and physics both present problems in “partial information” that players/researchers are challenged to solve. I wrote more about Ouelette’s article -- and about connections between physics and poker -- in a post titled “Physicists & Poker.”

Like I say, I appreciate the messages Boeree is helping the IOP deliver with this video, among which we might list defenses of both higher education and poker. The encouragement to young women not to shy away from male-dominated fields like physics or poker (or heavy metal!) is commendable, too.

But most of all I like the larger argument that whatever you happen to study -- I mean really study with earnestness and a genuine desire to learn -- that work of interpretation and analysis and “training your mind” will necessarily prove of use to you when encountering subsequent problems and challenges.

Call it a principle of education, sometimes unheeded, but ultimately inviolable.

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Blogger NBShuffler71 said...

One cannot argue with Liv Boeree's decision to be a poker player given the success she is having. She seems loike someone with the right qualities to succeed in whatever she decides to do.

However i don't agree that playing poker is a good use of her Physics degree, so why try to justify it? It is what it is, she took a physics degree but decided to be a poker player (with good reason). She is doing what makes her happy.

Getting the degree was a good experience and so is playing poker. I feel she is being a bit defensive and maybe some people (parents, proffessors etc) feel it is a waste and she could be doing something more useful with her obvious intelligence.

10/14/2012 8:21 PM  

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