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Antifragile

January 9, 2016

I just finished reading Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and it is, without a doubt, one of the most useful books any poker player can read. Taleb is a former hedge fund manager and derivatives trader that went on to become a prolific writer, mathematical researcher, and professor at multiple universities. He has too many accolades to be fully described in one paragraph, so I won't even begin to try. Ultimately, he writes about concepts that are intimately related to poker and I felt that some of them were worth mentioning. Here are just a few of the concepts he covers in the book.

 

Fragile → Robust → Antifragile

 

A porcelain cup is fragile. Any sudden change in its environment will cause it to shatter. A bowling ball is robust. It isn't affected by sudden changes in its environment. An elite poker player is antifragile. He will benefit from chaos because of his ability to quickly learn from mistakes. Making a bad read isn't necessarily a mistake as long as information is gathered. The money lost can be viewed as an investment -- similar to paying tuition.

 

Barbel Strategy

 

Poker players refer to barbel strategies as implied odds. They frequently invest 3bb pre-flop to potentially win 100bb post-flop. What they don't realize is that this concept also applies to many business models, especially angel investing. It's possible to be extremely conservative and extremely aggressive at the same time. For instance, you could place 90% of your portfolio in a mutual fund and the other 10% in angel investments. The trick is to protect yourself from exposure while giving yourself an opportunity to gain exponentially (see Kelly criterion).

 

Convex Payoffs

 

The aggressive side of a barbel strategy relies on convex payoffs. Convex payoffs rely on asymmetric outcomes (i.e risking much less than you stand to gain). The most likely outcome will be failure. This is totally fine as long as the potential gain is big enough and exposure is minimized. All businesses that have withstood the test of time can attest to convex payoffs.

 

Lindy Effect

 

The Lindy effect suggests that each year a non-perishable item exists it is even more likely to exist in the future. For instance, you could apply this concept to the Great Pyramids of Giza. After the first 1,000 years they stood, were they more or less likely to stand another 1,000 years? The Lindy effect always takes the over on another 1,000 years. Now think about the careers of poker players. Each year they are successful, are they more or less likely to be successful the following year?

 

Skin in the Game

 

Taleb isn't interested in the opinions of others unless they have something at risk if their opinions are wrong. This phase is synonymous with "armchair quarterback" or "put your money where your mouth is." His elaboration on this concept spoke to me more than any other. In the age of social media, everyone has an opinion on everything. The only opinions that matter are the ones that come from people who have something at risk.

 

Summary

 

Antifragile is a massive, technical, unbridled book that most people (including me) won't fully grasp after the first read. Still, it covers so many interesting and applicable topics that I think everyone should take a look at it. I loved it so much that I plan to read the rest of Taleb's books. Have you read it? If not, take a look and let me know what you think.

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