Bill Gates, Harvard, IQ, Paul Allen, Poker, social IQ, Theory of Mind
For years this blog has has discussed Gates’s spectacular verbal and math IQ. But what about other parts of his intelligence?
Evidence of Gate’s social IQ can be gleaned from his performance at poker (a game involving bluffing and reading people). The late Paul Allen writes:
I spent more time with Bill at Currier House before his nightly Poker games with the local cardsharps. He was getting some costly lessons in bluffing; he’d win three hundred dollars one night and lose six hundred the next. As Bill dropped thousands that fall, he kept telling me, “I’m getting better”. I knew what he was thinking: I’m smarter than those guys.From pages 71-72 of Idea Man by Paul Allen
Were the other players letting Gates win the first night so he would bet double the next night, or was he legitimately winning only half as often as he lost? Let’s assume the latter, in which case was likely a worse poker player than 2/3rds of the Harvard poker club.
On an abbreviated version of the WAIS-R, a sample of 86 Harvard students averaged IQ 128. Commenters Swank and pumpkinhead have argued this is an underestimate because the sample may not have been representative. On the other hand the WAIS-R norms were 25 years old, so the Flynn effect predicts IQ 128 would have been an overestimate. Error in both directions likely cancels each-other out, making 128 perhaps a plausible estimate.
Now if we assume Poker skill (like other measures of Theory of Mind) only correlates 0.43 with conventional measures of IQ, the Harvard poker club like averaged 28(0.43) + 100 = 112 in Poker IQ, and if Gates was worse than 2/3rds of them, his “Poker IQ” was likely only 107 (assuming similar practice, or assuming all had enough practice to reach diminishing returns).
So now we have two very rough estimates of Gates’s social IQ. “Fashion IQ” was 84 and “poker IQ” was 107. Both measures are of highly questionable validity, so unlikely correlate more than 0.5, thus a composite measure of his social IQ might be very crudely estimated at 95 which is extremely low compared to his his verbal and math IQ, but only slightly below the U.S. mean of 100.
It might be worth noting that variation in poker performance is likely correlated with intelligence in ways not mediated by variation in social intelligence, since some fraction of poker playing ability is likely due to variation in understanding of probability / ability to keep track of cards.
Having had a fair bit of experience with games of chance I would say that at best we can take this as anecdotal evidence. For one Gates would likely be able to greatly outperform all the other players at working out the math in a poker game given enough practice. The other component is game theory which needs to be adjusted on multiple levels given your opponents skill level and psychology(ie not all players are optimal logical players while even those that are can approach the game in all sorts of ways). The game theory is massively influenced by reading body language which is where interpersonal intelligence or psychology comes in. Even if we gave Gates an average social intelligence at best, on an intermediate to good skill level poker game, math ability trumps social intelligence every time. Or to put it differently IMO one could get to a semi pro(local champ) purely on math ability and basic understanding of game theory assuming just average social intelligence. Assuming top tier math AND psychology, then its look out Phil Ivey. Unfortunately I highly doubt psychology alone will get you very far at all(assuming average math ability), unless of course you rely heavily on crafty hustling at your local poker club.
In any case, you may well be right about Gate’s social intelligence though I might be a little more generous than you. However I think poker is a multifaceted game that in today’s circuit is basically structured around math(not terribly complicated math but rather lightning fast computations….constantly) and as such would fall right into Gate’s wheelhouse and render it a poor metric for his social intelligence. With this in mind It is just as likely that Gates was not nearly as experienced as the other players or they were cheating somehow or even something I think people all too often fail to consider, chance would have it so. Losing streaks can last a very long time while winning patterns are about as random as the next card out of the deck.
Good points. Poker probably overestimates gates’s social IQ because he’s brilliant at math as you note, but his fashion probably underestimates his social IQ because he cares little about such frivolities.
But perhaps in a composite score of both, such error might largely cancel out
I think we are far better off gauging his social intelligence through his countless interviews. Also unless we have a well documented account of the number of hours he spent playing poker, how seriously he took it, at what level his opponents were, the number of hands he won vs lost, and his RoR, i think it is far too speculative to work out what his poker skill was at let alone his poker “potential” and as for extracting any meaningful estimate of his social intelligence from this, well, outside of perhaps a bit of fun speculation it might be a little irresponsible.
In any case, I highly recommend the new netflix series, “inside Bill’s brain” if you want to gauge his social acuity. My guess is that his general social intelligence(the “g” of social ability, if you would indulge me for a bit) is at least 1 SD above average however I think his strategic or game theoretical social intelligence is quite high if not as high as some of his other noted abilities. I don’t see how anyone could originate and run one of the most successful companies in history and not be at least partially socially talented.
I don’t see how anyone could originate and run one of the most successful companies in history and not be at least partially socially talented.
Given that his overall IQ is so spectacularly high, I’m not sure it’s essential he be socially smart too.
But your points about poker are well taken. He was likely playing older students with years of practice.
All of these reifications…