Annie Duke

She’s a staple on the pro poker circuit. She just recently won the ESPN Tournament of Champions and the $2 million purse that went with it. She comes from a family with cards in its blood. Annie Duke has risen to the top of the highly-competitive poker world, and luckily for us, took a short break to answer some questions.

PokerLizard: You defeated a star-studded (Hellmuth, Lederer, Seidel etc…) field of 234 players in the WSOP $2,000 buy-in Omaha Hi/Lo tournament. How great was it to finally break through and win your first World Series Of Poker Bracelet?

Annie: Well it was amazing to break through. I have a weird history at the WSOP filled with a lot of seconds and thirds. Despite having only one losing year at the WSOP and having a lot of laurels among women (most money won, most final tables, most cashes) I didn’t have the elusive bracelet and that was a huge knock on me. People always thought I was a good player but couldn’t close the deal. Wining and getting that monkey off my back was HUGE for me.

Also, because I won at Bellagio as well this year, the WSOP win made me the only woman to ever win two major tournaments in one year. That was really sweet because I feel now that I have proven myself to the people who knocked me for an inability to close. I really feel like my tournament game has gotten a lot better over the past year since I decided to concentrate on tournament play and the two wins really made me feel like my efforts have come to fruition.

PokerLizard: You are arguably the most visible woman in poker today and because of your big win, you have become the leading money winner amongst women in the history of the WSOP. Had that been one of your goals entering the 2004 WSOP? Also, does it ever get old having people “qualify” your success by always adding “woman” to the term Poker Player, do you wish they would just call you one of the most successful Poker Players in the world without the qualifier?

Annie: It doesn’t get old for people to quality my play putting me in the female category since up until recently I would not be on the radar if I were not a woman. My accomplishments alone would not be considered that great if I were not a woman–that is until this year when my accomplishments stand on their own now. Being a woman has afforded me recognition which I would not otherwise have gotten–and that recognition has generated a lot of extra income for me. I am grateful for that.

That being said, I am striving to be one of the best…period–not one of the best females. Poker is a game where men and women can compete on an equal footing and I want to compete with the best players–man or woman.

So from a publicity standpoint it doesn’t bother me. But from the standpoint of my own personal goals I want to be compared with everyone, not just women.

PokerLizard: You were a double major in English and Psychology at Columbia, then earned a National Science Foundation Fellowship before doing more graduate work in psychology. Many would think this fits perfectly into the inner workings of poker. Do you feel your education background helped your game with things like reads and holding your emotions in check? Do you miss the academic life?

Annie: I definitely don’t miss the academic life at all–that is why I quit! My graduate worked helped in terms of understanding probability theory for sure. I was doing experimental psych, which met a lot of ANOVA, regression and simple t-tests and whatnot. So I had to really understand probability theory, which transferred into poker well.

As for Psychology, I was not studying clinical psych. I was studying language processing, production and acquisition. So that has not been helpful in poker.

PokerLizard: How are those holiday family get-togethers? Do the cards come out as soon as the turkey is cleaned up? Or do you consider card playing just a business and want to do anything but play cards with your time off?

Annie: I can’t think of a time recently when the family got together and played cards. That is weird because it is all we did when we were growing up, but I think that now that it is a business for me and my brother, we just don’t really play socially anymore. I don’t even have a deck of cards in my house to play with my kids. We do other things for fun.

PokerLizard: After catching the poker tournament bug and placing in your first few WSOP (knocking your brother out of your first tournament), you moved your family from Montana to Vegas. Have you enjoyed that change in climate and lifestyle, or do you long to get back to the more laid-back, quiet mountain living?

Annie: I recently moved my family to Portland, OR. And I love it here! Vegas was a place I had to love because of what I did for a living. It was not a place I wanted to stay and raise a family. When the WPT got huge and you had to travel all over the place for tournaments anyway I took the opportunity to move my kids to a place where I thought I could raise them really well. I am very happy in Portland because it is kid heaven. And it is heaven for me–green all year round, turn of the century houses, no chains. I couldn’t dream of raising my family in a better place.

PokerLizard: Many players complain about the long hours required to get through a WSOP event, often going more than 15 hours without sleep. You did it while nine months pregnant with your third child! Was that just brutal, or were you too focused on the game to notice? Were your child’s first words “I’m all in”?

Annie: I was really, really tired that WSOP! It was very uncomfortable to sit by that point and it was quite a feat to stay focused. Looking back I am not sure how well I did because I was so physically uncomfortable and just mentally very emotional and hormonal by that point. I had my baby like 2 weeks after the event ended!

PokerLizard: You are not only a successful tourney player, but also a success at the high-limit cash games. Which do you prefer to play and why?

Annie: I really prefer tournaments, which is why I was willing to move to Portland and basically give up cash games. People tend to be more pleasant during tournament play (me included) because the money at stake is not the same. No one is losing 100’s of thousands of dollars–they are just losing the entry fee–so emotions and stress tend to run less high. Also, you don’t have to put in the long hours you do in cash games when playing tournaments. People just tend to have more fun in the tournaments. I know I do.

PokerLizard: You also have a very famous poker student, Ben Affleck, who recently won the $10,000 buy-in California State Championship main event. How satisfying was it for you when he won? Does Ben have the skills to become a fixture on the pro-tour?

Annie: I think he has the talent to become a fixture but not the time or inclination. I am very proud of him for doing so well so quickly. It just proved what a smart and talented guy he is.

PokerLizard: Being one of the best Omaha players in the world are you glad that ESPN has shown something other than just Hold’em this year? Do you prefer Omaha to Hold’em?

Annie: The most fun for me is playing No Limit Hold’em but I am a much better Omaha 8 or Better player. I am really happy ESPN has showcased other games this year and shown the public that there is a lot more to poker than NL hold’em. I love 8 or better games for their mathematically beauty. NL hold’em has a compelling psychological beauty that just isn’t seen in limit Omaha 8 or better. They are truly different games and compelling for different reasons.

PokerLizard: Speaking of ESPN, they certainly know how to drum up the drama/controversy. Since you are so well known they must have had a camera on you 24/7, First they get you commenting on not playing in the ladies only event which seemed like you were disparaging them even when you weren’t, THEN they film your dispute about the rules about mucking cards with Brett “Gank” Jungblutt, in which you were right. You’ve certainly taken a beating in the Poker forums, is there anything you would like to clear up about the ESPN broadcasts?

Annie: Not really. I don’t think I did disparage the Ladies tournament even in the small clip they showed. I just said the money was bigger in the other event and I wanted to win my bracelet where anyone could enter. I am not sure why that disparages the Ladies event. I just chose to play elsewhere and said so. I basically said it was a business decision for me.

As for the argument with Gank that was annoying because we were having so much fun at that table and ESPN showed basically the one moment of controversy and also did not explain that a) I was right and b) Gank had really violated the rules. But ESPN wants to make good TV and controversy is good TV so I kind of shrug my shoulders at it. I would not be where I am today without ESPN so I guess I have to take the good with the bad.

PokerLizard: Do you have any advice for players wanting to try out Omaha?

Annie: Start small and really learn the math.

PokerLizard: I’ve always heard that great poker players will not leave a game if there are favorable conditions, what is the longest session of poker you have ever played and how do you keep focused for such a long period?

Annie: The longest session I have ever played was too long! I think it was like 72 hours. It is impossible to stay focused for that long I was making a very poor decision to do so. The longest I can really stay focused is about 12 hours.

PokerLizard: What are you listening to on your iPod when playing? Does the music help your play? If so, how?

Annie: Generally I am listening to the White Stripes or The Violent Femmes or something of that ilk. Music really helps my game. I use the ear buds so I can still hear the table talk. But the music really helps pass the time and keep me in good mood and on an emotional even keel. I play much, much better with music. It just really stops me from tilting ever and keeps me so focused on the game and not on conversation and whatnot.

PokerLizard: For those that don’t know, Howard Lederer is your older brother. I too have an older brother, and it gives me probably more satisfaction beating him at something than just about anyone else, is it the same for you when you place higher than him? Do you two ever play in the same cash games?

Annie: Howard is my mentor and I would not even be close to the player I am today without him. It doesn’t give me any satisfaction to beat him–I am always rooting for him so if I beat him I always feel bad. We play very hard against each other–during a hand he is just another opponent and I play him just as I would any other opponent. But after the hand is over that is another story. I feel so bad when I beat him and knock him out of a tournament because I know I have taken a dream away from him.

We have played a lot in cash games and I am not affected the same way there. There I want to win and beating him is just as sweet as beating anyone else. I think this is because beating him a pot does not have the finality it does in tournaments. He can still play the next hand whereas in a tourney he is done and has to wait till another day to find success.
PokerLizard: What advice would you give someone who is thinking about becoming a pro player? Which literature should they definitely get their hands on?

Annie: My first piece of advice would be to have a backup. This is not an easy life and very few people on this earth make a really good living at poker. It is very hard to succeed at this and it takes a ton of dedication and talent and money management and psychological control and a ton of other things to really succeed at this. So have a good backup before becoming a pro.

Make sure to read anything Sklansky ever wrote and make sure to read Super System too. But most importantly find a mentor. Nothing will help your game more.

PokerLizard: Just to put this question to rest: Is that REALLY you playing on How often do you play online? Does your strategy change vs. a live game?

Annie: It is always me playing the AnnieDuke account. I try to play ten hours a week under that name. My strategy changes drastically playing online vs. live because the games are much looser and it is much harder to bluff online. So I tend to play much more value poker–playing good hands and getting paid off for them.

PokerLizard: You recently played in the ESPN: Tournament of Champions $2 Million Freeroll. What was that event like? Since all the hands will be televised do you ever vary your play to confuse future opponents who may have watched the broadcast?

Annie: I will answer the last part since I answered the first part in your follow up questions. I do not vary my play at all because the viewer has no sense of the context of the hand–how the table has been playing, how I have been playing, how my opponent has been playing. They generally don’t even have a good grasp of the blinds and antes and stack sizes. So they really have no context in which to put my play on a given hand–the information just is so incomplete. So I just play normally knowing that it doesn’t really tell the viewer too much.

PokerLizard: How long did the TOC actually take? What was the structure (how often did the blinds go up etc.)?

Annie: It was a very slow structure. It took about 12 hours including dinner break and other ten-minute breaks so in terms of poker probably 10.5 hours. We started with 200k in chips each and the blinds were only 1k2k with no antes. We ended at 15k30k. Considering that there was 2 million in play that was pretty great.

I assumed going in that it would be a fast structure and the table would take about 4 hours. I was very pleasantly surprised when I discovered that not only did Harrah’s and ESPN put up 2 million but they also gave the players a ton of play. They really stepped up to the plate in a big way.

PokerLizard: Does Phil Hellmuth act the same when he is not on Television?

Annie: At the table he always acts the same way, cameras or no cameras. But he has a good heart and all the integrity in the world. In this business those two qualities forgive a lot of sins.

PokerLizard: Was there anything memorable that didn’t make the ESPN broadcast?

Annie: Well one thing I found interesting is that a lot of the decisions took a lot longer than they show. For example, when I folded the TT to Raymer’s KK it took me at least 3 minutes. It was an incredibly tough decision because I was getting 3 to 1 from the pot. This meant I had to be 100% sure he did not have AK in order to make a mathematically correct fold. It took me a long time to convince myself of that. I kept apologizing for taking so long. ESPN made it look like I folded in 15 seconds. And that was not the only hand where that happened.

One hilarious thing that did get cut was after Phil folded the AQ to Chan’s 66 causing my brother to sail off to the AJ. Howard said to Phil after the fact that his only satisfaction in losing with the AJ was the knowledge that Phil would have won if he hadn’t folded the AQ.

PokerLizard: Do you really play often with this group of pros at the cash games? If so, was this just another game to you all, or did everyone really hunker down and play like they’ve never played before?

Annie: Well I don’t play a lot of cash games anymore since I live in Portland now. But when I was playing high cash games all the time I played with Doyle, Chan, Chip, my brother and sometimes Phil quite a bit. TJ doesn’t play cash games and Daniel and Phil Ivey weren’t playing the biggest games yet.

It was not just another cash game to me–or I think anyone else. It was a big deal and a lot of money at stake and we all understood that.

PokerLizard: Of all those TOC opponents, who do you like playing with the most? Who would you rather not play with? Why?

Annie: I enjoy Doyle, Chip, Phil Ivey and my brother’s company immensely. They are all really nice people and very, very funny. I loved Greg Raymer. He is an incredibly nice guy and a great representative of the game. I am very happy for him that he won the main event.
I would rather not play with Chan just because he is so damn good. He scares me!

But really they are all nice people at that table and even Phil H. is fun to play with cause he is such an easy target to needle.

PokerLizard: Who would you select to play at your “dream” table?

Annie: I hate making lists of who I think are the top 10 players. So this is a list of the pros whose company I really enjoy.

Erik Seidel, Gus Hansen, Chris Ferguson, Howard Lederer, Robert Williamson, Antonio Esfandiari, Andy Bloch, Thomas Keller, Phil Laak, Paul Wolfe. They all happen to be great players as well!

PokerLizard: What was the best perk you received for winning the TOC (other than the sweet $2million)?

Annie: Getting on the Letterman show!

PokerLizard: How satisfying was it to beat some of the best? Being the only woman did you think you had something to prove to the public?

Annie: I think I had very little to prove to the public in as much as all the players at that table were phenomenal players so I didn’t really have any expectations of winning. It was a tough table to handicap. I went into that table just hoping to acquit myself well and not play like a total idiot! So from my personal perspective I didn’t really feel that I had anything to prove. I was just so happy to be picked.

That being said, there were some people who didn’t feel I deserved to be picked for that table. Some people thought I was not even close to in the same class as the other players chosen. Winning the event was sweeter because of that because I think I proved that I deserved to be there.

I think also that from the general public’s perspective it was a great thing for poker in general. Having the woman win at that table I think will bring some more people into this game. The woman winning generated extra publicity for the game, which is awesome for poker–a game that I love and has been very good to me.

PokerLizard: I’ve read where you said that a table full of women is a nightmare for you. Can you elaborate?

Annie: When did I ever say that? The only thing I don’t like about a table full of women is that I am allergic to perfume so it is hard for me to be at a table full of women because they tend to wear perfume which gives me a migraine.

THANKS, ANNIE, and hopefully we’ll see you in Vegas!

If you liked this interview please consider making a small donation, all proceeds will go toward my children’s college fund, Thanks.


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