Annie Duke chats to us about her strategy and what its like being a female poker player: “When I first started playing, I would be called a f***ing c*** right to my face. That doesn’t happen any more”

Annie Duke has had to deal with a lot of obstacles to get where she is today

The Player

Back in the 90s, before poker was remotely cool, Annie Duke anted up for the best reason possible: to support her husband and kids. She ranked among a small coterie of females at the table and played in some of the highest cash games of the day. In the years since, Duke has snagged $3.5m in tournament winnings on top of her big cash game profits.

You’re in the process of finishing your second book. I assume the subject is poker?

It’s a decision-making book, taking poker as a starting point. The idea is that when you play poker you make decisions under conditions of uncertainty. How do you deal with that problem? This book doesn’t have a whole lot of charts.

Are you anti-chart?

Charts only work for beginners. I can take a beginner and give him a chart of the hands he’s allowed to play, and he will do pretty well because it will be a pretty tight chart. But that gives you no fluidity and doesn’t teach you how to think about the problem.

So how do you approach poker problems?

You need to realise that every game you sit in is going to be different. That’s true even if you have a regular Wednesday night game with the same people every week. People win or lose on different nights; people are drunk or not drunk; happy or unhappy. Those simple factors all influence what’s going on in the game at specific moments. How you approach a game should never be the same twice.

This applies to cash games and to tournaments?

I find it confusing when people separate cash game strategy and tournament strategy. There are differences in the psychology and maths, but if you read my book you will be able to play both. You need to think through problems related to the reactions of people to you and the mathematics of each situation. I can’t give you an adjustment for every situation, but I can give you the tools for thinking through problems and making your own adjustments.

When it comes to tournaments, you don’t play nearly as many as other pros. Does selectivity enable you to play better?

Yes. But you can’t be so selective that you fall out of practice. The important thing is to have balance in your life, so that playing poker is not the only thing you do. I’ve seen so many players without balance who can’t maintain relationships, who do drugs and gamble in the pit.

Is that upsetting, watching talented poker players losing so much money at craps?

I remember having a conversation with someone who had just lost $300,000 playing craps. I said, ‘I’m sorry, I just don’t get it. If you have $300,000 that you can light a match to, why wouldn’t you give it to charity or to your family? Why would you give it to a casino?’ He tried to argue that he got some utility, some enjoyment, out of it. I asked him if he got $300,000 worth of enjoyment. And his response was something along the lines of, ‘I’ve been making $100k a month online.’ As if that will last forever. I hear stories about kids keeping all their money in their bankroll, and the next thing I hear, they’re broke – or worse…

It seems to happen way more than it should…

People get hold of money early in their careers and the day they get that money is the day they stop developing emotionally. They stop understanding the value of money. It’s very dangerous.

There’s been a lot of negative talk about your sponsor UltimateBet in the light of the recent cheating scandals. Where do you stand on that?

I don’t have an ownership interest in the company. I get a salary for endorsing. And I have no interest in having my name associated with this nonsense. Not so long ago I went down to Costa Rica to see what was going on, and I was ready to quit. Then I found out that the investigation is being carried out in the open, with a lot of the online bloggers able to see what is transpiring. I also found out that the person who perpetrated the cheating was from more than two managements ago. There is no way I would stick around if I didn’t think it was doing the right things. I trust the current UltimateBet management team and believe it is working hard to resolve the situation.

Has the game changed much for women? Do you think there’s still a lot of hostility? 

Look online at the comments people make about Doyle as compared to the comments they make about Jennifer Harman and myself. Nobody ever talks about how Doyle looks. With women, it’s all about who’s hot and who would you f***.

What about at the table?

When I first started playing, I would be called a f***ing c*** right to my face. That doesn’t happen any more.

How do you feel about that?

I didn’t care. They were steaming, and that was good for me. Literally, I would win a hand and some guy would say, ‘You f???ing c???.’ If you play poker, you will lose some hands. They wouldn’t say the same thing to guys because the guys would beat them up. It’s easier to pick on a girl.

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