Annie Duke talks to us about here Heads-up victory and what it’s like being a TV celebrity

After early exits in previous NBC Heads-up Championships, Annie Duke reveals what it was like to finally take down the prestigious event

Congratulations on your NBC win. How does that rank among your greatest poker achievements like the Tournament Champions and your bracelet win?

It depends. The Tournament of Champions in terms of people’s awareness of me is definitely number one because people still to this day are like, ‘Oh my God, my favourite moment was when you beat Phil Hellmuth.’ Beating Phil and having him then go make the tirade and kick the trashcan and all of that. In terms of what I needed and wanted and felt like I had to accomplish as a person, then my bracelet would be number one. In terms of continuing whatever my poker legacy might be and letting people know with an exclamation point that I do play poker and that is what I do, this is number one.

Historically it hasn’t been the best tournament for you. Did you approach it any differently this year?

My record in that event hasn’t been great and neither had Erik’s (Seidel). Ironically Erik actually had the worst record in that event. [Previously] I’d come in and not necessarily put my everything into it and not taken it seriously. I was definitely taking it much more seriously this time. Erik and I were joking that if we didn’t win our first matches, clearly we wouldn’t be invited back the next year! So I won my first match, Erik won his and of course I was sweating him the whole time. He was on the other side of the draw and playing before me the whole tournament. So every time he won a match it gave me motivation because I was going to be damned if he ended up with a better record than me!

Aside from Erik, who was your toughest opponent?

Oh God, the one against Paul Wasicka almost killed me. Paul Wasicka is obviously a former champion of the event and someone that does not give up any value at all. There’s not a penny coming out of his stack that’s not supposed to, it’s crazy. Two hours into the match and no one was giving up any value. Basically it was going to come down to these lucky hands because it wasn’t like anyone was dominating the match, we were just trading back and forth. He raised, I moved in with A-10 (because the blinds were really high) and he called with Aces. And obviously I won that hand, which was stupid. I made Broadway.

I count myself very lucky to have won that match, but after we were done, he was really nice and he said, ‘I think you played great, if you play like that I think you can win.’ That’s great to hear from the previous champion who’s just had Aces sucked out on.

You and Erik are good friends. Did you talk before the final?

We had been talking the whole tournament and were really excited that we had this possibility of facing each other, then it actually came to fruition. We had said from the time we won our third matches – after I beat Wasicka and he beat David Williams – we could possibly meet in the final because we were on opposite sides of the bracket and two more matches away. So we’d started talking about it the day before.

You won one match apiece. Did you change up your tactics for the last match?

I think both of us were thinking ‘wow, she really outplayed me in the first match’ and ‘wow, he really outplayed me in the second match’ and ended up playing really tiny poker, limping on the button and nobody’s betting. We were almost even in chips but now the blinds are 20,000/40,000 and we each only started with 600,000. So now it was going to be who had the best hand when all the money went in which I felt was kind of fitting against my old friend. So he raised on the button, I moved in with Qd-9d out of the BB which is a perfectly good play and he happened to have Ad-Kd. Obviously it looks like he’s going to win the match except I make Queens and nines because I’m a luckbox.

About two hands later, he moved in with A-2 and I had nines and they held up and I took it down. I like that I didn’t get completely outplayed and completely spanked by Erik Seidel. I feel on the whole he played better but I’m not embarrassed – do you know what I mean?

What was he like in defeat?

He could’ve played his worst enemy and been gracious. The fact is I’m not one of his worst enemies, I’m one of his best friends so obviously he was extremely gracious and he actually tweeted after the match was done that he ‘took second to Annie in the NBC heads-up, it was the easiest defeat I ever took.’ I would’ve felt that way too, had he won. I would’ve been so happy for my friend to have added that to his many accomplishments, nobody deserves it more. Eight bracelets, WPT title, second in Australia, $10m in tournament earnings. He’s such an incredible player and such an amazing poker mind and capable of such complex and amazing plays, some of which obviously you’ll see. I would’ve been ecstatic to have the honour of taking second to him.

Do you find it an insult or a compliment that many people know you more for your TV exposure than your poker?

The fact is the finale of the Celebrity Apprentice got over 12m viewers, which is obviously more viewers than poker programmes get. I’d say more people come up to me because of Celebrity Apprentice than the number that come up to me because of poker. That was part of the reason I worked so hard in the last two tournaments I’ve played because that gets a little frustrating. I don’t want to be known as that person who came in second to Joan Rivers, it’s not why I did the show. I do want to be known as a poker player not a contestant on a reality show.

Does that mean you have bad memories when you think back to that?

It’s actually very mixed. I don’t have many neutral feeling towards that show. I feel very warm fuzzy to a lot of the people that I met on the show. Towards my friends that supported me on the show, that was an amazing experience. The ability to raise that much money for the charity was amazing and the people who came out and supported were incredible. Discovering what you’re capable of was also incredible. It was kind of crazy what they asked you to do and knowing you can accomplish that is really great.

That being said there’s definitely an overwhelming feeling of disappointment with the way things went down because I don’t feel like anybody has the right to start throwing around Holocaust references, particularly in the context of a silly reality show. The adult in the room – meaning Donald Trump – never stood up and said ‘You need to stop, it’s not ok for you to be saying this woman is worse than Hitler.’

You have a very strong personality. Do you feel some people just don’t get you?

Oh definitely. Interestingly enough, when you look at the message boards for the Apprentice last year, mid-season when she started saying that stuff to me, the audience was very split. It was basically 50/50. By the time the finale aired, when you looked on the message boards it was 90% in my favour. When you meet/see me I’m very direct, no-nonsense, I’m just who I am. One of my faults, I guess, is that I’m not so good at the social niceties. The touchy feely, feel-good stuff when you’re first around people. So I think sometimes people are put off by me when we first meet.

Am I right in thinking no more reality TV shows?

Oh God I hope not, seriously. I’m not looking for it.

Are we going to see more poker from you this year?

Well yeah except you’re not going to see any poker from me until the World Series. I can’t do the Bellagio or San Remo event because I have my kids that week and normally there’s a lot of flexibility except my ex-husband is out of town. But I’m really hitting the WSOP full force and I’m going to play the Bike and try and get to Foxwoods this year, so you’ll see a lot of poker from me in the second half of the year.

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