Poker legend Annie Duke talks to us about her poker life and how she manages to stay at the top: ” If you play cash games on the side it’s incredibly distracting and tiring and will negatively affect your tournament performance and vice versa”

Annie Duke has won a TOC, WSOP bracelet and raised four children on her cash game profits

One of the most successful cash game and tournament players in the world, Annie Duke shot to stardom when she destroyed Phil Hellmuth heads-up at the TOC in 2004 to win $2m. In addition she’s won a WSOP bracelet and came 88th in 2006’s Main Event to bring her career tournament winnings close to $3.5m.

You initially got into cards by playing with your family as a kid – as a mother, do you do the same kind of thing with your family now?

No I don’t. But it was kind of a tradition in our family [when I was a kid]. At night we’d all sit on the floor of my dad’s study and play Gin and Hearts. So my brother (Howard Lederer) and I developed a really good sense for cards – how they flow in a game and how people act when they have good cards and bad cards. That was a training ground for what we ended up doing.

So would you want your kids to pursue this kind of lifestyle?

My kids and I don’t really play [card] games together. When I grew up so much of what I was doing was about winning, which was stressful. It’s not the way I’m raising my children.

When did you first realise you could make a living from poker?

The first time I played in the World Series of Poker in 1994. My brother staked me in the first event and I came 14th. He watched me play and thought I had some talent. So then I played the $2,500 Limit Hold’em event and came fifth. He suggested that I play some super satellites for the Main Event. Well, I’d never played no-limit Hold’em before, but he gave me some pointers and I won two super satellites. I ended up playing in the Main Event and cashed in that, knocking him out on the way. After that I moved to Vegas, started off playing $50/$100 limit Hold’em, and moved my way up from there.

So you’re not going to train your kids, but in the past you trained the actor Ben Affleck. Is that something you’d do again?

It’s so time-intensive to teach someone poker, that the answer is no. Of course, after I trained Ben, he won the California State Championships (pocketing $356,400). But the problem is in terms of how much time it takes and what the lessons are worth. If I take someone who’s losing $100,000 a year and turn them into someone who’s winning $100,000 a year – that’s plus $200,000 for that one year. If you take that out over someone’s lifetime, those lessons have now made that somebody millions of dollars. So if I trained someone, I’d be undercharging at $200,000, because that training might make that person $10m over their lifetime. People think it should be $300 an hour or something like that – but they don’t understand that I’d be giving them a skill which is going to make them money for their whole life.

Nowadays you’re better known as a tournament player rather than a cash game player…

I didn’t used to be. The first 10 years of my [poker-playing] life all I did was play cash games and that’s how I supported my family. But now I have four kids and a life outside poker; to play cash games and tournaments, literally all I’d do is play poker. I used to play just the World Series for the first 10 years that I played. And then when poker hit TV I quit cash games and focused on tournaments. If you play cash games on the side it’s incredibly distracting and tiring and will negatively affect your tournament performance and vice versa.

You did really well in this year’s Main Event (Annie came 88th), but because of the size and nature of the field it felt like a lot of the pros were almost relieved when it was over. I didn’t get that impression from you…

I think the pros’ complaints are ridiculous. In any event with 9,000 people in it, there’s going to be some poor play, but on Day 2 I didn’t recognise one person at my table and there was only one bad player. And that helped me because I was extremely card dead. On Day 2 I never did better than flop a pair, and I only did that three times; yet I went from 27,000 to 67,000 because the players I was playing against knew how to play. It’s much easier to win with hands that aren’t so good against players who know what they’re doing because you can get into their thought processes and they’re willing to lay down hands. And why would I complain that 9,000 people want to play in a game with me? There are plenty of invitational events just for the pros. And then there’s the World Series, which is a total equaliser, completely egalitarian.

In the past has being a woman helped you at the table?

It’s helped me at the tables and in getting noticed. Before I won the Tournament of Champions and my first World Series bracelet I didn’t have the resumé that a lot of players had, yet I got a lot of notoriety. It’s just a fact that you don’t have to do as well to get the attention. It’s the same on the male side; there are people who have great personalities who don’t have the performance that certain players who don’t have really big personalities have. But it’s the ones with big personalities who get the press and are recognised as great players, even though their records aren’t as good as others. Being a woman, I just don’t have to be as loud as Mike Matusow to get the attention… thank God.

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