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Annie Duke keeps emotions at bay

16 June 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada –- Annie Duke treats poker like business.

She thinks it's a lesson business people should follow.

"You can't let your emotions dictate your actions," Duke said. "You will always lose. In poker and business, you see people reacting with emotion. It's important not to react to something, but to plan your next move."

Duke, 43, is arguably one of the most successful female poker players on the circuit, and she is popular among poker fans. She's been playing in the World Series of Poker since 1994 and has cashed in 37 events, earning more than $1.13 million through this year's tournament at the Rio.

In 2004, Duke won an Omaha High-Low event for her first World Series of Poker champion's bracelet.

Her best finish in the tournament's $10,000 buy-in no-limit hold'em Main Event was in 2000 when she placed 10th and won $52,160.

"I'll probably play in about 15 or 20 events at the World Series," Duke said. "It's a long haul."

Duke drafted a new legion of fans and followers as a contestant on the recently concluded television series "The Celebrity Apprentice." She was one of 16 personalities trying to raise money for charity while trying not be fired by the host, billionaire real estate developer Donald Trump.

Duke finished second ahead of sports stars Scott Hamilton, Natalie Gulbis, Dennis Rodman and Hershel Walker, country singer Clint Black, comedians Andrew "Dice" Clay and Tom Green, and motorcycle designer Jesse James.

But it was her acrimonious verbal battles with comedienne Joan Rivers, the show's eventual winner, that had audiences watching and drove the show's ratings skyward.

At times during the episodes, Rivers said Duke was worse than "Hitler" and compared poker players to members of the Mafia. The comments raised the ire of the poker community, including World Series of Poker Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack, who told media last month that he was looking forward to a woman winning the tournament's Main Event title, "unless that woman happens to be Joan Rivers."

As part of the contestants' final task, Duke raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for her charity, Refugees International, mainly through her connections in the poker community.

Reflecting on how the show played out, Duke said she was able to dispel Rivers' stereotyping of poker players. Both Duke and Trump said "Celebrity Apprentice" raised more than $1.5 million for various charities, and poker players played a big part in the fund-raising efforts.

Duke believes Rivers owes poker players and Las Vegas an apology.

"Poker is a legitimate profession," said Duke, who is a graduate of Columbia University with degrees in psychology and English. She also spent five years working toward a doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania in cognitive psychology, which she set aside. Divorced, Duke is the mother of four children, ranging in age from 7 to 14.

"Most of us are math nerds," Duke said. "But poker players are very charitable and concerned about the community. That wasn't how Joan portrayed us."

By finishing ahead of most of the show's more well-known celebrities, Duke showed her business abilities, such as being able to think quickly on her feet in order to complete a task when the contestants had only hours or minutes to come up with a solution.

"I never reacted to Joan, which is how I play at the poker table," Duke said. "You learn quickly to let things slide off your back and not react emotionally. That also works well in business."

Duke's management skills impressed Trump.

"I think Annie did a lot for the image of poker players," Trump said. "She's extremely talented, and we saw that right from the first task."

As for the animosity between Duke and Rivers on the show, Trump said it was real and not the result of creative editing or acting skills.

"It was major hatred and dislike," Trump said. "No one is that good an actress."

Pollack thought Duke's participation on "Celebrity Apprentice" gave poker a new audience.

"The fact that a poker player at all, but certainly a poker player of any stature, is on 'Celebrity Apprentice,' is a quantum leap forward for the mainstreaming of poker into our pop culture," Pollack said. "I think Annie is representing poker players beautifully."

Long before "Celebrity Apprentice," Duke was well known for her charitable endeavors. Through poker events, she has raised millions for children's hospitals and educational foundations.

In 2007, she and actor Don Cheadle established the Ante Up For Africa event, a $5,000 buy-in no-limit hold'em game that raises funds for the survivors of the humanitarian crisis in Dafur, Sudan. The event attracts both Hollywood celebrities and poker's elite. Last year's game raised almost $500,000 for the cause.

Duke is also an activist on Capitol Hill in trying to change the federal law outlawing Internet wagering. She is one of the founding members of the Poker Players Alliance, which supports making online poker a legal activity. Duke can recite contradictions in federal regulations better than most Washington, D.C., lobbyists.

"It's not a poker issue, it's a civil liberties issue," Duke said. "It's about adults being allowed to do adult things."

Despite her success, Duke doesn't consider herself a trailblazer for female poker players.

"For a while, it might have seemed like myself and Jennifer Harman were the only women out there," Duke said. "The lines have blurred as to what sex someone is, but it will be a huge deal the first time a woman wins the Main Event."

Annie Duke keeps emotions at bay is republished from