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Annie Duke has leveraged her expertise in the science of smart decision making to excel at pursuits as varied as championship poker to public speaking. For two decades, Annie was[…]

From “frigid bitch” to “cunt,” Annie Duke is no stranger to name-calling at the table. She’s even classified the men she has met into categories.

Question: What obstacles have you found as a female poker player?

Annie Duke: I personally haven’t found any obstacles. I think that’s because I am very focused on what my goals are in the game. My goals aren’t social ones. If I had goals that were social in nature, if I felt like I wanted to always have good social interactions with people at the table, that I didn’t want to have negative reactions with people at the table, then there would be obstacles to being a woman. I don’t think about it that way. People having negative reactions to me at the table is actually a good thing. It means they are emotionally wrapped up in my existence, which means they are not going to play well. That’s not true for a lot of women. What I can tell you is that the downside to being a female in this world because poker doesn’t have the same kind of glass ceiling because nobody is hiring you. Nobody is setting your salary. There aren’t a lot of the negatives that happen in business where you won’t get promoted because your boss is a chauvinistic ass-hole, or you are getting paid less than your male colleagues, that stuff doesn’t exist here because you are playing by your own wits, it’s our own money, and you’re just winning money according to how much better in the game you are.

That being said, when I was playing in Montana, I got called very bad names on a daily basis. I would win a hand and it would be just a random hand, and the person would look at me and say, “You fucking cunt.” I’m not kidding. That happened to me pretty much every day, which is an interesting reaction to losing a hand of poker. What you would consider sexual harassment or things that wouldn’t be okay in every day interaction become fair game in a lot of player’s minds at the poker table. Some how they feel like because you have agreed to sit down at the table that they are allowed to treat you however they want because it was your choice to sit down in their world. They seemed to think that it was okay to be using those words in relation to me.

Now, that would be a very big negative for most women, .being treated that way. I remember one time I won a hand from someone and he looked at me and he called me a frigid bitch, which was really weird. I’ve been really overtly and disgustingly hit on at the table. I was playing in a game once with somebody who – I won’t say who they are, but they were actually a very famous television producer, and [he] kept saying to me, “Can I look in your hole?” “What’s in your hole?” “Can I get in there?” Because you have hole cards. They thought they were being funny with this pun. I was playing once with a famous actor who was eating lamb chops at the table, and he said, “Hey, do you want to try my meat?” After he was done with his meat, he lifted up the bone and he said, “What about my bone?” Obviously, none of that is appropriate in pretty much any circumstance, but I get faced with that regularly. Again, most women I think would find that a negative, a downside. A lot of women end up not coming back to the table because they are treated that way. It didn’t bother me because I didn’t look at it as any kind of statement on who I was or whether that was appropriate because, again, it wasn’t like these people were my bosses. It wasn’t their job to hire me.

Question: How do you get back at them?

Annie Duke: As a good poker player, what you are doing is you are watching the way that somebody behaves at the table. You see what they’ve done with past hands so you can use that past information. Who they are as a person? Are the conservative? Are they wild? What are their hand ranges that you’ve seen them play in certain positions? How have they bet good hands? How have they bet bad hands? How have they behaved? You take all of that data that you have collected about that player so that when you are in a hand with them you can use all of that in order to predict their behavior and predict their hand. You’re constantly updating that based on what you see them do.

At the poker table, stereotypes can be good as a starting point. I sit down at a table. I've never played with anybody before in my whole life-- its a kid's [who has] a baseball cap and he's wearing headphones and a hoody. I look at that guy and I say this guy definitely views himself as a poker player and he's probably going to be trying fancy plays. I can make some assumptions about how that person is going to behave given that I might get in a hand with them before I’ve ever seen them play. I need kind of a jumping off point. If I see a businessman [in] a tie and suit, they're probably not someone who plays poker all the time, they're probably going to be less experience[d]. They're very likely to be conservative in their play in [and] less likely to be making plays on me. I can make certain assumptions about the way people play in, butI have to be willing to update those as I see them play hands. It might turn out that the kid with the baseball cap [is] only [dressed] that way because he's seen people dress like that on TV, and he's actually the worst poker player I've ever seen. Likewise the businessmen might actually be very good. It turns out that there are stereotypes that you can make about women at the table. They tend to be less aggressive; they tend to be more straightforward, so when they bet it's more likely that they have it. They do make plays, they are very unlikely to be bluffing you. They tend to be more passive players rather than more aggressive players. That comes from them being less experienced because women tend not [to] play poker a lot. When a woman sits down at the table, [you] could make the reasonable assumption that they are probably a less experienced player and they're going to have certain attributes. As soon as you start seeing them play you have to change [your] mind.

Topic: “Lucky” bitch

Annie Duke: The advantage to being a woman is that men are very unwilling to change their minds about who you are as a person, because the stereotypes that men have about women and their emotional reactions have been built into them since they were little tiny baby's. It's very hard for them to undo a lifetime of stereotypes. They tend not to update their information about you based on who you are. The best example I can give is a hand that I actually played against or having for this guy, and this was back in Montana, this guy raised with King, nine of diamonds, and I re-raised them with ace, king of hearts and they called me, and the board came a king and two small hearts. And so, he flopped a king but had a nine with it, and I flopped a king, but I had an ace with it. So, I had, by far, the best hand. And he bet and I raised and he re-raised me, and I re-raised him, and re-raised me, and I re-raised him, and he finally called. And then on the next card, he checked and I bet, and he raised me, and I re-raised him, and he called. And then on the next card, he checked, and I bet, and he called. So, I turned over my ace, king of hearts. And notice, at no time did I have the worst hand. I had the best hand literally from start to finish. I behaved completely rationally in the hand. And so anyway, I turned my hand over, and now he flips his hand face up on the table and he’s like, “You see what a lucky bitch she is? She’s always so lucky. You know, what are you supposed to do, she’s so lucky.” And so on and so forth. And this really came from his inability to accept that I might just be a better player than him. And I might have just had a better hand than he did. He had to attribute it to luck because he was unwilling to update his stereotype of who I was as a person.

Now, this person actually, I found out a few years later, beat his wife almost on a nightly basis. So, you can imagine how strong his views of women were in terms of not wanting to give them credit and I was really horrified when I found that out, but interestingly not surprised because he was one of those C-word people. So, but that’s really common. So, I sort of divide men into three categories – well four categories. There’s men who are rational and they treat you as any other player at the table, so that’s category one. So, those people aren’t advantageous to you. But the first category that you can work to your advantage is the person who is angry that you are there. It’s their game; it’s a man’s game.

Topic: Poker’s four types of men

Annie Duke: I would say the majority of men fall into the, they just treat you as any other player. But of the people who don’t, of the people who are actually behaving in a chauvinistic way, I would say it’s probably about equally divided between three types. The first I call an angry chauvinist. They are pissed off that you are there. What goes along with that is that the worst thing that could ever happen to them is losing a hand to a woman because that would clearly be castrating them. So, those players have certain ways that they play toward you in order to make sure that you are never outplaying them, which would be the worst thing ever. Like, could you imagine if a woman bluffed that guy? That would be really bad. So, what that means is that those people are going to be trying to bluff you too often because they have to assert their manhood over you, which means they have to outplay you, so they’re going to be playing too many hands against you. They’re going to be playing them too fast; they’re always going to try to be bluffing you. And the other thing is that they’re going to be calling you too often because they want to make sure that you’re never bluffing them. So, obviously, it’s very easy to devise the strategy to counter that.

The next type of person that I call is a disrespecting chauvinist. And that person just doesn’t believe that you could possibly have any imagination. So, the difference between those two is, the angry chauvinist is usually nasty to you at the table. They’re really nasty. They’re the one being like, “Can I look in your hole?” The disrespecting chauvinist is often very nice to you. They come off as a very sweet person, but they don’t have any respect for the female intellect. So what happens is that they think that you don’t have any creativity to your game. If you bet, they assume that you have a hand, and if you check, they assume you don’t. And so, that’s obviously also very easy to come up with a strategy to counteract. It’s really easy. Just bet when you don’t have a hand because they’re going to give you too much credit because they’re going to think that you can’t think more than one level deep.

And then the third type is what I just call the flirting chauvinist. And that guy just wants to sleep with you. And the good news about somebody who just wants to sleep with you is that it would be very counterproductive to their goal to take your money. So, they tend to be very helpful to you at the table. They’ll tell you when they have the best hand and so, they’ll be like, “Don’t call honey, I have a flush.” And it’s like, “Will you show me?” And then they’ll show you. Obviously, that’s a great guy to play with. And what I say to people all the time is again, and the idea is that understand what your goal is at the poker table, which is to come up with the best strategy to most efficiently and precisely take somebody’s chips. I am always willing to flirt with people at a table. That being said, I have never been on a date with a poker player, I’ve never held the hand of a poker player, I’ve never kissed a poker player, none of it. But I’ve done a lot of flirting at the poker table with people who I know are looking for something from me and so I always say, I have given people a lot of hope, but then I suppose I’ve dashed them when it comes down to it.

Recorded on September 30, 2009