Never Take Poker Tips from Strangers
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 one of the top poker players in the world. In 2004, she bested a field of 234 players to win her first World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet. The same year, she triumphed in the $2 million winner-take-all, invitation-only WSOP Tournament of Champions. In 2010, she won the prestigious NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship. Prior to becoming a professional poker player, Annie was awarded the National Science Foundation Fellowship. Because of this fellowship, she studied Cognitive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.
Annie is a master storyteller, having performed three times for The Moth, an organization that preserves the art of spoken word storytelling. One of her stories was selected by The Moth as one of their top 50 stories and featured in the organization’s first-ever book. Her passion for making a difference has helped raise millions for charitable causes. In 2006, she founded Ante Up for Africa along with actor Don Cheadle and Norman Epstein, which has raised more than $4 million for Africans in need. She has also served on the board of The Decision Education Foundation. In 2009, she appeared on The Celebrity Apprentice, and raised $730,000 for Refugees International, a charity that advocates for refugees around the world. In October 2013, Annie became a national board member for After School All-Stars. In 2014, Annie co-founded How I Decide, a nonprofit with the goal of helping young people develop the essential life skills of critical thinking and decision making. In 2015, she became a member of the NationSwell Council. In 2016, she began serving on the board of directors of The Franklin Institute, one of America’s oldest and greatest science museums. Annie is the author of Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All the Facts.
Question: How much time did you put in before you got good?
Annie Duke: I’m still waiting to be really good. I’ll let you know. Stick a pin in that one. I’ve been playing for 15 years, I’m waiting. I mean, the fact is, that has to be the case because poker is a game of decision making under conditions of uncertainty so that you don’t see your opponents cards, you can’t ever become a master of the game because it’s not mathematically solvable. You can get better at solving it, you can get closer to a solution, you can get better at behaving properly toward the range of hands that your opponent might be holding-- mathematically properly I mean, in terms of equity decisions-- you can get better at narrowing down the range of hands that your opponent could be holding. [In] an ideal world, we get it down to one hand and then we would always behave perfectly, but we can’t do that. I am much better than I was when I started, but I will never have it solved. I mean, you just can’t. That’s what allows us to grow as players and it’s what allows us to continue to become better. I don’t think that I’m great. I am striving to become great. I am going to be striving toward that goal for my whole life. The realistic answer to your question is, I started in ’94, and I started being really successful at the game around 1998.
Question: What’s the best advice you were ever given?
Annie Duke: When I first started playing, I was very focused on the bad things that happened to me that were out of my control. My brother had to give me this advice over and over again. It took a few years to really sink in, but my brother said to me – we call it moaning. You’re moaning about your luck. You’re moaning about your hands. He said to me, not only does nobody want to hear you moan, which is true because we’ve all seen every bad hand that’s happened. I don’t need to hear it. The piece of advice that he gave me [that] was so important was not that nobody wants to hear you moan, it was; what productive thing is coming out of moaning? In what way is moaning productive? He is totally right about this. All you are doing when you are moaning is bemoaning your bad luck. “Oh, I had the best hand, and he had the worst hand and he won.” You’re not doing anything to analyze the hand; you’re not doing anything constructive. Did I do something wrong in the hand? Could I have taken a different line of play? Should I have been involved in the hand in the first place? Those things might help you become a better poker player. When you’re moaning, all you are doing is focusing on things that were not in your control, at least you are not exploring whether they were in your control, which is bad. You’re just focusing on the one piece of bad variance that happened. There’s nothing productive that comes from it.
Question: What’s the worst advice you were given?
Annie Duke: When I first started playing, there was a person who decided they wanted to mentor me. This was outside, obviously my main mentor was my brother, and the majority of the beginnings of my poker knowledge came from him. I developed into my own player because you have to be. People react to different personalities differently. My brother and I have different personalities, but he gave me all of my fundamentals. He gave me the bricks and mortar upon which my poker game was built. There was this person in Billings, Montana when I first started playing who decided they wanted to mentor me. They were giving me advice and as far as I knew at the time, they were a successful player, at least a successful player at that level. I made the mistake of thinking maybe I should listen to this person’s advice. They were explaining to me why small suited connecting cards are good and you should be playing those from any position. This is a little [bit] technical, but let’s just suffice it to say that that’s a horrible piece of advice. It really screwed my game up for awhile– I was playing limit Hold-em at the time. There’s more justification for playing those hands in no-limit Hold-em because you’re return can be greater on them, but in limit Hold-em in particular, playing a hand like six-seven of clubs in first position in a ten-handed game is a ridiculous choice.
This person really believed in it and wanted to give me that advice, and I took that on for a little while to a very disastrous results. My brother finally fixed it because I thought to ask my brother’s opinion on this situation after things weren’t going so well. He explained to me that suited cards only improve your hand by 3%. Another one of the great pieces of advice my bother gave me was, when you see that your two cards are of the same suit, you should ask yourself, would I play this if it weren’t suited? If the answer is never in a million, gazillion years, then the answer is still never in a million, gazillion years. If the answer is, maybe sometimes under certain circumstances; in other words, it would be a marginal play, then it turns it into a playable hand. He said all suited cards do is turn a marginal hand into one that you can play. When you look down at six, seven off suit in first position, I don’t think anybody is playing that hand. Probably not a good idea to play it, but that was the secret that this person was unlocking for me. I tried it for about a month or two, and it didn’t go well, and I actually do consider that to be the worst piece of advice I was ever given.
Recorded on September 30, 2009
Professional competitor Annie Duke recalls the best and worst advice she’s received during her career.
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