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Annie Duke : How I Raised, Folded, Bluffed, Flirted, Cursed, and Won Millions at the World Series of Poker

Annie Duke
I am totally addicted to watching poker on TV, which is amazingly similar to getting addicted to drugs. First you start out with the Celebrity Poker Showdown, a fun show, but isn’t serious poker playing. So, you move up to the harder stuff, particularly the hardcore World Poker Tour. Then, you want to try something a little bit different, so you watch the World Series of Poker. Next thing you know, you’re looking for poker hits all over the tube, like High Stakes Poker, Monte Carlo Millions and even Poker Superstars.

Although I was certainly familiar with who Annie Duke was before reading this book–i.e. one of the top female players today if not all time–I’m not sure how much I’ve ever seen her play. She’s only made one WPT final table and her 2004 bracelet-winning WSOP game wasn’t televised by ESPN. She seems to appear more on TV as a commentator than a player. The WPT is usually quick to give her a soundbite and she’s done commentary for Poker Superstars and has appeared on the tutorial program co-hosted by her brother Learn Poker From the Pros.

But just because you don’t see someone on TV doesn’t mean they don’t exist or that they haven’t done great things. As I said, Annie’s reputation precedes her and she’s held in the same esteem as many of the current greats, guys like Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, Phil Laak and her brother Howard Lederer. As for women, you can probably count the top players on two hands: Cyndi Violette, Jennifer Harman, Evelyn Ng, Kathy Liebert, Jennifer Tilly (yes, the actress) and Annie. There’s a few I’m leaving out, I think, but not many.

It’s a little unfair, too, to call Tilly a “top player” even though I see her in more and more TV events. Here’s the thing that may be the most impressive about Annie. First off, she’s one of the earlier female players who played tough in the game and helped break the barrier that women could in fact play in the “man’s game” of poker. In her autobiography–and when it starts to get really interesting–she tells about playing in dive bars where poker was legal in Billings, Montana, with an unsavory bunch of men who didn’t take kindly to a “girl” taking their money.

Then, as Annie’s reputation and skills improved, she didn’t want to be known as a good poker play for a woman. So, one of the more important moves she made was to avoid the “ladies only” event at the World Series of Poker and just played–and won–in the regular event so that the derogatory “playing well for a woman” tag wouldn’t continue to trail her. (Tilly’s TV wins have been only in “ladies only” events.)

Annie is certainly an interesting character. However, her autobiography–co-written with David Diamond–is kind of all over the place. I really wanted to learn her story, so when the book goes into these weird historical tangents about the places she lived, it’s kind of irritating. I did appreciate the detailed history of the World Series of Poker, which was more in-depth than what Doyle Brunson has in his Super System II (the only other poker book I’ve read), but the pre-1900 history of her hometown Concord, New Hampshire, or the full history of Las Vegas are just distractions from learning Annie’s story, which is what you really want to read about.

Much of the book, also, is devoted to the most important game in Annie’s life: The 2004 WSOP Omaha Hi-Lo event. The WSOP is the premiere poker tournament in the world and winning one of its events can elevate a player up into the poker history books. Annie goes into great detail about all the important hands during her winning Omaha event. I was interested to read this detail, but the rub is that still being a poker novice I can’t follow Omaha for the life of me. I’m still working on the nuances of Texas Hold ‘Em that I find a more complex game like Omaha Hi-Lo baffling, so I was lost a lot during Annie’s game play recounts. For any other poker novices wanting to pick this book up, I actually recommend reading Annie’s description of how to play Omaha in the back of the book before starting at the beginning.

Overall, though, it’s a pretty entertaining book. What makes poker so interesting is that in addition to the game play, it’s all about personalities. Mike Sexton of the World Poker Tour is always stressing that poker is a game of “making correct decisions.” But much of that ability to make proper decisions comes with where a person’s head is on a deeply emotional level, taking into account what’s going on in someone’s entire life and not just what’s happening at the poker table. So, it’s good to read a player autobiography like Annie Duke as much as it is to read a playing strategy handbook.

Finally, a few days after I finished reading Annie Duke the book, I was able to watch the other important game in her life: The 2004 WSOP Tournament of Champions, where she beat nine of the best players of the game to win $2 million. For some of it, I actually sat there with the book open and followed what she had written about where her head was during the most pivotal hands. It was like having a written DVD commentary while the game was being played. As much poker on TV that I watch, I wouldn’t mind having more opportunities for that kind of thing.

Buy Annie Duke on Amazon.com!