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Best of John G. Brokopp

Gaming Guru

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A Visit with World Champion Poker Professional Annie Duke

2 February 2005

Annie Duke broke the mold of the stereotypical poker player. The petite 39-year-old mother of four may appear as if she'd be better suited to an elementary school classroom teaching third grade, but in reality she makes her living playing high stakes tournament poker.

To be sure, she is no mere attractive curiosity in a world dominated by expressionless men wearing sunglasses. Annie has ranked as one of the top players in the world since she started playing professionally a decade ago, long before the game became "fashionable" through its exposure on cable TV.

Born in Concord, New Hampshire, she holds a double major in English and Psychology from Columbia University. But the first place bracelet she won in the recent World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions holds a more honored place in her home than her university degree.

Annie, who took home $2 million for winning the Tournament of Champions, appeared in Chicago recently to participate in a charity tournament and to promote the new DD Tournament Poker Collector's Edition (PC/MAC), which bears her likeness. She took time to sit down with this columnist to discuss her specialty game, No Limit Texas Hold 'em.

I mentioned to Annie that a veteran Atlantic City poker room manager once mentioned to me that Texas Hold'em is the simplest of all poker games to learn, the easiest to play, but the most difficult to master. Did she agree with his opinion?

"No, I don't agree," Annie was quick to tell me. "There are a lot of forms of poker that are really hard to master. Texas Hold'em is a game that reveals itself to you more and more as you become better at it. There are so many layers to the analysis and understanding of the game that go into winning. Those layers sort of unpeel themselves as you learn more about it.

"The whole thing is, you're making decisions under conditions of uncertainty. You know what your cards are, but you don't know what your opponents' cards are. So, the whole thing is: 'How do you narrow it down to what your opponents' cards are?' That has to do with understanding betting patterns, it has to do with understanding how players act when they're holding cards: Are they holding good cards or are they holding bad cards?

"The simplest level is: I know what my hand is and I'm going to play accordingly. The next level is: I know what my hand is, but now I've jumped to a level where I understand my hand is good only relative to my opponent's hand. So I have to start figuring out what my opponent's hand is, but that's hard. So you start paying attention to facts. Are they raising or not raising? Are they calling? You start paying attention after that to how they are acting when they're holding the cards. Are they doing things that make you think they're weak or make you think they're strong.

"But then there's this whole other level which is: 'Ok, I'm pretty sure I know what you have now, or at least I have it narrowed down, but what type of person are you? Because I need to know how you're going to react to your cards. Are you somebody that thinks K-J is a good hand, or are you somebody who thinks K-J isn't a good hand? Are you somebody who's willing to fold one pair if I put enough pressure on you or someone if you have a pair, you're just going with it to the end? What type of person are you?

"You realize what type of person you are matters as to how I read your bet, because if you're somebody who's very aggressive and likes to push people around, your raises mean a different thing than if you're somebody who's very conservative. Then you're raising for completely different things. So you can see that as you start getting into these layers of complexity that there's so much to master that it literally is impossible to play a perfect session of poker.

"Every time that you play you learn something new about the game. That's why it's such a great game because you can play it for a lifetime and never get bored with it. It becomes more interesting as you play it longer. For example, I'm always learning something about my opponents. It's very important to a player to never think you get it right because if you do, then you're never going to get better at it. It's very important to understand that not only do good players have things to teach you but bad players have things to teach you as well because nobody does everything poorly. And if bad players do some things well, and if they're doing things badly, it's very important to understand why what they're doing is bad. Everybody at the table has something to teach you. You should never discount anybody who's sitting with you. Every session of poker has something to teach you. I'm so happy that I get to do that for a living."

My conversation with Annie Duke will continue next week.

John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

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John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp