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An Interview With Annie Duke - Part II

By Justin West

Annie DukeWhen we left off in part one of my interview with Annie Duke, I had just hit a nerve. Annie has long been a proponent of women's rights in poker, desperately crying for an end to the World Series of Poker's ladies event.

"The mere fact that we have ladies only events suggests to me that people believe there is some fundamental difference in the minds of men and woman that causes a distinction to be made," said Annie. "When you're making that kind of a distinction, it tends not to be favorable to the group that's being singled out."

In this, part two, Annie responds to the most common arguments made in favor of keeping the ladies event around: tradition, and introducing more women to the game of poker. As we move on, Annie gives her two cents on whether or not the World Series of Poker's main event is still the white wale for her that it once was, given the seemingly insurmountable fields.

Part two of the three-part series. Click here for part one.

Justin: The argument that I've always heard in favor of ladies events is that there aren't enough women playing poker, and these events provide a comfortable introduction. Your thoughts?

Annie: I don't have an issue with casinos running "ladies nights," for just that reason. A lot of women are actually scared to walk into a poker room. But we're not talking about an introduction. We're talking about a World Series of Poker bracelet. We're talking about a world championship, right? That makes no sense to me, unless you're saying there is some fundamental difference between the intellect of a woman and a man, that causes you separate them out in order to award a WSOP bracelet. Which, by the way, isn't a world champion of anything, because that last time I checked, you didn't win against anybody in the world. Poker is the great sport, where anybody can play. We proved that last year when a blind man played! We know this is a totally equal playing field.

Here's the issue. I say to people all the time, "What would you say to me if I wanted to have a blacks only event?" They say, "You can't do that, that's completely prejudiced! Why would you separate blacks from whites? Are you saying that blacks aren't as smart as whites?" Well it's the same thing! Are you saying that women aren't as smart as men?

Justin: Interesting way to put that. I've often thought the same thing, myself.
Annie Duke

Annie: It makes no sense to me. The other argument I hear all the time is that the ladies event is a tradition, and if you took it away from the women they would be upset.

I have two responses to that. One, is basically that just because something is tradition, doesn't mean it's good. For example, I think the KKK probably has many traditions. I doubt that any of them should be maintained. Not only that, but I think it was traditional for women not to vote, for women to be treated as property... Just because something is tradition doesn't mean that you're supposed to keep it. That is a completely ridiculous justification for behavior that I consider to be completely unjustified.

But that's not all. I don't think that everyone understands what the tradition of that event really is. I'm trying to educate people about that. For years and years the main event was held like clockwork on the Monday after Mother's Day, which falls on Sundays. There was only one starting day to the event, so that meant that anyone playing in that Sunday event was potentially going to be very exhausted going into the main event the next day at noon. So, what to do? How were they going to get people to play on Sunday? The World Series of Poker didn't want to lose a day, so they had an idea. That Sunday was always Mother's Day, so they thought they'd create a ladies event so that the people in the main event could have a day off.

I was very young, and I didn't think about feminist issues at the time. There was a very simple reason why I never played the ladies event. It wasn't because I was taking a stance, it was because I was playing in the main event.

Justin: So, how long do you think it's going to take for the event to disappear? Or, do you think that it's going to stick around indefinitely?

Annie: I think the World Series is so committed to that event. There is hardly a player's advisory council where I don't mention it.

Here's the issue that I find really frustrating for me, personally. My whole point about this is that, "Hey, women! You guys kick ass." When you look at the results that the very few top professional women have had, they've had really kick ass results considering there's about five of them. When you look at that main event every year, the women comprise about 3-5% of the entrants, and that's true of most of the regular events as well... There's a lot of women who have open event bracelets. There's no reason to discount what your abilities are and think that you have to go in and only play against women. There's no reason to be intimidated.

I have gotten more flack than you can possibly imagine from women who say I'm "anti-woman," that somehow I think I'm better than the other women. It's so hard for me to fathom how they come up with that interpretation of what I'm saying.

I was the lead instructor for the WSOP Academy ladies event this summer, and I'm doing that again in January. I went there because I feel that while every single year this game is growing, the prevalence of women in the game is not. Every year, like clockwork, 3-5% of the field is women, and it never grows. That's very frustrating to me. I realize that a lot of women are intimidated by the ratio in these events, so I do a ladies camp to empower them with knowledge and with confidence, so that hopefully they'll start playing in the game more.

Justin: I asked Daniel Negreanu when I last spoke with him about the World Series of Poker main event, interested to know whether or not he still had that driving urge to win it. Given that the event has gone through many changes as of late, what do you think? Is that the Holy Grail of poker to you?

Annie DukeAnnie: My view is similar to Daniel's, but I think mine is a little bit tempered. Look. Of course it's important to me. It's a lot of money. I'd be crazy if that didn't hold some value to me. However, because of what it's grown to, I definitely don't care whether I get knocked out or not anymore. Did I care two years ago when I came in 88th? Yes, but that's a different story, because I was so friggin' close.

This year I got knocked out on the first day, and I literally didn't care. There was a large part of me that was happy about it, actually, because it meant that after a very, very long six weeks, I got to go home. In past years, I would never have felt that way. Before 2004 or so, every single year it was devastating for me to get knocked out of that event. The thing was that you had to wait until the next year to play again if you got knocked out, and that was just horrible. This year I walked out of there thinking, "Yes! Let's pack up. I get to go home!"

The WSOP main event has become so large, I think, that when you go in there you realize that winning it is such a ridiculous long shot. There are so many people. What kind of expectations are you really supposed to have? When you walk into the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. Tournament you have expectations, and rightly so. When you walk into that event you're thinking, "Wow! I'm good at this game, and if things go my way I can win this." With the main event, it's: "I'm good at this game, and if every single thing goes my way for five or seven days straight (or whatever the hell it is now), and if I can somehow have lightning strike fifty million times.... I might win." So obviously under those circumstances it doesn't have the same meaning that it used to have.

Thus concludes part two. The third and final part, arriving tomorrow, contains Annie's answer to a question I've been dying to ask her since before the end of the 2007 World Series of Poker. Curious to know what that is? Check back tomorrow!

part I | part II | part III

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Justin West
Justin West played poker since the age of 17, he spent more than a year earning a living on the green felt; a modest living, to be sure, but a living nonetheless. His aim was at one point to win the WSOP main event, thus causing Hell to freeze over. However, given his penchant for sin and his extreme dislike of cold weather, Justin has put that dream to rest.