Annie Duke Stereotype Threat

3 years ago
Annie Duke Against Poker Chauvinists
08 Oct

When it comes to stereotypes in poker, Annie Duke might not be your idea of the ‘perfect female opponent’ for many reasons.

With looks ranging from ‘Les Miserables’-lead beautiful some days, to Kathy Bates in ‘Misery’ on others, and having a poker background which ranges from ‘meister’ to ‘schyster’ depending on who you talk to in the poker world, the poker-pro turned cognitive psychologist makes for an interesting case-study in the world of ‘stereotype threats’ and ‘stereotype taxes’.

Shankar Vedantam, the host of an interesting live show-cum-podcast called ‘Hidden Brain’, invited Duke to discuss these complex psychological principles vis-à-vis her early years among the poker fraternity – where often being the sole-female in a male-dominated game had many drawbacks.

“Do the other players respect me? Or are they talking to me because I am a female?”

That's what Duke said as she sat down to play, splitting her male opponents into three main groups which she titled ‘The Flirting Chauvinist’, ‘The Disrespecting Chauvinist’ and ‘The Angry Chauvinist’.

Vedantam’s interview was designed to separate the ‘stereotype threat’ (how being singled out as a woman could have negative effects on her game) with the ‘stereotype tax’ (how other players views of Duke could be used against them).

Duke, a much-maligned figure in poker having been allegedly involved in some of the game’s biggest scandals of recent years (Ultimate Bet, the Russ Hamilton Affair, Epic Poker League) was quick to describe how her early years at the table saw all three groups of players acting differently towards her, something she had to find an answer to if she wanted to make it big in the poker world.

  • The flirting chauvinist – These guys, Duke says, would chat away with her quite happily, showing down their hole cards to show her fold was good for example and generally treating her like a ‘glass doll’ – perhaps more in the hope of a date than viewing her as a threat at the table.
  • The disrespecting chauvinist - That's how Duke refers to type 2, those males who think women can only think 1 level deep, e.g. unable to bluff, naïve and having no real creativity when it comes to what happens on the green felt. Duke relates one tale where she claims her opponent offered her her chips back if she would ‘accompany him to the motel across the street’ after she had lost a big hand to him.
  • The angry chauvinist – The type of guy who would ‘do anything to avoid being beaten by a woman’. Being extremely aggressive and constantly bluffing were the hallmarks of these players, and Duke devised a cunning scheme to deal with these players.

“I would wait until they impaled themselves on my chips”.

Her formative years in poker had taught her to “compartmentalise it at the table” in order to be successful, and then “drive home in tears” because of how she had been treated.

The podcast focuses mainly on the 2004 WSOP Tournament of Champions, the first televised version of the event, where Duke wondered if she had been invited simply as “the token woman” and worried that the cameras would show the world “just how bad a player I am.” This despite having made a good living at the game for the previous 10years.

Vedantam describes this as the quintessential ‘stereotype threat’, a self-fulfilling prophecy as the fears affect/take over your game. He also gives some scientific background to overcoming such debilitating moments, describing a study which implemented the “transience of setbacks” into the equation.

Duke agreed that such a view – imagining how a flat tyre on her car, for example – might appear to her one year later, became a useful tool at the poker table when faced with a big decision or loss in a particular hand.

Back at the Tournament of Champions, Duke’s initial goal was to “Please don’t let me be the first one out”, because then “everyone will be right” in their view of female players inability to mix with the big boys of poker.

Folding a pair of tens against Greg ‘Fossilman’ Raymer induced a pivotal moment, as her ‘good fold’ was ridiculed by the intemperate Phil Hellmuth as ‘idiotic…anyone could see he had AK’. The resulting ‘panic attack’ Duke had during the break turned into a steely resolve, and Duke outlasted the other eight players -taking out Raymer herself - to find herself heads-up with Hellmuth for the title and a $2,000,000 first prize.

The ‘stereotype tax’ which Hellmuth was about to pay more than made up for his earlier comments. Finding himself out-played by a new, aggressive – and talkative - version of Annie Duke, Phil finally cracked and called Duke’s ‘umpteenth suspicious re-raise’, only to find himself drawing almost dead to an eight on the turn or river.

When it failed to materialise, Hellmuth was left to his usual cursing and bemoaning of his fate -‘ I see it but I just don’t fucking believe it’, being one of the more printable - while Duke walked off with the title and a new-found psychological boost.

Whether or not Duke is truly responsible for all the detritus flung at her over the past decade was not part of the remit here - Vedantam and ‘Hidden Brain’ have done a great job in exploring one of the less-well-considered areas of the game – the psychology of poker –and Duke is probably one of the better case-studies for such an approach.

The full podcast can be found here.

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Andrew from Edinburgh, Scotland, is a professional journalist, international-titled chess master, and avid poker player.Read more


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