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Poker Stories: Annie Duke’s Hero Fold

Poker pro Annie Duke told this story at The Moth, an ongoing forum where people tell true stories in front of a live audience.

(Photo credit: CNBC)

It was 2004, and Duke was playing in the Tournament of Champions, a $2 million dollar winner-takes-all event hosted by ESPN where they had invited the ten best poker players, including legends like Johnny Chan and Phil Hellmuth. Just earlier that year, Duke had won a World Series of Poker bracelet, netting herself $150,000 and making herself the winningest woman in poker at the time.

It was also her first time playing on TV with hole-card cameras.

The Hand

With everyone still left in the tournament, Duke found herself short stacked with a pair of tens. She decided to open raise and, when Greg Raymer shoved all-in, she had a tough decision. Time seemed to stand still.

She didn’t feel paralyzed because she was facing a tough poker decision. She was afraid that she would be exposed, that the world could see her cards and that everyone would see her mistakes.

You see, even though Duke was the best woman poker player, she still wasn’t one of the top 10 players. She felt like a fraud, like she didn’t belong at the table. If she folded against a worse hand, everyone would know that she had made the wrong play, and they would see her as she saw herself. At the same time, if she called and lost, the same would be true.

Luckily, Duke and her brother had watched Raymer play on WSOP coverage earlier that year, and she had picked up a tell that he did when he had a strong hand. When she then looked over at him with her tens, she saw him make that same tell. That’s when she knew he must have aces or kings.

She decided to fold.

The Results

The tournament then took a break for dinner, and that’s when Phil Hellmuth came up to her and said, “Annie, I know you had jacks or tens. Don’t you know Raymer had ace-king? It was totally obvious to me.”

Duke was crushed, and she spent the next hour filled with self-doubt. Clearly, she had made a decision not to lose instead of win.

The play resumed, and, as Duke explained, “Sometimes the cards save you from yourself, and you get lucky.” Duke ran hot. After half the field was gone, Duke got into another huge pot with Raymer. This time she busted him.

He came over to her, leaned over, and whispered, “Annie, I know that hand you had earlier was hard. I want you to know that I had two kings and you made a really good fold.”

With her confidence restored, she was ready to play to win—and win she did. She found herself heads up against Helmuth himself, and when she eliminated him, she collected the $2 million.

When she looks back on it, she considers those tens the best hand she ever played. “Sometimes,” she concluded, “it’s the really big things you don’t do.”


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