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How Poker Player Annie Duke Used Gender Stereotypes To Win Matches

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How Poker Player Annie Duke Used Gender Stereotypes To Win Matches

How Poker Player Annie Duke Used Gender Stereotypes To Win Matches

How Poker Player Annie Duke Used Gender Stereotypes To Win Matches

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/444236895/444236896" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Annie Duke was often the only woman at the poker table, which influenced the way people saw her - and the way she saw herself. Feeling like an outsider can come at a cost, but also be an advantage.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Annie Duke was often the only woman at the poker table. This influenced the way people saw her, and it affected the way Annie saw herself. Psychological research shows that feeling like an outsider can come at a cost. As we're about to hear, it can also be an advantage. NPR social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam spoke with Annie about these ideas for his new podcast, "Hidden Brain."

SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: It was 2004, and Annie Duke was about to win $2 million.

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PHIL HELLMUTH: I'm all in.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: And with that top pair, Phil Hellmuth going all-in with his...

VEDANTAM: This was the final hand of the World Series of Poker: Tournament of Champions.

ANNIE DUKE: They had these incredible hall-of-fame players like Doyle Brunson, who was a hall-of-famer, Johnny Chan, who was a hall-of-famer and then Phil Hellmuth, who has the most championships of anyone in the history of the World Series of Poker. And then there was me.

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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Annie calls the all-in.

HELLMUTH: [Expletive].

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: And Phil sees what he's up against.

VEDANTAM: Annie and this guy Phil were the last two at the table.

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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: And Annie is overcome with emotion seeing how close she is to winning this championship.

VEDANTAM: Annie's crying. Phil's standing up, pacing back and forth. The dealer's laying out the cards. That will determine who wins.

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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Annie has control of this hand. Now here comes the turn. It's a seven - no help for Phil.

VEDANTAM: Annie was the only woman in this competition. She'd knocked out eight guys - eight of the best players in the world - to get to this point.

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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: Annie Duke is now one card away from $2 million.

DUKE: But I didn't really feel like I deserved to be at that table.

VEDANTAM: Annie Duke's story is a perfect illustration of a very powerful idea in psychology called stereotype threat. It's an insidious thing, and here's how it works. Let's say you think people have a certain stereotype about you because of your gender, your race, your age, your sexuality. It could be anything. There's a part of you that's afraid that your actions will prove the stereotype is true. And because you're worried, you get distracted, and now the stereotype actually has a good chance of coming true.

DUKE: I'm sort of thinking about, well, if I fold and I'm wrong, everybody's going to be like, see; she plays like a girl; like, look how he pushed her around.

VEDANTAM: Annie Duke was pretty sure she'd been invited as the token woman. She felt that ESPN thought it was just good optics to have her at the table.

DUKE: Despite the fact that I had spent the last 10 years making my living playing poker at the highest levels of the game, that I didn't really deserve to have ever won anything. I was bad, and I had just gotten lucky, and now everybody was going to know it and what they were saying was true.

VEDANTAM: You felt like an imposter.

DUKE: Completely. So that was in my head the whole time I was playing. I'm not saying that I wasn't, as much as I could, making decisions that were separate and apart from that, but that discourse was kind of running in the back of my head the whole time.

VEDANTAM: There was something else running through Annie's mind. She had started playing poker in 1994, and by the time she got to that championship game 10 years later, she had also figured out a way to make people pay, quite literally, for the stereotypes they had about her. In psychology, this idea is sometimes called stereotype tax. That's when a negative stereotype that others have about you works to your advantage.

DUKE: I figured it was part of the game that if somebody was at the table who was so emotionally invested in the fact that I was a woman, that they could treat me that way, that probably, that person wasn't going to make good decisions at the table against me. So I really tried to sort of separate that out and think about it from a strategic place of, how can I come up with the best strategy to take their money because I guess, in the end, isn't that the best revenge?

VEDANTAM: She says she divided the men who had stereotypes about her into three categories.

DUKE: One was the flirting chauvinists, and that person was really viewing me in a way that was sexual.

VEDANTAM: With the guys who were like that, Annie could make nice.

DUKE: I never did go out on a date with any of them, but you know, it was kind of flirtatious at the table. And I could use that to my advantage.

VEDANTAM: And then there was the disrespecting chauvinist. Annie says these players though women weren't creative.

DUKE: There are strategies that you can use against them. Mainly, you can bluff those people a lot.

VEDANTAM: And then there's a third kind of guy, perhaps the most reckless.

DUKE: The angry chauvinist.

VEDANTAM: This is a guy who would do anything to avoid being beaten by a woman. Annie says you can't bluff an angry chauvinist. You just have to wait.

DUKE: What I say is, until they would impale themselves on your chips.

VEDANTAM: I have to ask you, though. So it's clear that thinking about this mathematically and in a very detached and unemotional way gave you an edge at the poker table. And I can clearly see how that's very smart. But you're not a robot. You're not a computer.

DUKE: No.

VEDANTAM: At some level, you also are processing how people actually are behaving toward you. And I'm wondering if you could talk a minute about how this felt.

DUKE: Most of the time, I would compartmentalize while I was at the table. I would sort of say, I have emotions about this. I'm going to set them aside and deal with them later. And then I would leave the table and drive home in tears.

VEDANTAM: By the time she got to the poker Tournament of Champions, Annie had been using psychology to win matches for a long time. So when it got down to the last two players...

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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Ninety-thousand is the bet from Phil Hellmuth.

VEDANTAM: Annie was ready.

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DUKE: This is all right, you know? (Laughter). I'm just happy to be in the final two. I mean, seriously, I...

VEDANTAM: You could argue that this little-old-me act really did a number on Phil Hellmuth.

DUKE: Somehow.

VEDANTAM: Because for the next half-a-dozen hands...

DUKE: Some way...

VEDANTAM: He just did not know what to make of Annie.

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HELLMUTH: God dangit, all, I should've moved in before the flop.

VEDANTAM: Annie keeps the charm turned up.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DUKE: Are you saying you got a good hand, Phil?

HELLMUTH: I had a pocket pair.

DUKE: Sorry I couldn't accommodate you.

HELLMUTH: You gave me the raise.

DUKE: Yeah.

VEDANTAM: And they go back and forth like this all the way to the final hand. .

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Annie's got Phil second-guessing every move he makes and every move he doesn't make.

VEDANTAM: Phil thought Annie was bluffing. In fact, he thought that she'd been bluffing a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HELLMUTH: I'm all in.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: And with that top pair, Phil Hellmuth going all in with his 450,000 chips. Annie Duke put the pressure on Phil when she check-raised him. And now with Phil's all-in call, the pressure is back on Annie.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

VEDANTAM: At this point, it's obvious to both Annie and Phil the other person has a strong hand. The question is, how strong? That's a judgment call based on probability, instinct, all the psychological undercurrents that have been running through the entire game. But now there's only one question. If Annie thinks that Phil has misjudged her, she knows she should call his bet.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DUKE: I call.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Annie calls the all-in.

HELLMUTH: [Expletive].

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: And Phil sees what he's up against.

VEDANTAM: If there was any moment that perfectly revealed how much of an outsider Annie was in the situation, it's this next one.

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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Annie Duke has defeated nine of the strongest poker players in the world and wins the first ever World Series of Poker: Tournament of Champions.

HELLMUTH: What the [expletive] is going on here?

VEDANTAM: In classic reality television style, cameras follow Phil as he storms away from the table, out a door, just pacing around, talking to himself.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HELLMUTH: un-[expletive]-believable. She won every [expletive] raise for two [expletive] days.

VEDANTAM: It was the reaction of a man who just got beat.

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HELLMUTH: [Expletive] show up with king [expletive] 10...

VEDANTAM: By someone who wasn't supposed to win.

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DUKE: Oh, my God, I won (laughter).

VEDANTAM: And who maybe wasn't even supposed to be at the table. But precisely because Annie Duke knew how stereotypes can be both a threat and an advantage...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HELLMUTH: [Expletive].

VEDANTAM: Well...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Well, you heard Phil, and he was right. Annie was definitely a long shot to win this all. But as the only female at the table, she is now the last man standing.

VEDANTAM: Shankar Vedantam, NPR News.

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