Stereotype Threat | Hidden Brain 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 can be an advantage.
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An Ace Up The Poker Star's Sleeve: The Surprising Upside Of Stereotypes

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An Ace Up The Poker Star's Sleeve: The Surprising Upside Of Stereotypes

An Ace Up The Poker Star's Sleeve: The Surprising Upside Of Stereotypes

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SHANKAR VEDANTAM, HOST:

Thanks for listening to HIDDEN BRAIN. Every week, NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour brings you a fun and funny conversation about the best in movies, TV shows, books, music and more. From "Trainwreck" to "Key And Peele" to movie soundtracks to the latest Judy Blume book, you are bound to hear something that makes you happy every week. That's Pop Culture Happy Hour from NPR. Find it now at npr.org/podcast and on the NPR One app.

It was 2004, and Annie Duke was about to win $2 million.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

PHIL 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 Phi when she check raised him...

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Annie calls the all-in. And Phil sees what he's up against.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

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 had knocked out eight guys, eight of the best players in the world to get to this point.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

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: This is HIDDEN BRAIN. I'm Shankar Vedantam. Today, we are going to take the whole podcast to tell you the story about being an outsider. It's why Annie Duke didn't feel she deserved to be at that table, and it's a perfect illustration of a very powerful idea in psychology called stereotype threat. It's an insidious thing. Here's how it works. Let's say that you think people have a certain stereotype about you. There's a part of you that's afraid that your actions and behavior will prove the stereotype 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: But Annie's story is also about a second idea, and this idea often has a positive outcome. This idea is called stereotype tax. That's when a stereotype that others have about you works to your advantage.

DUKE: If somebody was at the table who was so emotionally invested in the fact that I was a woman, given that they're treating me that way, how can I come up with the best strategy to take their money, 'cause I guess in the end, isn't that the best revenge?

VEDANTAM: Annie had started playing poker in 1994. And by the time she got to that championship game 10 years later, she had basically figured out how to make stereotypes about women in poker work for her.

DUKE: So I can tell you that the first year that I played in the World Series of Poker main event, which was in 1994, 3 percent of the entrants were women, and last year that number would have been the same.

VEDANTAM: Wow. So this is an extraordinarily male-dominated sport.

DUKE: Completely. I was generally the only woman at the table. I had to really love that game in order to be willing to expose myself to a lot of the behavior that I was experiencing.

VEDANTAM: Tell me what you heard. What did people say?

DUKE: There were people who were incredibly welcoming. There were other people - you know, there was one guy who I lost a pot to, and he said, don't cry, I'll give you your money back if we go across the street to the Northern. And the Northern was a hotel.

VEDANTAM: Wow.

DUKE: You know, and I got called a lot of bad things. But to think about it as, OK, given that this person is viewing me in a way that I find disrespectful, try to separate yourself from your emotional reaction to that and think about how you can use that to your advantage.

VEDANTAM: Annie had learned to make her opponents pay, literally, for the stereotypes they held about women.

DUKE: Right. At the poker table, for example, I sort of in my head divided people into three categories. One was the flirting chauvinist, and that person was really viewing me in a way that was sexual.

VEDANTAM: And not as overtly as the guy who invited her back to the Great Northern Hotel. These were just guys who sometimes seemed more concerned about getting Annie to like them than they were about winning.

DUKE: Like they'd show me their whole cards when they were done with their hand to show me whether it was a good fold or not. They'd kind of tell me during the hand, if I was alone with them in the hand, you know, what they had.

VEDANTAM: They were trying to make nice with you?

DUKE: They were trying to make nice with me. Exactly. 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: Then there's a second kind of guy.

DUKE: What I would call the disrespecting chauvinist who mainly just thought that women weren't creative, that they could only think one level deep. So they didn't believe that you knew how to bluff, for example, 'cause that's a level deep in your thinking. They didn't think that you really had creativity. They thought that you were very straightforward in the way that you play because, you know, you're a girl.

VEDANTAM: Right. So they assume that you're naive, basically.

DUKE: Exactly. So 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.

DUKE: You couldn't bluff them because they would call you all the time for fear that you might be bluffing them, and then they would also try to push you around a lot. So they would play extremely aggressively against you. They'd be trying to bluff you all the time because the best thing that could happen to them was that they bluffed you and then they could show you that they had a terrible hand and be like, ha ha little girl, look what happened to you.

VEDANTAM: Right, because that would confirm that everything that they believed about you was true.

DUKE: Right. So you can just sort of wait until they - 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. 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: Coming up, feeling like an imposter.

DUKE: It was always in the back of my mind, like, do they really respect me? Why are they talking to me? Is just because I'm a girl, or do they actually respect my play?

VEDANTAM: More from Annie Duke after this.

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VEDANTAM: Welcome back to HIDDEN BRAIN. I'm Shankar Vedantam. We're talking with poker champion Annie Duke about stereotypes, how they affected her and how she learned to turn them to her own advantage. In her first 10 years at the poker table, Annie was able to compartmentalize her emotions, and she won a lot of money doing this, using stereotype tax to her advantage. That was until 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Intimidation is such a big part of being a successful player. Is that going to come into play at this table, you think?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh, not really. In fact, these players know each other so well, if one of them sneezes, somebody else has already handed them a handkerchief.

VEDANTAM: Actually, at least for Annie, that wasn't true. She had never played poker on TV before, and she was pretty sure she had been invited as the token woman, that she was way out of her league. She thought that ESPN, televising the game in this way for the first time, just thought it was good optics to have her there.

DUKE: And I went in there with this incredible fear that my play, which was now in front of lipstick cameras - so my mistakes were no longer going to be private to me - that that was going to expose that everybody was right and I was actually a terrible player. And 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.

VEDANTAM: You were facing a very difficult situation here, which is you're not just juggling with what's happening at the poker table, but you're juggling with all this other psychological crap, in a way, that just makes it hard to focus on what it is that you're actually doing. And in so many ways, that to me is a perfect illustration of stereotype threat.

It shows that when there's a stereotype that's in the air, when there's a stereotype that multiple people believe, even if you don't believe it yourself - if you are the person who is potentially at the receiving end of that stereotype, it affects your behavior in such a way that you become more likely to make the stereotype come true.

DUKE: I think that that's completely true. It was always in the back of my mind, like, do they really respect me? Why are they talking to me? Is it just because they are thinking about me in a different way, like, they want to be friends with me because I'm a girl? Or do they actually respect my play?

VEDANTAM: There was a particular hand, Annie says, when stereotype threat got the better of her.

DUKE: So in this particular hand where I had two 10s...

VEDANTAM: This was early in the game. There were nine people still at the table, and for Annie...

DUKE: Certainly in the beginning of that tournament, I just kept thinking to myself, like, oh, please don't let me be the first one out 'cause then everybody will be right.

VEDANTAM: Because of course, she wasn't good enough, she didn't belong at the table, she couldn't hang with the guys.

DUKE: That discourse was kind of running in the back of my head the whole time.

VEDANTAM: And then Annie winds up in a head-to-head matchup with one other player. Her hand was a pair of 10s, which is a pretty good hand. It was good enough that there wasn't a huge chance that her opponent, this guy Greg Raymer, had a better hand. But there was still a chance. As a professional poker player, this is the kind of hand that you evaluate in a matter of seconds.

DUKE: So I really needed to eliminate that hand as a possibility, and I was having a lot of trouble doing that because I was so afraid of making this really bad, big decision on television and having everyone say, I told you so.

VEDANTAM: This was a pivotal hand, but a lot of the significance was really just in Annie's head. If she folded but really had the best hand...

DUKE: Everybody's going to be like, see, she plays like a girl. Like, look how he pushed her around. And if I called and I was wrong, then I could come up with a whole other thing, like, look how bad she is. Didn't she know that he had the best hand? Like, any idiot would have known that, you know? And that was running in my head as I was trying to make this decision.

VEDANTAM: So you're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't.

DUKE: Absolutely. Absolutely. And it was incredibly difficult, and it wasn't until I kind of snapped to and saw this tell that he had.

VEDANTAM: And when you say a tell, you mean what?

DUKE: So a tell is a physical - well, it could be something verbal that somebody says that gives a clue - but generally when we talk about tells, we are talking about something physical that somebody does that telegraphs the quality of their hand, or at least what they think what the quality of their hand is. So Greg Raymer did something, which I haven't actually said what he actually did because I think that's unfair to him - but he did something that gave away the fact that his hand was very, very strong, which allowed me to then fold. And at that moment, I was actually quite confident in it.

VEDANTAM: But Annie's confidence in her decision was short-lived. Another player came up to her during a break in the game and what he said kicked the stereotype threat in Annie's head into overdrive.

DUKE: Phil Hellmuth, right after that hand occurred, came up and just told me, like, what an idiot I was because clearly Greg Raymer had ace-king. And I thought, oh, my gosh. This is a guy who's like - now I think he's a 12-time world champion - but at the time he probably had, you know, seven world championships or something. And he seemed pretty confident that he had ace-king and - oh, no. And it was just - and then I had an hour in my room having a panic attack while we were on break from the tournament. It was pretty awful.

VEDANTAM: Annie's stereotype threat had produced what poker players call tilt.

DUKE: Tilt - when you allow kind of bad things that happen to you that very often are out of your control to cause you to be a poor decision-maker going forward.

VEDANTAM: You know, Annie, social science researchers have figured out one way to beat stereotype threat. There was an interesting experiment conducted at Stanford University by Greg Walton and others where he was concerned that black students at Stanford might feel that they were imposters on campus. And when negative things happened to them - they get a bad grade or a bad interaction with a professor - they'll interpret that in the light of thinking I don't really belong here.

And so he had the students come in. And he had them describe negative things that happened to them during their freshman year, but he also had them describe how those negative things were transient events. You get a bad grade or you have a bad interaction, but two weeks later, that's not a big deal anymore. And he was using this as a way to get students to understand that everyone experiences setbacks. It's only when you see local setbacks as global problems that the risk of stereotype threat comes in, and you start to feel like an imposter.

DUKE: Exactly. And it's something that I've used a lot at the table. You know, when I lose a big pot and it feels like the end of the world, I try to think about how will that really affect my bottom line in the long run. So an example would be you get a flat tire, you're standing by the side of the road. It feels like the worst thing that's ever happened to you. And then, if you stop for a second and you say to yourself, well, if it's a year from now, will that flat tire have affected my happiness for the year in any way? And the answer to that is of course no. It wouldn't tick it up or down.

So in that same sense, you know, when you have something really bad happen, to stop for a second and think about, well, I've had stuff like this to happen to me before. When it was a few weeks later, did it really affect my overall level of happiness? And the answer is generally no.

VEDANTAM: In just a moment, the conclusion of the poker championship...

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

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

VEDANTAM: You won't want to miss this.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Phil Hellmuth needs an eight to win this pot...

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VEDANTAM: Thanks for listening to HIDDEN BRAIN. Every week, NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour brings you a fun and funny conversation about the best in movies, TV shows, books, music and more. From "Trainwreck" to "Key And Peele" to movie soundtracks to the latest Judy Blume book, you are bound to hear something that makes you happy every week. That's Pop Culture Happy Hour from NPR. Find it now at npr.org/podcast and on the NPR One app.

This is HIDDEN BRAIN. I'm Shankar Vedantam. I'm talking with Annie Duke about the final hands in the world's biggest poker championship.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Annie has picked up a heart draw here...

VEDANTAM: So after she nearly lost it in her hotel room, Annie comes back to the table and she has a stroke of luck. She wins a pretty nice hand.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: And the river card. It's a six of spades. No help for Greg Raymer. He loses that hand. Annie Duke lives to tell the tale yet again...

VEDANTAM: And you can actually hear at this point in the game, Annie begins to loosen up. It's a sign that she's finally gotten the stereotype threat under control.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

DUKE: The flop was just - wow.

GREG RAYMER: It doesn't matter what order they come in, right?

DUKE: It doesn't matter - well, it kind of does in that situation, you know?

VEDANTAM: Annie had turned on the charm with Greg Raymer. And the next time they faced each other in a hand, Raymer got cocky.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Now Raymer needs to call or get out of the way.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: I don't know what he's thinking about here. It's one thing when he called with nine-eight suited before when he was chip leader and it was a small cost. But he has a lot fewer chips and not as good of a hand.

RAYMER: I call.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Oh, the world champion is going to call...

VEDANTAM: Just to be clear, this was not the right thing to do. Raymer had a pretty weak hand.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: And now the river card. It's a three. No good for Raymer.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: Well, calling that all-in with a nine-eight off-suit line, that's a meltdown of sorts for Greg Raymer.

VEDANTAM: On the next hand, Annie would knock out Raymer, whose nickname was Fossilman.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: It is an ace. It's no help to Fossilman. And he goes down.

DUKE: You played really well.

VEDANTAM: Just like that, Annie was back in the zone.

DUKE: And that actually sort of brought me out of this very bad headspace.

VEDANTAM: Soon the table dwindled to four players.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Hellmuth knocking out Johnny Chan in fourth place.

VEDANTAM: Then there were three.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: It's a three, and that's the end of the line for Howard (ph)...

VEDANTAM: Until finally, Annie and Phil Hellmuth, the guy who nearly destroyed her confidence earlier in the game, these are the only two left. And Annie says to him...

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

DUKE: This is all right, you know? I'm just happy to be in the final two. I mean, seriously I donked (ph) my money off in the first two hours...

VEDANTAM: You could argue that this little-old-me act...

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

DUKE: Somehow...

VEDANTAM: ...Really did a number on Phil Hellmuth...

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

DUKE: ...Someway...

VEDANTAM: ...Because for the next half a dozen hands, he just did not know what to make of Annie.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Well, Annie Duke will shy away from this hand.

HELLMUTH: God dang it. I should have moved in before the flop.

VEDANTAM: Annie keeps the charm turned up.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

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

HELLMUTH: I had a pocket pair.

DUKE: Sorry I couldn't accommodate you.

HELLMUTH: Well, you gave me the raise.

DUKE: Yeah.

HELLMUTH: I just...

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

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

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

VEDANTAM: Phil Hellmuth was holding a 10-eight.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: Phil, ready to act, high pair, and he will bet 45,000.

VEDANTAM: But Annie's hand was much better, a king-10.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

DUKE: I raise.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Annie Duke is going to raise Phil Hellmuth.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: And she's going to raise 200,000, as she has set her trap.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

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.

HELLMUTH: Four-hundred-and-fifty more.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: She set the trap, but Phil has come back very strong.

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. It's based on probability, instinct and all the undercurrents, expectations and stereotypes that have been running through the game the entire time, but now there is only one question. If Annie thinks that Phil has misjudged her, she knows she should call his bet.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

DUKE: I call.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: Annie calls the all-in.

HELLMUTH: [Expletive].

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: And Phil sees what he's up against.

VEDANTAM: What he's up against here meaning the dealer's cards. That's going to determine who wins. And if there was any moment that perfectly revealed how much of an outsider Annie was in this situation, it's this next one.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

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

HELLMUTH: An eight, please.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Phil Hellmuth needs an eight to win this pot. Both players on their feet anticipating the river card. It's a three. 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: She won every [expletive] raise for [expletive]...

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 WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

HELLMUTH: She check-raised me six times. I know she didn't have it all six times.

DUKE: Oh, my God. I won.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

HELLMUTH: She had to be [expletive] 30-1 to win this.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

HELLMUTH: I love Annie, but [expletive].

VEDANTAM: And maybe even wasn't supposed to be at the table in the first place.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

HELLMUTH: Who the [expletive] [expletive] [expletive].

VEDANTAM: But precisely because Annie Duke knew how stereotypes can be both threat and advantage, well...

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

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.

HELLMUTH: Another [expletive] second - second, third, second third.

VEDANTAM: I have to say, Annie Duke, you're not just a good poker player, but you're clearly a very wise person.

DUKE: (Laughter) Well, so are you. Thank you.

VEDANTAM: Thank you so much for talking with us today, Annie. I really, really appreciate it.

DUKE: Thank you for having me. It was a lot of fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

HELLMUTH: I see it, but I don't [expletive] believe it. I just don't believe it.

VEDANTAM: For more HIDDEN BRAIN, find us on FaceBook and Twitter. You can also listen to me on your local public radio station.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD SERIES OF POKER)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Meanwhile, Annie Duke is being presented the inaugural...

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