Saturday, August 5, 2006
LAS VEGAS -- Hey look! Annie Duke!
It has been over a year since I last saw her play in a live tournament, but the great thing about poker these days is, you still feel in touch with someone because it's all over television.
But still, even with that, whether it's the World Series of Poker Circuit events, the World Poker Tour, Poker Superstars or High Stakes Poker, to name just a few of the bajillion poker shows coming over the top of TV land, it seems the only place you could catch her on the tube would be "CSI: Annie Duke."
And so, just when you wonder where Annie Duke has been, she shows up at the featured table of Day 3 of the WSOP main event Friday among the final 1,000 players of 8,773 entrants.
(Author's tangent: More confounding poker math -- it took a week to get to Day 3. Now, back to our regularly scheduled column.)
Anyway, Duke is at the featured table, and it's a different-looking Duke. Her brown hair is richer and her features are softer, but it's the Chairman Mao hat and khaki jacket that are the biggest initial changes. She told her sponsor, UltimateBet, to make her a hat, and then she came across a jacket that looks like an army issue, with epaulets and all that, except it's made of silk. Gone is her customary shirt-on-shirt look.
"I used to wear the layered T-shirts because it's so cold in there and I had to wear Ultimate Bet stuff, so I had to wear the shirts," she explained. "But UltimateBet gave me a hat this year, so I get to wear my normal clothes. I don't actually wear layered T-shirts outside of the poker room. It was a warmth thing, not a fashion statement."
OK. Fine. Now we've accounted for the clothes. What about the poker player in them. Where has she been?
"I've been here the whole time," Duke said, "but the WPT boycotts us."
No, wait. Isn't it you and the six other players suing the WPT over image rights, including brother, Howard Lederer, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson and 2004 WSOP champ Greg Raymer, who are the ones boycotting the WPT?
"We do not boycott them," Duke said pointedly. "They boycott us because they don't allow us to negotiate the (TV waiver). There's no negotiation on the release whatsoever, and the release takes away our image rights for eternity throughout the universe."
Some of the high-profile players have signed deals that put their names and faces on video games, for instance. The WPT requires all players to sign a waiver that gives the company primary and secondary rights to whatever tape is shot, including use in video games. Such releases are common in television, even if the language changes from production company to production company. The players, however, believe they stand to breach their original endorsement contracts if they sign the WPT release.
"You know what, it doesn't matter what endorsement contracts it conflicts with," Duke said. "The fact is that since I buy into a tournament and I pay a fee to the casino to play, they should not get my image rights for anything other than broadcasting the show, and even that's not fair because it's the only place you pay a fee to be on TV.
"We pay our own salaries (and don't even have a chance to get it all back because the casinos take part of the players' pool to divvy up among tournament staff).
"Imagine if John Elway when he played in the NFL paid his own salary, had to pay the NFL a fee, and when Nike came a-calling, Nike called the NFL.
"That (WPT) release would allow them to make a blow-up doll of me. They could make a blow-up doll of me and send it out and not pay me. I should have the right to choose.
"(WPT creator) Steve Lipscomb has said repeatedly that when we put you on TV or on a package, it's good for you. My point is, that might be so. I don't know. I'm not going to argue that point. It might good for me, but I should be able to decide what's good for me, not the WPT, shouldn't I?"
Duke adds that the players filing the lawsuit also hope to make playing conditions better for all players. WPT blind structures are usually 90-minute levels until the final table, where it is cut to 60. When it gets to heads-up play, blind levels change every 30 minutes, the only tournaments I know of where the levels get rolled back as the money jumps reach their greatest differences. Again, this comes back to the WPT dictating terms when players put up all the cash.
"I think that ultimately it's going to be very good for the game because it's going to create changes for all the players," she said. "We want changes across the board for everybody. We're not looking for changes just for us. Obviously, there are real monetary damages that we have to sue for because those have teeth. But we want things changed.
"Poker's very much like the NFL was in the beginning or Major League Baseball was in the beginning. You look through the history of those sports and players have had to bring lawsuits in order to get changes made. The lawyer that we have (Jeffrey Kessler) litigated McNeil vs. The NFL to create free agency in that sport."
The WPT released a statement last month based on an initial review of a complaint posted on a Web site by the seven poker players. The WPT said it believes "the asserted antitrust and other claims severely distort the facts and misrepresent the current state of competition in the poker industry."
"We are proud of our contribution to the growth of the poker industry and are happy many players have benefited from it," Lipscomb said. "Therefore, we find it disappointing that a handful of players, of the many thousands who play in WPT events each year, have decided to make these claims even as the sport continues to grow."
OK. Fine. But that only partly answers the question of where Duke has been.
"I've got a production company called Ten Dimes Productions ('10 dimes' being poker talk for $10,000)," Duke said. "I have three feature films in development. I've got two with Red Wagon, which just finished 'Jarhead' and 'Memoirs of a Geisha,' and I have a low-budget horror film going. One's a broad comedy, one's a con movie and one's a horror film. None are poker-related, by the way.
"What else do I have going on? I just sold a game show that I created with my partner, Joe Reitman. I'd come up with story ideas and we'd develop it into three acts and then we'd go in and pitch it.
"I probably spend 70 percent of my time on that stuff and the poker fantasy camps that Howard and I do. We just did one in Vienna. And I'm filming four more DVDs in September, three of which are poker DVDs, one's for blackjack. I'm producing them. I've got four poker DVDs out, so this will make my total number of titles seven. They're all straight strategy. One's going to be post-flop strategy, one's going to be sit-'n-go strategy and one's going to be advanced online strategy.
"Then I've also got a book proposal due. My second book. It's going to be a strategy book."
With all that going on away from the table, shouldn't she really be playing poker in order to put out a poker strategy book?
"I play a lot of poker, dude," Duke said. "I've been playing online at UltimateBet a lot. The WSOP Circuit events tend to be in very out-of-the-way places and it makes it difficult for me to go because I've always had to balance out kids vs. poker (the divorced Duke has four children and moved from Portland, Ore., to Los Angeles). Unfortunately, the WPT has the good venues locked up."
So, the "Poker Mom" has been at the World Series, not that you'd notice on the score sheet.
"It's very interesting: I've been playing some of the best poker of my life and I haven't cashed," she said. "I'm having the worst World Series of my life. I've been getting very deep in every event and having a disaster between 10 (p.m.) and midnight every night. It's like 10 o'clock comes along and I either get my money in as a favorite and lose -- either a 4½-1 favorite or 3-2 or 6-5 -- or I get my money in as a 4½-1 dog and lose. Doesn't matter which side I'm on.
"I've lost a lot of really ugly hands. I have kings and they have aces, or I get it all in with nines against sixes (and the sixes suck out). I'm not really complaining. Those things happen, particularly with fields this big. You have to win a lot of these hands. You have to gamble a lot more. But I'm extremely happy with the way I'm playing."
Poker's not the only game she's happy with. Duke took part on the annual Roshambo contest organized by ESPN.com columnist Phil Gordon and beat out 63 other players to collect the top prize of $10,000.
You might not know the name "Roshambo," but you certainly know the game: Rock, Paper, Scissors. No lie. Duke gained her entry fee for the greatest tournament in poker because she flashed scissors while Marc Goodwin went with paper.
"Hopefully, I'll continue to play the way I've been playing and hopefully I won't have really bad things happen to me, which is all anybody can hope," Duke said of the main event, not Rock, Paper, Scissors. "You've got to go through 8,800 people, which is crazy."
No crazier than some of the places the "Poker Mom" has gone.