January 02, 2011

Annie Duke Will Never Shill for WSOP.com

Late last week, news broke in the poker world that Phil Hellmuth and Annie Duke were leaving their positions as sponsored team pros for the UB online poker site.* My initial reaction to the news was a big "Who gives a flying pig?" Generally speaking, I think endorsements are an overrated marketing strategy, so the mere fact a certain poker player or stable of players are affiliated with a particular online poker site really makes no difference to me. Seriously, does it matter to Joe Recreational Player if Phil Ivey or Tom Dwan is playing high stakes poker at the Bellagio or Aria? If not, then why should it matter that they play at a particular online poker site?

Several respected poker media members and poker insiders—most notably F-Train and Katkin—have engaged in a bit of informed speculation about why Hellmuth and Duke left UB, and where they'll likely sign their next deals. The consensus opinion seems to be that Hellmuth is a natural fit for the WSOP.com site, operated by Caesars Entertainment (f/k/a Harrah's Entertainment). Given Hellmuth's current record of WSOP bracelets and his visible presence in the poker media, it's hard to argue for a better landing spot for the Poker Brat. Whether a WSOP.com signing of Hellmuth portends optimism by Caesars for near-term online poker leglaization is a tougher nut to crack, but as F-Train points out, one rarely goes astray when following the money.

But what about Annie Duke? F-Train thinks Caesars / WSOP is a natural fit for Duke as well:

Duke also has significant ties to WSOP through her work for WSOP Academy. Her standing as one of the top female tournament players in history, along with her "celebrity tv" cross-over appeal, are good fits for WSOP. She would bring to the table what Hellmuth lacks in terms of corporate spokespersonship.

Katkin has similar thoughts about Duke, though a bit more guarded:

As for Annie — well that’s a little more complicated. I personally wouldn’t be surprised to see Annie end up joining the Caesar’s team alongside Phil as she too has a long-standing relationship with them as their lead WSOP Academy instructor. The thing is, I don’t know that Annie needs the spotlight as much as Phil does. In recent tournaments, she’s looked a little burned out while sitting at the table and, honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if she just takes a year off from the game to regroup and to work on one of her pet non-poker related projects.

Although I have great respect for F-Train and Katkin, personally, I can't see Annie Duke ever signing on to be a Caesars / WSOP representative. Why not?  Two words:  Ladies Event.

Although the longstanding WSOP Ladies Event has become controversial over the past several years, during the 2010 WSOP a small number of men decided to protest the event by playing in the event (and in some cases, being rather rude about it). During the ensuing firestorm of controversy, Annie Duke came out as strongly opposed to the Ladies Event being a WSOP bracelet event, a position she has long held. Although I may not completely agree with Duke's position, there is no question I respect her for holding a reasoned, principled position on the issue.

The problem with Duke's anti-Ladies Event position is that there really is no way to reconcile her position with  a possible paid position as an endorser and spokesperson for WSOP.com. The WSOP is the crown jewel in the Caesars poker empire, and the Ladies Event is an historic and popular event in the WSOP. As WSOP.com builds its presence in the United States poker market (whether through play money marketing or eventual real money play), there will almost certainly be marketing and promotions related to the WSOP Ladies Event. Ads and offers directed to known Caesars women live action poker players as well as freerolls or satellites feeding the Ladies Event are inevitable.** There is no question that Caesars would expect their paid spokesperson for women's poker to be an integral part of the marketing of the Ladies Event, and likely even require her to play in the event.

Say what you will about Annie Duke, she has always struck me as a person who stands firm on what she views as core principles. If Duke in fact signs on to be a spokesperson for Caesars / WSOP.com, she will have repudiated her entire argument against the Ladies Event for a few pieces of silver. I don't see Duke selling out like that, but maybe Caesars will find the right price for Duke's integrity. Only time will tell.

* Now UB, of course, is the successor site to the scandal-ridden Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker sites, where high-profile cheating occurred via "superuser" accounts which enabled certain players—who were company insiders—to view their opponents' hole cards during live play (background on the Absolute Poker "PotRipper" scandal and the Ultimate Bet "Russ Hamilton" scandal for those of my readers who aren't in the online poker loop).  So, Hellmuth and Duke have certain credibility issues within the poker community for their continued association with UB post-scandals, particularly since they were long-time paid company representatives who may even have held an ownership stake at some point in time.

** Trust me, Caesars is quite good at leveraging its Total Rewards data for micro-marketing. I get plenty of gay-oriented email ads, as well as offers and promos related to poker and Midwestern residents. I may, in fact, be targeted as the sole professional, Midwestern, gay poker player in the Total Rewards database. Big Brother for degenerates ...


  1. I give a flying pig! That may make the meat a bit tougher and not as tender.

  2. I disagree. The last honorable poker player I've seen is Doyle, and HE only gets to act that way because he's king of the hill. Money talks. There is a dollar amount above which Duke (or just about any other poker player) would be willing to swallow their pride and take the cash. The fact that UB signs Pralahd Friedman (or any other player) despite having blatantly stolen from them is all the proof you need.

    And, while Duke has made a big issue of Ladies Events in the past, I don't see this as a big enough issue to keep her away. Sure there will be chatter on the boards, but I don't think that will affect her too much. The PR is easy - she'll claim that the best way to reform the beast is from the inside.


  3. @ StB: Low and slow, baby, low and slow.

    @DrChako: Prahlad Friedman signing with UB after the site basically single-handedly screwed him out of millions (since refunded, presumably) and destroyed his career is an eye-opener. There probably is a figure for Duke's soul. But she has been so outspoken re the Ladies Event, I can't see how she can walk all that back short of the WSOP making the Ladies Event bracelet some sort of "honorary" award. Maybe I'm just naive.

  4. Didn't Annie Duke host a ladies-only WSOP Academy?

  5. @BWoP: There is a big difference between sponsoring a ladies' educational seminar and endorsing the Ladies Event as a WSOP bracelet event. If Duke backtracks on that latter issue, her arch-nemesis Danieal Negreaneu wins (and that ain't never happening!).

  6. How do you reconcile Annie Duke's past position re: the WSOP Ladies Events with a sponsorship by WSOP? Easy. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$.

    I imagine if she were paid by the WSOP, she'd stop her yapping. And, frankly, nowadays, her yapping doesn't even really hurt the WSOP. Some might argue it just builds news aka publicity on a yearly basis. It's an instant and oft-repeated story.

    That satisfies the WSOP's needs. The $$$$$ satisfies Duke's needs.

    Incidentally, I really love your blog. I sotra found it late in the grand scheme of things. Regardless, keep up the great work. I'm adding a link to you on my site.

  7. @ HighOnPoker: The old Oscar Wilde, "We've already established what you are, we're just negotiating the price" joke leaps to mind. Maybe I've read Annie Duke totally wrong. Will be interesting to see what happens!

  8. I completely agree that there's a huge difference between a ladies academy and a ladies bracelet event. (I support the former and not the latter, as I'm sure you're aware.)

    But let's put this into the context of Annie's previous sponsoring site. While it may not have been as transparent as her hatred toward the WSOP ladies event, I can't imagine that Ms. Duke supported *everything* that UB has done since its inception.

  9. Also, just wanted to add that HighOnPoker has held the title of "My Favorite Snarky Lawyer" for a rather long time . . .

  10. @ BWoP: Certainly a spokesperson doesn't endorse everything its sponsor does. But for WSOP.com, if they hire a woman pro poker player, it seems likely to me that they will want that woman spokesperson to market and play in the Ladies Event. At a minimum, WSOP.com will want that spokesperson to be tacitly in favor of the Ladies Event. With Duke being an outspoken opponent of such a high profile event, I just don't see the logic of WSOP.com hiring her as a representative. It would be like a steakhouse hiring a vegan (maybe Tobey Maguire) as a spokesperson, but having him endorse only their salads.

    Hmmm, HighOnPoker is a snarky lawyer? Love him already!