Skip to content

189 How to Decide | Annie Duke, Champion Poker Player

Monday 24th June 2024
189 How to Decide |Annie Duke, Champion Poker Player

We continue our run on legendary authors with our guest today, Annie Duke. She’s got a new book out called How To Decide: Simple Tools For Making Better Choices. In this episode, she teaches us about how she thinks about decisions, and how building stronger decision skills can make a difference at a time of crisis, particularly like the kind of time we’re living in now. 

She was one of the world’s top professional poker players. She tells us how to think about the possible and the probable, how to think about the different futures that could occur. Anne’s got a very provocative point of view about luck that I think you’ll find fascinating. In addition, I would suggest you pay close attention to her thoughts on the power of a hedge. 

Every Decision Is A Bet

Annie briefly tells us what has been going on in her life and family, especially during the pandemic. She shares her personal journey and professional background on how she got into poker. Take note where she shares how to decisions while facing massive amounts of uncertainty.

“The point is to hold all those possibilities in your head at once. To be thinking when you should be making the decision. What does that look like under different futures that might occur? So how much money might you win or gain under those futures, or I might be setting up a play. If one of those futures were to occur, you might do something now that allows you to do something later. You have to be thinking about all those things at once. So you always have to have it in mind that the future is uncertain.” – Annie Duke

Hedging Bets

On this topic, Annie discusses the companions to bets, which are called a ‘hedge’. This, diving in deeper, can refer to the different ways the future can unfold and the negative impact it can have in life. Annie shares with us further its meaning as well as examples to help set the tone of the message.

Further, she advises to mitigate and weigh in the cost that comes with the negative outcomes. She then connects hedging with what she calls ‘the paradox of experience’.

“It fits into this broad category of something I call the paradox of experience, which is that you need experience in order to become a better decision maker. Any single experience could interfere with the lessons that you learn. There’s many, many possible futures, but only one past. Once we know the past that occur, we sort of think of it as inevitable. Then we regret having done anything that would plan for any other future.” – Annie Duke

Good Decision Process

Annie discusses how choosing different options can contribute to the likelihood of receiving luck. This luck can influence life in different ways, whether for the good or bad. In addition, she discusses beliefs as a foundation of the decision making process and how the information gathered from this can contribute to the decisions made. 

“There’s different probabilities of each option occurring. It could be that you have the same set of possibilities, but they have different impacts. The magnitude of those things is different. So this kind of tells you now if you can think about those two options. You want to understand what that set looks like. And then when you choose an option, what you’ve done is you’ve decided on the set of possibilities, and how probable each of those things is to occur. Which thing actually happens.” – Annie Duke

To know more about how to make better decisions and the challenges that come with it, download and listen to this episode.


Annie Duke has leveraged her expertise in the science of smart decision making to excel at pursuits as varied as championship poker to public speaking.

Annie’s latest book, How to Decide: Simple Tools for Making Better Choices, is available on September 15, 2020, from Portfolio, a Penguin Random House imprint. Her previous book, Thinking in Bets, is a national bestseller.

In the book, Annie reveals to readers the lessons she regularly shares with her corporate audiences, which have been cultivated by combining her academic studies in cognitive psychology with real-life decision-making experiences at the poker table.

For two decades, Annie was one of the top poker players in the world. In 2004, she bested a field of 234 players to win her first World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet.

The same year, she triumphed in the $2 million winner-take-all, invitation-only WSOP Tournament of Champions. In 2010, she won the prestigious NBC National Heads- Up Poker Championship.

She retired from the game in 2012. Prior to becoming a professional poker player, Annie was awarded a National Science Foundation Fellowship to study Cognitive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned her master’s degree.

Annie now spends her time writing, coaching, and speaking on a range of topics such as decision fitness, emotional control, productive decision groups, and embracing uncertainty.

She is a regularly sought-after public speaker, addressing thousands in keynote remarks at conferences for organizations ranging from the Investment Management Consultants Association to the Big Ten Conference.

She has been brought in to speak to the executive teams or sales forces of organizations like Marriott, Gaylord Resorts, and Ultimate Software, among others. She is a sought-after speaker in the financial sector, with clients such as Susquehanna International Group and CitiBank.

Annie regularly shares her observations on decision making and critical thinking skills on her blog, Annie’s Analysis, and has shared her poker knowledge through a series of best-selling poker instruction and theory books, including Decide to Play Great Poker and The Middle Zone: Mastering the Most difficult Hands in Hold’em Poker (both co-authored with John Vorhaus).

Annie is a master storyteller, having performed three times for The Moth, an organization that preserves the art of spoken word storytelling.

One of her stories was selected by The Moth as one of their top 50 stories and featured in the organization’s first-ever book.

Her passion for making a difference has helped raise millions for charitable causes. In 2006, she founded Ante Up for Africa along with actor Don Cheadle and Norman Epstein, which has raised more than $4 million for Africans in need.

She has also served on the board of The Decision Education Foundation. In 2009, she appeared on The Celebrity Apprentice and raised $730,000 for Refugees International, a charity that advocates for refugees around the world.

In October 2013, Annie became a national board member for After School All-Stars. In 2014, Annie co-founded The Alliance for Decision Education to build a national movement that empowers teachers, school administrators and policymakers to bring Decision Education to every Middle and High School student. In 2016, she began serving on the board of directors of The Franklin Institute, one of America’s oldest and greatest science museums. In 2020, she joined the board of the Renew Democracy Initiative.

Annie currently resides in the Philadelphia area.


Annie Duke

How to Decide – Free Chapter

We hope you enjoyed this episode of Follow Your Different™! Christopher loves hearing from his listeners. Feel free to email him, connect on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and subscribe on iTunes!