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July 30, 2014

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THE INSIDE STRAIGHT:

Some pay for Duke’s abuse

She’s among the poker notables analyzing players’ hands, and asking tough questions

Stylish sunglasses snug atop his World Series of Poker Academy ball cap, a guy wearing a Packers jersey was trying to justify his decision to re-raise, from out of position, with a fairly weak hand.

His explanation, a bit muddled, came down to a desire to “scare” his opponent.

Annie Duke wasn’t buying it.

In her role as an instructor at the academy and the dealer at this table, Duke continued to grill the re-raiser, making it apparent she would not let up until he came up with a better explanation for his action. As the intensity was about to peak, Duke explained she was being so tough only out of love for her students.

“Oh, yeah, I can feel the love,” the guy with the Packers jersey stammered.

Smiles and laughter all around, even from Duke, ensued. The scene was part of a recent World Series of Poker Academy at Caesars Palace, specifically the “live lab” portion of the event, in which instructors deal a series of hands under conditions resembling a tournament or a cash poker game. After the hand, players reveal their cards and discuss the decisions they made throughout.

Though the labs are the most popular part of the academies, according to the surveys completed by those who attend, the instructional camps also include seminars, question-and-answer sessions and exclusive tournaments.

They’ll do it again Monday through Wednesday next week, when the WSOP Academy Main Event Primer is scheduled to take place at Caesars Palace.

The three-day event costs $2,499 to attend and will feature as instructors Phil Gordon, Mark Seif, Greg Raymer, Phil Hellmuth, Joe Navarro, Sam Chauhan, Alex Outhred ... and Annie Duke.

“Annie is an amazing poker instructor,” said Seif, a Las Vegas-based poker pro. “She is the best I’ve ever seen, quite frankly. She takes it to another level. She’s there to impart some scarce knowledge, some knowledge that is not readily available, and some perspectives that you would have a really hard time getting from any other source.

“I’ve sat in on some of her classes and she is extremely intense. Some people might ask themselves, ‘Why is this so hard? I’m just here to have a relaxing weekend.’ But the fact is, we are happy to hear that, because 95 percent of Annie’s evaluations rate her off-the-charts good. We know in 19 of 20 cases, people do love what they get — even if it’s a little scary for some.”

The demographics of World Series Academy participants show that many are in their 40s and most have levels of disposable income and education that are higher than average.

Even among those who attend the Main Event Primer — a bit longer, more expensive and more detailed than a typical academy — most are not planning to compete immediately in the World Series of Poker main event, the prestigious $10,000-entry no-limit Texas hold ’em world championship tournament. They do want to be prepared when the time comes, though.

“I think they show more promise than the average player in terms of poker, because they’re doing something that 95 percent of poker players don’t, and that’s actively work on their game,” Seif said.

Each instructor brings a unique style of teaching to the academies, Seif said, though they all have something in common: a comprehensive grasp of the material, an ability not only to impart their knowledge but to answer questions from people with a wide and ever-changing variety of perspectives.

“Those who can’t handle a confrontational learning style might be better off attending Greg Raymer’s presentation, or maybe even mine,” Seif said. “But I have to tell you, I don’t let people skate by just saying something like, ‘Well, I did it because I felt like this person was weak.’

“Really? If you’re Doyle Brunson and you’re relying on 50 years of experience to determine a person is weak based on your gut feeling, I’m not going to question that. But otherwise you need to tell me why. There has to be something concrete and discernible. There has to be something I can hold onto and debate you over.

“When you can have an honest debate, when you can express what you did and why you did it, and I can question you and you can back up your answers with good arguments, that’s when you take learning poker to another level. When I start getting into those kinds of discussions with my students, I know they’ve started to do some critical thinking. And at that point, they are so far ahead of the game.”

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