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. On February 6, 2018, Annie’s first book for general audiences, “Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts” was released by Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Random House. In this 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. Prior to becoming a professional poker player, Annie was awarded a National Science Foundation Fellowship to study Cognitive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.
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 Susqehanna 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 How I Decide, a nonprofit with the goal of helping young people develop the essential life skills of critical thinking and decision making. In 2015, she became a member of the NationSwell Council. In 2016, she began serving on the board of directors of The Franklin Institute, one of America’s oldest and greatest science museums.
Annie currently resides in the Philadelphia area.
Once we form a belief, we have a robust tendency to reason around that belief, applying information that confirms our beliefs and ignoring evidence that disconfirms our beliefs. We will also actively work to discredit evidence that disagrees with us. This is a biased process, with different standards for evaluating evidence that agrees with our beliefs and evidence that disagrees with us. The process forms a vicious circle where we reason to support beliefs we already hold instead of updating and changing our beliefs as we gather new information. Annie Duke explains this robust cognitive error and how it impairs our decision making in business and throughout our personal lives. She traces the origins of this bias in memory and thinking and offers strategies to becoming better and more flexible thinkers.
As we become a more data-driven society, we face new questions of how best to use all this new data to improve human decision making. Annie Duke explores the ways in which big data has the potential to overcome robust irrationalities in how we process information and solve for the problem of uncertainty. She also points out the pitfalls and dangers of big data and provides advice about how data is aggregated and collected and where the “human element” still needs to be in control of the analysis in order to interpret and model the data.
In Annie Duke’s twenty years playing poker, she noticed that most players quickly plateau in their learning despite an abundance of evidence about how they can improve. Players win or lose hands many times an hour and get feedback about the quality of their play almost immediately. Outcomes are closely tied in time to decisions. Poker provides a closed, tight feedback loop so it should provide an ideal environment for years of learning and improvement. Players also have the opportunity to watch others win or lose hands even more often than they play hands themselves. Yet most poker players repeat the same mistakes. Players have trouble incorporating both positive and negative feedback. When things go well, they give maximum credit to their skill. When things don’t go well, they blame luck. Wins, therefore, teach them to do exactly what they are already doing. They ignore losses, attributing them to factors outside their control. Of course, this occurs in every facet of our lives. Annie Duke examines this process with examples from poker, familiar personal and business decisions, and behavioral science research. She shares comprehensive strategies to mitigate these biases, embracing the feedback that our outcomes provide to become better long-term learners. These strategies can be adopted by individuals or at an organizational level.
In poker and throughout our lives, we should try to maximize the time we spend in favorable situations and minimize our time in unfavorable ones. Poker players are too quick to quit when they are winning. They look for any excuse to put the session in the (non-existent) win column. The same players will refuse to quit a losing game. The same thing happens outside poker: sales professionals not giving up on a dead lead; investors unwilling to sell their losing investments. Even something as pedestrian as picking the slowest line at a grocery store and being unwilling to change lines stems from the same bias. Annie Duke examines how the interaction of many cognitive biases (including loss aversion and sunk-cost bias) drives this behavior. These tendencies cause us to miss good opportunities and continue playing when the odds are against us. She provides insight into avoiding this costly decision-making error with strategies that prevent us initially making these poor decisions and how to take a longer term view so we are not as caught up in the emotion of the moment. The strategies apply in the workplace, to parenting and to other personal decisions.
Has anyone ever told you, “Why don’t you sleep on it?” or “Take ten deep breaths before you decide?” or even “Calm down.” If so, you (like everyone else) have been on tilt. Tilt is a state of distress that causes us to make emotionally-charged and irrational decisions. In poker, many talented players go broke because they play poker on tilt. Making decisions in this unproductive emotional state is not confined to the poker table. Tilt is common in corporate environments, in finance and sales, and, of course, in our personal lives as anyone with a teenager can attest. The best poker players in the world devote tremendous time and energy on how to reduce the effect of their emotions on their decision-making process. Annie Duke shares the secrets and strategies the top players employ to avoid emotionally- charged decision making.
One of the biggest challenges poker players face is how to maintain a long-term view that maximizes their results over their career when they are making moment-to-moment decisions in highly emotionally charged situations. One of the biggest obstacles to success as a player is not talent as most might suspect. It is the ability to balance the future against the present moment, to avoid making decisions that might feel good in the moment but will be costly to your future self. This, of course, is the same problem we all face in making decisions about just about anything: retirement savings, dieting, portfolio management, and procrastination, to name just a few. Annie Duke shows how temporal discounting, discounting the future in favor of feeling good in the present, hurts our overall productivity both in a corporate environment and as individuals. She discusses how this irrational weighting of the present interacts with other cognitive biases to prevent learning, to create emotionally charged decision making, to cost us wealth, and to prevent us from realizing our long-term goals. She offers concrete solutions in the form of both cultural and individual supports for making the kinds of decisions in the moment that more rationally take into account our future selves.
“Annie is a master at delivering an engaging talk that leaves the attendees thinking about the message and how it applies to their world long after her presentation concluded.”
“Annie’s entertaining presentation and discussion provided thoughtful insights into decision making and continual learning that were informed by her cognitive research and her experiences at the poker table.”
“Annie Duke was a homerun at the Mid-Year Meeting of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers in Chicago in July of 2013. The title of her presentation, ‘Better Decision Making: From the Poker Table to the Courtroom’, had people intrigued even before the program began. Her engaging style and informative insights on how lessons learned at the poker table might be applied in the business arena, including the trial of cases, kept her audience of lawyers, spouses and guests riveted from start to finish. Annie won rave reviews, deservedly so.
“There are many aspects of poker that Annie could cover in a presentation. Focusing on Tilt was ideal since it’s relevant to business. What Annie covered was thought provoking and most likely of value to anyone who attended who deals with challenges in business as well as their personal situation. And, of course valuable to the poker players who attended. I thought it was a great presentation with really good examples. The fact that Annie has a scientific background in cognitive reasoning solidified her points as well. I could have listened to her for another hour.