Duke puts 'em up on Celebrity Apprentice

Annie Duke
Cardroom or boardroom, it's all the same to Annie Duke.

Annie Duke is well-known in poker circles as one of the top women in the game, but she's reaching a whole new audience now as one of the boardroom battlers on NBC's Celebrity Apprentice.

And so far, Duke hasn't been in any danger of Donald Trump having to say "You're fired."

The season is six episodes in and Duke has managed to make a big impression while helping her team win four out of the six challenges.

According to Duke, this isn't by accident.

She understood going in that the hierarchy of the teams were going to be determined by fame, and since she wasn't the most recognizable star in the group, Duke took her game plan straight from the pages of poker strategy.

"It's like all poker strategy," she said. "It's a game, and similar to poker, it's all about the choices you make in that game."

Knowing exactly what they would get from Duke, the show's producers were not surprised.

"Annie was an easy choice since not only is she a star in the poker world, we knew her brilliant gamesmanship would translate well to the boardroom," Executive Producer Eden Gaha told PokerListings.

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"In some ways that boardroom table is like one big poker table and Annie is very much at home there."

So far, Duke said her most important choice has been between causing conflict on her team or not.

"It wasn't about choosing to cause conflict just because, but if a project is going badly, you have the choice to step in and do something about it or not to," she said.

During the first couple challenges, Duke said she did make the choice to step in when it was beneficial to the task.

"I pissed some people off, but I righted the ship," she said.

Once she had attracted some attention, Duke said her strategy was to lay low for a bit.

"Just like in poker, it's important to change gears, go against image," she said.

Duke said she had another poker strategy in mind as well.

"At this point I knew my team really well, and I didn't want to get shuffled around," Duke said.

"It was similar to being in a poker game and finally getting to know your opponents at the table. The last thing you want to do at that point is move to a new table full of new opponents."

Part of Duke's strategy was also taking the time to size her opponents up, rather than jump right into being a project manager.

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"I'm very much one of the big personalities on the team," she said. "But you'll notice I haven't been project manager yet."

Just like in a poker game, Duke said you want to avoid making big decisions early and wait until you know your opponents.

"It's important to learn what they're good at in order to maximize your chance of winning the task," she said.

Once someone is project manager, however, the challenge is not to get fired.

Duke said you need to know who really did fail at their assigned task and should be held accountable in the boardroom.

"You really have to pay attention to Donald Trump in the boardroom," she added. "He makes it pretty obvious who he thinks a project manager should bring into the boardroom with them."

For some of the team members, Duke noticed it can be hard to separate personal feelings from the game.

"I learned that poker players really do an amazing thing," Duke said. "We're in a game and we take for granted that everybody is playing the game as well. We don't let what happens in the game become personal, and we don't let personal feelings affect how we play the game."

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Her brother, Howard Lederer, can knock her out of a tournament or win a big pot off her, and Duke said they'll still be able to go to dinner later that day.

Duke said she was surprised that people weren't making the separation. A fact she's finding out more about as the show airs and she gets to see the personal interviews that were not shown during filming.

"It's a game, but it's also a business game," Duke said. "You have to maintain some sort of professionalism to succeed."

It is also a game where it pays to have good, reliable friends to count on in the fundraising challenges and Duke found she has that in spades.

"To a man, my friends came through for me," Duke said. "It was an incredible gift for me to know that I can count on my friends in the poker community."

Duke said that is just one reason Celebrity Apprentice is helping show poker players in a different light.

"Poker players aren't the selfish people they're often thought to be," she said. "They're awesome, generous people, and it was amazing for me to get to showcase that on a national platform."

Celebrity Apprentice airs on NBC Sundays at 9 p.m.

Duke's progress can also be followed on her new website at AnnieDuke.com.

- With files from Martin Derbyshire

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