Annie Duke (pictured left) is one of the most famous poker players on the planet. She is also one of the most active people in the poker industry in her contributions to charitable causes. She co-founded Ante Up For Africa with Don Cheadle and Norman Epstein, and she also serves as a board member for the Decision Education Foundation . She may be more famous for her appearance on the Celebrity Apprentice than she is for her World Series of Poker gold bracelet victory in 2004, but she has harnessed her popularity in both the poker community and general public to do good for others. Her upcoming schedule includes charity events that will benefit Ante Up For Africa , 1736 Family Crisis Center , Decision Education Foundation , and After School All Stars .Duke was at the Pala Casino in San Diego County last weekend to host the $25,000 Annie Duke Freeroll Poker Challenge . Card Player caught up with her at the event and she talked about her time at the Pala event, her ongoing charity work, and her appearance on Celebrity Apprentice .Ryan Lucchesi: How good of a sign is it for poker when a California Casino decides to open this 15-table poker room in today’s economy?Annie Duke: I think that poker is proving itself to be relatively recession proof. You’re definitely seeing a little drop off in the huge buy-in tournaments, which isn’t surprising, but certainly as far as the online world is concerned it has been growing during the recession. The Commerce isn’t suffering, and Pala just opened up this new card room.I guess I’m a little less surprised than other people because people still have discretionary dollars that they can spend, and yeah it’s true that during a recession you have fewer discretionary dollars, but with poker you can actually make money with your money. I think people are more likely to spend it on something that they think is a more productive activity than just spending it on something frivolous, but poker isn’t considered a frivolous activity. It’s a hobby that you can get better at, and you can make money at.RL: What has it been like here today getting to interact with the fans?AD: It’s really cool, because you get to see people who really love poker; they love the game from the standpoint of just having fun. It’s nice to just hang out with people here. I enjoy this in a lot of ways, particularly here in San Diego where everyone is really nice.RL: How often when people spot you on the street is it for poker and how often is it for Celebrity Apprentice ?AD: It’s actually more for Celebrity Apprentice . There are a lot of Apprentice fans out there.RL: What made you decide to go on the show?AD: Here is the deal with the Apprentice . I had no interest in being on a reality show at all. I went into the meeting with the producers intending not to go on the show, but it was a hard meeting to get and my manager worked really hard to get it.During the beginning they explained to me that you were raising money for charity, at which point my internal monologue switched to, ‘OK, now I have to really think about going on the show.’ I had some discussions with Don [Cheadle] and Norman [Epstein], my co-founders for Ante Up for Africa . They asked me what my strategy would be and I was like, ‘I don’t know, I’ve never watched the show.’So when they did ask me to be on the show, I couldn’t say no because the opportunity to raise money was too great. That was the only reason I went on the show. I wasn’t looking to go on a reality show; I wasn’t looking to raise my profile. I literally only went on there for charity. I didn’t go on there to represent poker players. I went on there to represent myself and my charity.RL: How do you feel that you and other poker players were represented on the show?AD: I understand that I’m a poker player as well, and I was mindful of that, but one of the things that really horrified me the most about that show was when Joan [Rivers] started attacking all poker players. The realization that somehow my going on the show might have affected people’s perception of poker players in general…I really felt that had I known that she was going to do that before she started doing it I might not have done the show. It was never my intention to represent poker players by going on the show.I thought the poker community was so generous on the show that poker players were represented well. The show raised $1.5 million and our community raised $730,000 of that, and it was a 16-person show so that was 50 percent of the money. Joan Rivers had such an outdated view of players on the show. I was glad that people saw that this is a very charitable community.RL: Tell me about the plans for your two major charity groups moving forward in 2010?AD: I founded Ante Up for Africa and I’m on the board for the Decision Education Foundation . I recently threw an event for them at the Commerce with Matt Savage during the fall [the event raised $70,000 for charity]. That is an educational foundation, so we are developing curriculum that helps kids to develop critical thinking skills in grades K-12. There is a specific focus on middle schools. I’ve been doing a lot of public speaking in conjunction with these causes. I’ve been spending a lot more time on that kind of stuff, somewhat to the detriment of poker.RL: How important is it to harness the power of celebrity for charities?AD: It’s huge because a hurdle for a lot of charities is just awareness. Nobody can deny that each charity does good work, but it is about raising awareness. With Sudan, it has been really amazing to see what poker has been able to do to help raise awareness about that issue.When poker started getting big I thought there were two things I could do with this. On a personal level I could spend more time with my children. When it becomes big, if you can build a brand then you can do passive things, which allows me to spend more time with my kids which is always my goal. The other thing is that wow, ‘I can really do some good with this.’ Those are the two things I have been focused on. Once poker went on TV I saw an opportunity to really use that for some things that were important to me.It’s been great because I feel like particularly in the last three years or so I have gotten back to the types of intellectual pursuits I was involved with before I got into poker. Not to say that poker isn’t an intellectual exercise. I was a professor and I was teaching in college before poker. Particularly with all of the idea conferences and the work I’m doing with DEF , going around and speaking about all of these topics and critical thinking skills I feel that has been a renaissance for me. That’s an opportunity that could have only come through the journey I took to get here.
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