Phil Hellmuth and Annie Duke Leave UB as Sponsored Poker Pros
The major online poker room UB.com has built itself into one of the largest rooms if the world with the help of two of the biggest names in the game of poker, Phil Hellmuth and Annie Duke. On Thursday, December 30, 2010, both pros released separate statements saying they will no longer be associated with Team UB.com as sponsored poker players. This comes as one of the biggest player shakeups in online poker history.
Annie Duke Leaves UB.com and Possibly All Poker Rooms
Annie Duke is known to the general public mostly because of her deep run in the first edition of Celebrity Apprentice where she finished runner-up to Joan Rivers. Duke’s departure was announced first in the early afternoon and slowly made its way around the poker world, and the most startling revelation about her leaving is that her official statement to the public made it sound like she may not be coming back to any poker room, ever.
Annie Duke is the brother of Full Tilt Poker pro and rumored partial owner, Howard Lederer. Both are world-class poker players, and the obvious assumption would be that since Duke has been with UB.com for the better part of a decade that she would leave UB.com for her brother’s company which also happens to be the second largest online poker room in the world. This does not seem to be the case given Duke’s press release and the recent chat with PokerNewsDaily.
In her statement, Duke says, “After some thought, I decided to leave UB.com because I would like to explore other avenues of business and personal growth. I realized I needed to spend my time on other things.” This alone makes it sounds that she may be ready to stop playing poker all together and focus on other parts of her life, and this is only reinforced by her statement to PokerNewsDaily that she does not plan to sign with another poker room in the future. Given how important gaining a pro sponsorship is to playing professional poker these days this is very interesting that she would quite possibly take a break from the game and avoid any poker sponsorships.
What may shed some light on this is that Duke recently became engaged to longtime actor boyfriend Joe Reitman earlier this week. These two episodes in her life may have nothing to do with one another, but it has been a big week for Ms. Annie Duke.
Phil Hellmuth Takes His 11 Bracelets With Him
Phil Hellmuth has been the face of the UB.com brand since the first time he put on a UB.com patch. Having won more World Series of Poker bracelets (11) than any other player in the world, and also being one of the most vocal and dramatic players to ever sit down at a poker table has helped push UB.com’s recognition with the poker community. Now that the 11-time world champion has left there may be a major void in UB.com’s line up.
Hellmuth released his statement just a few hours after Annie Duke officially left the poker room saying that he and UB.com have “mutually parted ways.” This statement does sound canned, but the statement is backed up by current UB.com pro-Joe Sebok in an interview he had with PokerNews. It was stressed by Annie Duke and Phil Hellmuth that their parting of ways with UB.com was “100% amicable” according to Sebok. Hellmuth had been criticized in recent weeks for not wearing UB.com logos for certain poker events like Poker After Dark and a recent North American Poker Tour event leading to speculation that he was on the outs with UB.com. This appears to have been correct.
It is unclear at this time what Hellmuth plans to do or if there is another sponsorship deal in the works, but having poker’s biggest ego Hellmuth will most likely not gel with the two largest poker rooms in the world, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, as Hellmuth would have to be the center of attention as he was at UB.com. PokerStars and Full Tilt, on the other hand, stress the focus on the team and everyone is important.
While UB.com has lost its two most recognizable faces the room continues to grow in popularity given that it welcomes U.S. based players. Sebok said in his interview with Pokernews that UB.com was planning more pro signings in 2011 and one will be announced in just a few weeks, so their stable of pros will not be short players for long.