Once in a Blue Dmoongirl: Danielle Andersen’s Improbable Poker Story

Improbable is probably a good way to sum up Danielle Andersen’s life. One of her fellow poker pros summed it up another way: BS.

Danielle AndersenTo be fair, the story Jeremy Ausmus got from Andersen on Full Tilt Poker back in the day was pretty hard to swallow. Both regulars at the $25/$50 tables, one day the chat box filled up with medical talk. Andersen chimed in with a comment on the H1N1 virus, the talk of the table. While much of her time in her home in New Ulm, Minnesota, was spent playing high stakes cash, she had found time to get her nursing degree, so she assured her competitors that, as a nurse, she knew what she was talking about.

Ausmus scoffed at the suggestion. “I didn’t believe her and just imagined some nerdy kid behind his computer messing around.  You just didn’t see any girls playing that high that successfully,” he explained years later. Andersen tried to defend herself in chat, but the skeptical Ausmus demanded more proof, so Andersen called his bluff.

“I told him to friend me on Facebook,” she said. At the time, Ausmus didn’t have an account, but he was so hell bent on learning the truth he had his wife add her. They’re still Facebook friends years later.

The social network friendship remains, but pretty much everything else about Andersen’s life has changed completely since those days. For one, few people doubt the gender of the screenname dmoongirl anymore. No longer a faceless name on the Internet, Andersen is now a recognizable face and notable name in the poker community.

Many poker fans know the story of Andersen’s life in Minnesota thanks to the poker documentary “Bet, Raise, Fold,” released in 2013. She was one of a trio of players profiled in the film, which started following them in 2009 and tracked their lives pre and post-Black Friday. Andersen’s story stood out for good reason.

Executive producer of the film, former poker pro Jay Rosenkrantz, explained that it was important to the production team to have a female represented in the lineup. “We set out to make a documentary that shed light on just how much online poker changed the game and cut against stereotypes that traditional media didn’t seem interested in exploring,” he said. Enter Andersen.

The crew stumbled upon Andersen on the TwoPlusTwo forums in a moment of “dumb luck,” as Rosenkrantz tells it. Andersen was posting elsewhere in the forum, the production reached out, and they ended up with way more than just a chick who plays poker.

Andersen is a nurse. She is a wife. She is a mother. She is not your typical poker player. The movie hits on some of this, as it depicts Andersen grinding online in New Ulm pre-Black Friday and hitting the tournament circuit and Commerce Casino cash game scene post-Black Friday.

“She’s playing poker because she truly loves the game, it’s her passion and she draws a lot of self-confidence from being good at it,” Rosenkrantz explained when asked to theorize why Andersen’s story struck such a nerve. “She’s grinding to support her family. She’s got real stakes. Then her profession is wiped out overnight. She wasn’t just a kid with a dream, she has a kid and a family and a job and her ability to provide for them was taken away unjustly.” Watching her struggle to maintain her lifestyle once online poker was taken from her is the emotional center of the film, and a problem she continued to struggle with even after filming ended.

“Quite frankly, it’s difficult to be a professional poker player living in Minnesota,” she admitted. “No Limit is illegal there, so I can’t play No Limit. I live in a small town. The private games are non-existent. The private game I would get into is a bunch of older guys who would gather around the bar every Wednesday night and play $.25/$.50. If I had a killer night there, I could make $200.”

Her husband, Kory, works as a school teacher, but continues to support Andersen’s career after almost a decade of marriage. Almost as unlikely as her career choice is the fact this relationship, which began when the pair was in high school, still manages to work after some big changes over the years. In hindsight, Andersen can’t help but laugh a little that her decisions panned out so well.

“If my child came to me when they were 21 and told me they wanted to get married, I’d slap them upside the head.”

Danielle Anderson with family

It was Kory who learned to play poker first, but Andersen who took to the game. Her competitive edge drove her to get better, and, before long, it resulted in a career change. Her husband likes to play too, but that doesn’t mean this turn for the unexpected didn’t potentially pose some challenges. Yet, they’re still going strong.

“We attribute it more to variance and luck that it has worked out because we’re such different people now than we were when we dated and got married. How could you expect us to work? We’re just lucky it has.”

Shortly after getting married, their family grew. Andersen became a mother when she was just 23. Their son, Easton, is about to start the first grade. It may not seem like motherhood and poker are always the most effective combo, but the flexibility poker offered her was part of the reason Andersen was drawn to the game in the first place.

While she got opportunities to do things thanks to the exposure she gained from the film, like play in the Main Event with the support of Full Tilt Poker and travel to Dublin for the Irish Poker Open, being on the road post-Black Friday was not the answer Andersen was looking for.

“The traveling got to where it just sucked,” she said with a sigh. “One of the reasons I love poker so much is because of the freedom it allows me. When I’m having to travel so much to play and support myself, I’m missing things in life that are important to me that are the very reason I want to be a professional poker player. My son lost his first tooth and I wasn’t there. That may not seem like a big deal to people, but that’s a big deal.”

As the road time took its toll, she and her husband began to question if poker was really something she could continue to pursue. “It just wasn’t working,” said Andersen. “So it kind of came to a point where I needed to make a decision — I was either going to continue playing poker and we were just going to pick up and move or I was going to give up on poker.”

The question was — where would they go? What place would be ideal for a young family looking to settle down?

Sin City, that’s where.

In a time where poker sponsorships for American players are few and far between, Andersen was offered the very thing she pined for in “Bet, Raise Fold,” a deal with a poker site.

Ultimate Poker came calling, and she liked what they had to say. Not only would she be a sponsored pro, she would be involved in some new and innovative web content projects. With a chance to play online again and supplement that income with a deal with Ultimate, the choice seemed clear.

Even though it was, in Andersen’s terms, “a no-brainer,” it still wasn’t the easiest decision. First, there was the family they were leaving behind in a state they’d always called home. Then, there was a little boy to think about.

Change is tough for little kids, but Mom constantly being on the road was challenging, too. “It was becoming apparent that it was getting hard on him,” Andersen said. While moving Easton away from home was not the easiest decision, this seemed like the right time to do it. “If there was ever time to do it, now was the time. My son is starting first grade, so it’s not like he’s leaving friends he’s had for 15 years. He was excited to move.”

So, the Andersens packed up and moved to Vegas early in the summer, but with the craziness of the World Series of Poker, Andersen is only now starting to settle in and feel like she is building a new home. She’s also building some new bullet points for her resume thanks to her unusual role in the Ultimate Poker content plan — half of the video series “Me vs. U”.

When Ultimate’s Director of Content and Pro Marketing Dustin Iannotti approached Andersen about a deal with the site, he emphasized that she would be part of the video plans, but even he wasn’t sure exactly what that role would entail. It was only after he started working with the team of pros that he had the idea to pair her with Dan O’Brien for “Me vs. U.”

“When I first met Dan, he rattled off five or six quick mildy angry criticisms of our surroundings; the food I had ordered for lunch, my shoes, the floor plan of our meeting space, etc. I knew right away that he was … a likable curmudgeon,” Iannotti explained. “Then you take Danielle, who immediately gives off this vibe of fun, mixed with this extremely competitive ‘anything you can do, I can do better’ attitude, and it immediately felt like these two would clash.”

The group conceptualized a video series which pitted the two against each other in a series of random competitions that has included a trip to a guard dog training facility, aerial ribbons and hoops, and making pizzas with a penalty for whoever lost. Andersen was game, but didn’t realize what she was getting herself into.

“I knew they were interested in doing some sort of web reality series and I knew it was going to be fun, but I didn’t know it would involve eating a live goldfish and being attacked by dogs. I may have asked for a bigger contract.”

The series debuted in May and each of the episodes has generated at least 40,000 views on YouTube, way more than your average poker video. It is the site’s most-viewed content and the audience keeps growing. Improbable as the nurse who played online may have seemed, it was even more unlikely that Andersen would be supporting her family this way. Now, she tells her son not to put just anything in his mouth, then goes to the office, where she plays a game of beer pong with an array of the most disgusting ingredients imaginable.

For her son, who has never found it strange that Mommy plays a game for a living, the new gig on a web reality series is par for the course and his new obsession. Little Easton might just be the show’s biggest fan. He likes to ask his mom about the tapings when she gets home, but he has one very important rule: no spoilers.

“He’ll ask questions like ‘Don’t tell me who won, but what did you do? … Don’t tell me which ones you’ve won, but tell me what the score is.’ He sweats it hard core,” Andersen said with a smile. “He asks lots of questions about Dan [too]. ‘Did Dan think it tasted funny when he ate that? Did Dan like the challenge?’”

As one of the show’s biggest fans, Easton got a pretty big thrill out of finally meeting his mom’s co-star at the Ultimate offices one day.

“My son is obsessed with Minecraft. If I let him play the iPad, he would not eat or sleep, he would play it for days straight … We were at this work function and I knew it was getting to be a little long for him, so I gave him my phone to play Minecraft. Then Dan showed up, so I said, ‘Easton, look who’s here.’ He looked up and snap-handed me his phone and said, ‘Here hold this.’”

Danielle Anderson with family

Actually, Andersen had never met O’Brien prior to starting up with Ultimate Poker. Nonetheless, the two had a good chemistry together, which explains the show’s success. It also fueled some unpleasant comments, the kind that remind Andersen and other women who play the game how cruel the poker industry can be sometimes.

Andersen is thrilled with her job, but admitted the frustration that comes with being the only woman on Ultimate’s roster. “[Dan and I] are both competitive people, we have good chemistry, but it’s bullshit that just because Dan and I are in this that I have to answer questions like, ‘Are you and Dan having an affair?’ If you read the comments [on our videos], it’s just … Are you serious? Come on, I have a kid. I have a husband. You only have to deal with that when you’re a girl in the poker world.”

Poker’s come a long way from seven or eight years ago though. “Pre-Black Friday if you had a pretty face and could spell poker, they would be like, ‘Here’s a patch for you,’ said Andersen. “I don’t think that’s the case anymore, and I think that’s the result of the poker community demanding a little bit more out of the people who get that stuff.”

Andersen certainly offers a different type of female role model for the women of poker as one of the first young moms to gain recognition in the game. It isn’t just about being a girl, too. As Rosenkrantz points out, she is the kind of person any recreational player can relate to.

“[When Danielle started making money], she filled her pantry with groceries, because her pantry was often empty when she was a kid. She says that shopping for groceries still excites her. I think it’s little, grounded anecdotes like that that make people feel so connected to her, and I think Danielle’s ability to stay grounded despite her successes is part of what’s made her such a success.”

Iannotti agrees with the idea that Andersen is simultaneously relatable and remarkable. “Danielle never came across as your typical female in poker … You have this mother and wife, supporting her family with one of, if not the, most unconventional occupations around. Add to it the incredible heights she’d reached online, at times playing in some of the biggest games against the toughest players. This alone would make her special and a prospect for any site,” he observed.

She is glad to fill that void as someone who balances poker with grocery shopping and double barreling bluffing with taking her kid to school, especially for women of the poker world, but what concerns her most is feeling like her accomplishments at the tables, which have included some of the highest online stakes, are the driving force behind her notoriety.

“I’ve gotten feedback that women are happy that someone is representing the poker community who has done more than look pretty half-naked.”

Nowadays, Andersen has to worry about more than just results. While she doesn’t actively shelter her family from her poker activities and some of the negativity that comes with the gig, she does take a little more care in presenting a public persona and keeping some of her personal life personal. As her reputation grows, she takes more care in her image, especially after being a part of a film which presented a version of her she didn’t have much say in.

“I would say “Bet, Raise, Fold” was kind of a lesson for me. I’m probably more protective of my image because I felt like I was maybe slightly misrepresented in some parts. I realize when you’re in the public eye, perception is kind of reality. I want to put forth what is an accurate representation of me. You’d like to say you don’t care what people think, but I’m a mother and it’s not just about me. I’m a mother and wife and I’ve got family, family who reads stuff.”

While she takes care to present her image to the public, her family and poker nights aren’t as separate as they may seem. Her son will sometimes watch her play and ask questions about what she is doing. “My husband’s OK being out there and my son thinks that it is super cool if he can be in anything … He wants to know when he can be on ‘Me vs. U,’” said Andersen.

In many ways though, poker helps her make up for some of what she didn’t get around to in her early 20s. “Let’s be honest, I love my son more than anything in the world, but I didn’t know what the hell I was doing when I had a kid at 23. I was young. I feel like, without poker, I would feel as though I missed out on more opportunities than I have. Poker gives me those really cool experiences.”

The fun isn’t just about filming challenges with Dan O’Brien though. She’s also taking a more active role in her gig with Ultimate Poker, the latest unexpected turn in her career path.

“I really enjoy that, with Ultimate, I am not just a player who doesn’t have any communication with the company they’re representing,” she explained. “The ‘Me vs. U’ stuff is a lot of fun to show up and do it, but I’ve discovered that I really enjoy the marketing and the behind the scenes part of poker. So it’s been really fun to contribute to that creativity and that content.”

Now that she is getting more involved, a future in the corporate poker world, something that was unheard of in her head just a few years ago, seems like a possible next step. “Before Ultimate Poker, I never thought [a full-time job with a site] would be a possibility,” said Andersen, “I really enjoy that side of it. I didn’t know that I did, but now I’m learning that I’m actually fairly decent at it.”

It is just the latest surprise in a decade of surprises for Andersen. Whether she is surprising herself, surprising players at her online tables, or surprising her son with a new “Me vs. U” where his mom shows once again that she can hang with the boys no problem, this woman continues her improbable journey up the poker ranks.

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September 2014