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Phil Hellmuth and Annie Duke Out at UB (Updated with Exclusive Interview with Joe Sebok)

Phil Hellmuth and Annie Duke Out at UB (Updated with Exclusive Interview with Joe Sebok) 0001

According to a release by UB on Thursday, two of poker’s biggest names have parted ways with Team UB. Phil Hellmuth and Annie Duke will no longer be associated with the online poker site. The announcement has come as quite the shock to the poker community because both Hellmuth and Duke have served as the faces of UB for many years.

According to Joe Sebok’s blog: “These two legends in our industry have, quite literally, helped to build UB into what it is today. Phil and Annie have been the face of the company for years now, and we thank them for their unbelievable contributions and bid them the utmost in success moving forward. With that said, we look forward to 2011, and I believe it will be the finest year that we have ever had at UB.”

Many in the poker industry have speculated that Hellmuth was distancing himself from UB after appearing at various poker engagements without the UB logo; however, that rumor seemed to have subsided when Hellmuth appeared at Phil Hellmuth’s Hold’em for HospiceCare in Madison, Wisconsin, on December 18, an event sponsored by Nonetheless, both Hellmuth and Duke will now be on the market for any site looking to sign a big name.

That doesn’t mean that UB is going to sit ideally by. Sebok also announced that the site will be adding new members in 2011, with the newest addition coming as soon as next week:

“Speaking of Team UB, while it's true that two of our members have moved on, don't think that we aren't restocking the talent. We'll be announcing our newest Team UB member next week and I am crazily pumped about it. UB has, and will continue to have, a whole new look and feel for our team and our newest signing exemplifies that, so stay tuned for that announcement next week. Going to be a bit of a doozy.”

PokerNews had the opportunity to sit down with Sebok for an exclusive interview to address some of the issues concerning the blockbuster announcement:

The departure of Hellmuth and Duke, the long-time faces of UB, may have come as quite the shock to many poker fans. Was this something that happened spontaneously or has it "been in the cards" so to speak?

Whenever a move such as this takes place, it's rarely a quick decision, and their departures were similar. Annie and Phil have been our face so long that they really became synonymous with UB, but I am excited for our new face to emerge and the new look of UB to evolve. It seems to me that it was the perfect time for all parties to part ways, and I wish them both the utmost in success moving forward. Sometimes it's just the right time to make a move and I think that was the case here.

Was the split between Duke and Hellmuth with UB an amicable one? In other words, did all parties believe it was best decision to part ways at this point and time?

The departures were 100% amicable. You can't say enough about what both have done for the UB brand. I think I speak for the entire company when I say I truly wish them both nothing but incredible success in the future. It's been a pleasure working with both, as well as knowing them personally, and they are truly icons of the industry. I think all sides were ready for the change and all genuinely wish nothing but the best for each other.

Both Duke and Hellmuth were the elder statesmen, if you will, of Team UB. With their departure, the remaining pros consist of a plethora of younger players such as Brandon Cantu, Eric Baldwin and Maria Ho. Is UB taking a new direction with the younger generation?

Absolutely. I think we have been moving in a new direction for a while now, making pointed signings and really building out a new look for our team. We'll be announcing our newest addition next week, and I couldn't be more excited for it. Going to be a big splash. Something we have been working on for a while. In truth, I don't think people will recognize the public face of UB in about three or four months. The look, feel, and attitude is being reshaped, and I think poker players and fans alike are going to be pumped. I definitely know I am.

Can you give us any hints as to who the newest addition to the roster might be?

Not letting that cat of the bag for another week. I will tell you that the newest member is going to be a big surprise and is really going to shake our team up. People won't see this one coming.This signing is a big statement saying, "UB is here. We aren't going anywhere, and also we are going to be shaping the online poker experience for a long time to come."

Speaking of the online poker experience, what sort of things can we expect from UB in 2011?

All kinds of exciting innovations. Not only our pro team will be changing, but we'll be making all kinds of additions to our game client, as well as to our online poker experience. You're going to be able to do things at UB that you can't do on other online poker sites. Really exciting innovations. As well, we are going to continue to be aggressive with our promotions and unique opportunities that we have tried in the past. Jumping out of airplanes with our pros, winning trips, and competing for prizes other than just simple cash are all on the agenda. We're going to continue to push that envelope that we started opening last year along these lines. We want to evolve the experience for our players and we intend to do just that.

Are there any plans to bring back the Aruba stop or any tournaments like it?

I would love that. I really would. Aruba is still my favorite place to visit for poker. I can tell you that we have definitely brought up the possibility of adding another destination tournament like that. I don't think we will be returning to Aruba, and I'm not promising anything, but it's certainly something that we would like to do. I think the Aruba trip was really something that initially put UB on the map, so I would like to see us able to evolve that into something new. No promises, but it's definitely something we are chatting about. I, for one, want it!

UB has certainly had its fair share of ups and downs. Since you jumped on board with UB, the poker industry has seen some monumental changes. Are you happy with how things have progressed?

I am pleased with how things have progressed at UB over the last 18 months or so. Trying to close as many of the ties with the past, the past scandals and so on has not been easy. It's one of those situations that just begs for more legislation so that the appropriate parties could be taken to court and prosecuted for the crimes committed. Without that, there are always individuals who will be untrusting of the outcome, and rightfully so. With that said, I think as much as can be reasonably done to attempt to right those wrongs has been done. They will never be fully "righted" with our current system, but I'm happy with what we have accomplished. I won't ever feel completely satisfied without some people being prosecuted, but I have no means to make that happen.

We have, and continue, to break ties to the past though and that's something that has pleased me this year. Moving further away from those times and those individuals is just a huge positive. UB is not the same company where those leaders committed those crimes anymore. People forget that often.

While Hellmuth and Duke stuck by UB through such tumultuous times, there will inevitably be those who believe their split is a sign of abandoning a sinking ship. Clearly that is not the case and UB is here to stay, but what would you say to those who're concerned by the recent exits?

The irony is that UB is probably healthier today than it ever has been. Our formal split from Excapsa (former ownership) has put us in a great position moving forward and we are planning to just get bigger and better in 2011. I think the addition of a few new pros will help to dissuade much of that incorrectly placed sentiment, if it's there at all. We are going to have a complete shift in philosophy with our marketing and pro team and I think it's a huge plus. The poker landscape is changing and we will be at the forefront of that.

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