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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Annie Duke – From the Ivy League to the Felt

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The beginning of Annie Duke and the game of poker is not unlike a lot of other pros who eventually make it big. In fact, her earlier days set up the typical cliché for someone who would go on to do great things in the game. She was introduced to poker at a very early age, grew up in a home where playing cards was a household hobby, and her family took winning very seriously. However, if one takes a deeper look into her story, they’d find that it is anything but cliché.

In 1965, Annie was born into an affluent Concord, New Hampshire family where both of her parents were educators. Her father, Richard Lederer, is a well-known author and used to be a professor at the renowned St. Paul’s School which boasts an endowment of almost $440 million. Annie herself would soon become a product of this environment – even if it may have been against her true nature.

She often struggled to find herself amongst the backdrop of a prominent boarding school where being privileged was the benchmark and embarking on a prestigious career path was one’s destiny. Duke was certainly on the fast track to the latter as, despite her struggles to fit in, her education undoubtedly excelled.

But Annie was more than just a brain as she also excelled at the home poker games her family often held since they had a penchant for playing cards. And these were certainly not your average household games either as the competition was very fierce. Just take a look at her older brother who frequently took part in the activities, Howard “The Professor” Lederer. Just think; Duke spent her childhood days playing against one of the best poker players in the world.

But these days wouldn’t last forever and Duke’s time in Concord was coming to an end. Her exceptional academic background had provided Annie with a wide variety of college choices and these included Ivy League schools. Realizing her chance to leave the small town of Concord and start a new life, Duke chose Ivy League member Columbia University.

She began to enjoy her new life at the New York City-based Columbia and thought it would be nice to model her career choice after her parents and become a teacher. It was so far, so good as she easily graduated from Columbia with a double major in English and Psychology. But then she decided to put her teaching plans off for a while and, instead, pursued further education.

So Duke enrolled at another Ivy League school in Penn and began graduate work towards a Doctorate in Psycholinguistics. She still kept thoughts of becoming a professor though and continued on with her school work till she almost reached the summit. But, amazingly, life dramatically changed for her with only a few credits left before the Doctorate was achieved.

Suddenly college life no longer appealed to Duke as much but a longtime friend of hers in Ben Duke did. She decided that Penn could wait but marriage couldn’t and she moved out West to wed Ben Duke. Although she planned on one day finishing the remnants of her Doctorate coursework, she just felt it was time to experience something new. But instead of something new, Duke would reunite with something familiar in the game of poker.

And it wasn’t some forlorn longing to relive the old family household games that brought her back. Rather it was her and Ben’s need for money as their situation was a tight one with a home mortgage to pay. Luckily her brother, Howard, was already immersed in the world of poker and was able to help her get started financially.

Armed with a childhood’s worth of card playing experiences, and a bit of Lederer’s bankroll, Annie began to make a solid living by playing at local poker rooms around Billings, Montana. Eventually, she proved to her older brother that she could hang in the professional ranks of poker and he suggested that she might be ready to try her hand at the Mecca of the game in the World Series of Poker.

Duke took her brother up on the offer and decided that playing in the 1994 WSOP could be a very good thing for her. Aided by Howard’s coaching, she was able to navigate through a tough field and take 13th place in just her first ever WSOP tourney! Howard may have had some second thoughts about helping her though as he happened to be one of the opponents she knocked out of the tournament en route to cashing in for $70,000 overall.

With her 70K in earnings, Annie and Ben Duke made the big move from Billings to Las Vegas so that she could further her poker playing career. Annie was making a big gamble here as poker was very much a man’s game at the time. In being so, there were a lot of men who weren’t exactly receptive of Duke’s presence at the tables.

But Annie was unfazed by what some men thought of her being at the tables and her game took off as soon as she hit the Vegas Strip. She was even able to befriend many of the pros and learn from them at the same time. It has often been said that she was so well-received by pro players that some of them would actually let her sit behind them to learn more strategy.

This is something that not many players do willingly because they don’t want others knowing their style. But with Duke it was different. And all of her watching other professionals play would definitely pay off in a big way as she started tearing it up in various poker tournaments over the years.

Annie was a regular player in the cash games at The Mirage in Las Vegas and as her skills developed, she moved up in limits until she played the highest limits in the house and with the toughest, seasoned players. The first few years Bellagio was open – the big cash games moved from The Mirage to Bellagio – Annie moved her game accordingly, and never looked back.

First there were four top 20 finishes in the 1995 WSOP that earned her nearly $40,000. Then there was a huge second place finish at the 1996 WSOP Seven Card Stud event that netted her 72K. And there were several more top 10 and 20 WSOP finishes leading up to another second place finish in the 1999 WSOP Limit Hold’em event. This earned her $110,000 in an era where the poker boom was still a few years down the road.

Duke’s incredible play continued on for years until 2004 where she took things to a level no female player had ever experienced before. It all began with the WSOP – a stage she had been on many times before in her 11+ year career (up to this point). Playing in one of her better games in Omaha Hi-Lo, she won the event and a WSOP gold bracelet to go along with it.

Not finished here though, she also took part in the first ever World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions. This is a 10 player event where, in 2004, the winner received all of the cash. And Annie Duke was indeed the winner as she pocketed a cool $2,000,000 to go along with the trophy she received. And in winning that $2 million, she set a new record for the most cash ever paid to a female player for a single tournament (this record has since been broken by Annette Obrestad).

Besides just her playing ability, 2004 would also see Duke win much acclaim for her coaching abilities as well. That’s because she took to teaching Ben Affleck how to play winning poker and he parlayed her coaching efforts into a first place finish at the California State Poker Championship. She also helped his buddy Matt Damon improve his skills as well!

Since her huge year in 2004, Annie Duke has slowed her schedule down some to raise her four kids with the oldest one being 13. Annie is no longer married to Ben and doesn’t live in Las Vegas either which has cut down some on her tournament appearances. She currently lives in Hollywood with her boyfriend, and movie producer, Joe Reitman. And living in Hollywood has led her to pursue some other interests with the most notable being in the TV industry.

2006 saw her make an appearance on the Colbert Report where she talked about her autobiography book, Annie Duke: How I raised, folded, bluffed, flirted, cursed and won millions at the World Series of Poker, and about what it’s like to play in the mostly male poker world. That year also saw Duke head line a Game Show Network special called Annie Duke Takes on the World where she competed against a variety of poker players. She appeared on Poker After Dark and tried her hand at Blackjack as well in the show Ultimate Blackjack Tour.

Card-related shows weren’t all Duke was capable of though as she’s used her Ivy League intelligence to win over traditional game show fans too. On the NBC show 1 vs. 100, she proved to be nearly unbeatable in answering question after question before finally getting one wrong. NBC brought her back to compete in a special episode of 1 vs. 100 where the last remaining contestant out of 100 would win. She finished in the top 5!

Recently, Duke has begun the pursuit of her own TV show in the form of a sitcom. The premise behind the show somewhat shadows Duke’s own life in a single pro poker mom raising four kids. Only Howard Lederer was replaced as her sibling in favor of a sister who’s a Las Vegas showgirl. The show hasn’t been picked up yet but Duke’s still hopeful to work something out on this or another idea.

Despite all of her brushes with the TV market and having to raise four kids, Duke still remains an active tournament player. She placed 3rd in last year’s WSOP Omaha/Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo tourney. In the 2008 WSOP, she placed 5th in the World Championship Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo event which shows she is still very capable of remaining a successful player.

But as everyone knows success can breed controversy and Duke has had to deal with some of that too. As a major spokesperson for she took some heat for representing the company through its cheating allegations of players’ hole card information being revealed.

She also had to go through a lawsuit along with her brother Howard, Chris Ferguson, Andy Bloch, and others. The lawsuit was against the World Poker Tour and alleged that the organization used players’ names and likeness to promote itself without fair compensation. The case was eventually settled out of court.

As for now, it appears to be clear sailing for Duke since the case is over. She can now devote more time to raising her children, making television appearances, and improving upon her women’s* record of 35 WSOP cashes.

*Duke Dishes on Ladies-Only Tournaments

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