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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Where Are They Now – Annie Duke

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Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.

Many poker players enjoy some recognition outside of their profession for other things they’ve been a part of.  In other words, even if you’ve never watched a second of poker on television, you still may have an understanding of who a few poker players may be.  Poker’s history shows names like Amarillo Slim gained some fame outside of poker by appearing on nightly talk shows and participating in stunts such as trying to swim the Mississippi river, or equally death defying things.  Today Doyle Brunson and Phil Hellmuth are recognizable by the general public, although for two totally different reasons.
One poker player that has recently done that because of her run on Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice is Annie Duke.  For years she has been one of the most recognizable faces in the poker world, but because of her deep run on the wildly popular television show she has found millions of new fans.   She first made news as a woman making a deep run in major poker tournaments, but since that has been a common occurrence the shock of that has worn off.  Gender notwithstanding, she is one of the best poker players in the world, and recent events show she is a pretty good businesswoman too.

Annie LaBarr Lederer was born September 13, 1965 to Rhonda and Richard Lederer.  She is also the sister of Howard Lederer and author Katy Lederer who penned “Poker Face,” which described what it was like to grow up in the Lederer household.  By all accounts it wasn’t an easy one.  Their father Richard was a teacher at St. Paul’s school, which is one of the most regarded college preparatory colleges and is located in Concord, New Hampshire.  The family lived on the wealthy campus with other wealthy families, but were not wealthy themselves.  Their dad worked long hours in order to make ends meet, and their mom found ways to entertain the children.  A variety of games was presented for the kids, who were highly competitive, especially Howard and Annie.  One of the games the kids enjoyed the most was poker, and from an early age it became a very important part of their lives, both because they enjoyed the game, but also because it was a family bonding experience.
Duke felt a little different than the rest of her scholarly family, and was anxious to separate herself a bit as soon as she was able, and that’s why she chose to go to school at Columbia University in New York City.  Despite shying away from her educational upbringing, she was still very smart, borderline genius in fact.  She also respected her dad’s profession so much that she wanted to follow in his footsteps and become a teacher as well.  She earned a double major in English and psychology and earned a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania to study cognitive psychology.  Just one month before defending her thesis to earn her doctorate, she dropped out and married Ben Duke, and moved back to his hometown of Columbus, Montana.

While she was in Montana her brother Howard started making a name for himself in the world of poker, and making lots of money, which intrigued his sister.  Duke looked back over their poker battles over the kitchen table and remembered holding her own against her brother who was now making a lot of money from the game.  Howard agreed that Annie would be a fine poker player and offered to teach her what he had learned since their games, and even offered to bankroll her if she chose to go pro.  Duke took up both of those offers and decided to become at least a part-time professional for the time being.

The learning curve was almost non-existent, as in the first month of being a professional she made over $70,000.  Also, she showed the student can indeed become the teacher when she knocked her brother out of one of the first tournaments she ever played.  Duke and her husband soon moved to Los Angeles so Duke could be closer to the action.

In the sometimes sick world of side bet action in poker, Duke made a bet with fellow pro Steve Zolotow shortly after moving to Los Angeles that her marriage with Ben would last longer than five years.  It did last five years, earning her $500, but the marriage fell apart shortly after.
Despite the issues in her private life, her professional life would continue to thrive.  In 1994 she played in her first World Series of Poker events.  She finished in the money of three events, including making the final table of the $2,500 Limit Hold’em event, finishing 5th, and 26th in the Main Event.  For the series she added nearly $50,000 to her bankroll, not bad for your first series.  

The next year she continued her impressive ways at the WSOP, this time cashing in five events, which included a pair of 6th place finishes.  Duke was continuously impressing her older, mostly male peers, yet her most impressive feat was yet to come.  In 1996-1999 she made the money of six more events, but would make history in the year 2000.  Eight months pregnant with her first child, she first made a deep run in the $5,000 Limit Hold’em event, finishing 13th.  For many that was an impressive enough feat for one WSOP, but she kept the poker world in awe when she fought her way down to the two final tables of the main event.  She was feeling sick during the entire tournament, but that didn’t stop her from maintaining a top stack in the duration of the tournament.  She was able to finish 10th that year, one short of the final table.  This entire story, and her life story, can be read in her autobiography “How I Raised, Folded, Bluffed, Flirted, Cursed and Won Millions at The World Series of Poker.”

Multiple WSOP cashes followed, but finally in 2004 Duke won her first bracelet, taking down the $2,000 Omaha Hi-Lo Split tournament, winning $137,860 for her efforts.  A few months after winning that bracelet she was invited to a WSOP Invitational tournament, which included, among others, her brother Howard.  Duke outlasted them all, to win her biggest prize to date, two million dollars.  For her career Duke owns the record for most cashes by a woman at the WSOP with 37.

As of late Duke has appeared on a number of television shows, making her popularity grow even more.  As mentioned there was Celebrity Apprentice, but she has also appeared on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report (the first poker player to appear on the show), the quiz show 1 vs. 100 (she was the only member of the “mob” not to be eliminated) and Deal or No Deal.  

When she isn’t at the poker table or on television she is a very sought after poker tutor.  Her most popular tutor, Ben Affleck took down the 2003 California State Championship, gaining her even more popularity inside of Hollywood.  She also holds the position of card room manager for Ultimate Bet’s online poker room and has done a great job reviving the room after a series of controversies that surrounded them last year.

Her charity work is also well known.  She is Co-Host of the Ante Up For Africa charity tournament which is held every year during the WSOP.  She also gives tutoring lessons to those who make generous donations to the Humane Society, one of her favorite charities.
Annie Duke has four children, Maud, Leo, Lucy, Nell, and is currently dating actor Joe Reitman who has appeared in such hit shows as CSI and The Shield.  He is also in the movie, “Gamer” which is in theaters now. 

*Read Billy Monroe's Blog*

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