A woman in a man’s sport, Duke refuses to play in events for women only, saying: “Poker is one of the few sports where a woman can compete on a totally equal footing with a man, so I don’t understand why there’s a ladies only tournament.” Since the 90s she has evolved into a phenomenal player with a WSOP bracelet to her name, over $3,500,000 in tournament wins and a solid reputation as one of the two best women players along with Jennifer Harman and Vanessa Selbst.
Duke, born as Anne LaBarr Lederer, grew up in Concord, New Hampshire, where her father, writer and linguist Richard Lederer, taught English literature at St. Paul’s School and her mother, Rhoda Lederer, taught at Concord High School. Her parents were both card players and Duke became interested in cards from an early age. Her siblings are professional poker player Howard Lederer and author/poet Katy Lederer, who published a memoir about the Lederer family.
Duke attended St. Paul’s School, then enrolled at Columbia University where she double-majored in English and psychology. After graduating from Columbia, she pursued a Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, focusing on cognitive linguistics and writing her dissertation on a hypothesis of how children learn their first language called “syntactic bootstrapping”. For her graduate studies she was awarded a National Science Foundation fellowship. In 1991, one month before defending her doctoral dissertation, she decided that she no longer wished to pursue academia and left school.
In 1992, she married Ben Duke, and moved to Billings, Montana. They were married until 2004 and had four children. The couple divided their time between Las Vegas and Montana between 1992 to 2002, when they moved to Portland, Oregon. In 2005, Annie and her children relocated to Hollywood Hills, California
Duke first played Texas hold’em in a casino at age 22 and continued to play for fun in Las Vegas casinos while visiting her brother, Howard Lederer during her graduate school years. After she moved to Billings in 1992, Lederer encouraged Duke to play poker professionally, sending her $2,400 and providing her with poker instruction books and lessons by phone. She began to play poker initially at the Crystal Lounge, a local bar in Billings that had a legal poker room. Following a successful year playing in Montana, her brother prompted her to enter tournaments at the 1994 World Series of Poker (WSOP) in Las Vegas. Within the first month, she won $70,000 and decided to move to Las Vegas to pursue her professional poker career.
In the first two tournaments of the 1994 World Series of Poker, Duke placed 14th and 5th, and finished 26th in the Main Event. Following her move to Las Vegas, Duke continued successfully playing poker on a professional basis through the late 1990s, and by 2000 had 16 in the money finishes at WSOP events, prior to the WSOP World Championship event that year.
From 2000 onward, she became well known for her high profile achievements in WSOP events. In the 2000 WSOP World Championship event, although nine months pregnant with her third child, she placed 10th out of a total of 512 players, which was the second-highest finish by a woman in the event’s history. She received a WSOP gold bracelet in 2004, placing first out of 234 entrants in an Omaha Hi-Lo Split tournament. By July of that year she had become the top female money winner in the history of the WSOP; earning over $650,000 from 25 in the money finishes, including 13 at the final table. Later in 2004, she placed first in the inaugural WSOP Tournament of Champions, beating her brother and nine former world championship winners and winning $2 million. In the 2006 WSOP, she was one of only two women left in the tournament when she finished in 88th place with $51,129 in winnings.
In 2010, Duke won the NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship, winning $500,000 and becoming the first and only female winner of the event as of 2013. Her previous record at the tournament was one match win and five losses. In the 2010 event she came first out of 64 players, including previous winner Huck Seed, and defeated Erik Seidel in the final match.
As of 2013, Duke’s total winnings from her 38 cashes at the WSOP is $1,141,567 and she holds the women’s record for most in the money finishes at the WSOP, ranking 34th overall. In total, Duke has won over $4,270,000 in live tournaments and is ranked as the third highest winning woman of all time, as of 2012.
From 2001 to 2004, Duke worked as a spokesperson and consultant for ieLogic, a company that developed online poker software for multiplayer poker websites including Ultimate Bet. She moved to Portland, Oregon where ieLogic was based in 2002 and remained there until 2005. Duke represented Ultimate Bet as a spokesperson until December 2010, when she announced that she was leaving the company.
On two occasions, Duke has testified in Congress on behalf of the Poker Players Alliance regarding the legality of Internet gambling. In 2007, she appeared in front of the House Committee on the Judiciary to testify against the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, and in 2010, she appeared in front of the House Committee on Financial Services to provide support for H.R. 2267, the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act.
Duke was a co-founder and commissioner of the Epic Poker League, which sponsored three tournaments at the Palms Casino Resort in 2011. Through the three tournaments, the league raised more than $125,000 for charity: $53,000 for humanitarian organization Operation USA; $25,000 for the charity Fallen Heroes USA, which supports families of law enforcement officers who die in service; and $48,000 for the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s “Bad Beat on Cancer” campaign.
Duke, actor Don Cheadle, and a mutual friend, Norman Epstein, co-founded the non-profit Ante Up for Africa in 2007 to raise money with poker tournaments for charities benefiting African countries. The first tournament in July 2007 was held at the start of the World Series of Poker and raised more than $700,000, which was donated to the ENOUGH Project and the International Rescue Committee. In 2008, 2009 and 2010, money raised in the organization’s tournaments was again donated to the ENOUGH Project, and also to Not On Our Watch, Refugees International, Water.org, and the Eastern Congo Initiative
Duke has also played in and hosted charitable poker tournaments for organizations including Life Rolls On, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and Boston Children’s Hospital, for which she helped to raise $500,000 in 2007 and $425,000 in 2012. From 2007, Duke served as a member of the board of directors for the Decision Education Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Palo Alto, California which provides training for teachers and mentors to produce curricula focused on decision-making skills for their students. As of 2013, she is no longer a member of the board of directors.
Duke’s success and popularity go beyond poker: she has appeared on several TV shows, including NBC’s “1 vs. 100” and “Deal or no Deal.” In 2006, Annie won the World Series of Roshambo (Rock-Paper-Scissors) tournament, earning $10,000. A funny fact: a Jersey horse breeder named a filly after Annie Duke, hoping that she will grow to be as successful and competitive as her namesake.
- Younger sister of professional poker player Howard Lederer.
- Played at himself in All in: The Poker Movie (2009)
- Author of the book Annie Duke: How I Raised, Folded, Bluffed, Flirted, Cursed and Won Millions at the World Series of Poker
- Mother of four children: Maud, Leo, Lucy and Nell
- Member of Team UB and is a spokesperson for Ultimate Bet
- Has a double major in English and psychology from Columbia University
- Won a bracelet at World Series of Poker in Omaha Hi-Lo Split (2004).