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What Happened to Annie Duke?

What Happened to Annie Duke?

The poker boom of the early 2000’s saw many notable names come to the fore front who later turned out to be involved in some of the biggest scandals that the poker industry has ever seen; so bad that some would say that permanent damage was done, especially if you are a poker player living in the US and unable to legally play online. Two of the scandals were the ones that occurred on Full Tilt Poker, and while Annie Duke was not directly linked to the happenings that her brother, Howard Lederer was partaking in, Duke got herself into trouble as well by backing Ultimate Bet which suffered a scandal with players getting God mode and playing with “invincibility”.  But while her brother has not been seen in public since, Annie has resurfaced, albeit not on the poker front.

Growing Up as Annie Duke

Annie LaBarr Lederer was born on September 13th, 1965, in Concord, New Hampshire.  Her parents were both teachers – her dad taught at St. Paul’s School where we focused on English Literature, while her mother taught at Concord High School, and while most know her brother Howard Lederer, Annie had a sister Katy Lederer.  Cards were part of her family from the moment she was born as both her parents played cards, and she and her brother took an early interest in the various games they played.

Annie attended St. Paul’s School, graduating, and moving on to Columbia University, where she studied and obtained a double major in both English and Psychology.  She went on to work towards a Ph.D. in Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, focusing on cognitive linguistics and wrote her dissertation on a hypothesis on how children develop their mother tongue.  While she was awarded a National Science Foundation fellowship, Annie gave up her quest to become a doctor just one month before defending her paper.

It was during her time writing her Ph.D. dissertation that she would often visit Howard, at this point an accomplished poker player, in Las Vegas.  By now Annie had married Ben Duke and was living in Montana, but the couple began splitting time there and in Las Vegas.  Howard encouraged her to play more, sending her money and poker literature while coaching her by phone.

Annie Duke Turns Pro

Through the 1990’s Annie was playing poker in private home games in Montana and the occasional game in Las Vegas when she would go visit her brother.  Howard was encouraging her to take the game seriously and turn pro, and initially Annie stuck to the local games by playing at the Crystal Lounge in Billings where they operated a legal poker room.  Finding success, Howard persuaded her to come play in the 1994 World Series of Poker.

Before the series, Annie’s biggest recorded cash was $450 playing the Queens Poker Classic.  Annie jumped into the $1500 Limit Holdem event and finished 14th; banking $7230.  From there, the $2500 Limit Holdem was next where she final tabled the event, placing 5th for $26,500.  With enough money behind her, she took a shot at the $10k Main Event where she took home $16,800 for a 26th place finish.  Annie would win another $20k playing cash within the next few weeks and she was hooked.  A move to Las Vegas soon followed and her professional career began.

Annie Duke – A Poker Superstar

Annie Duke playing poker and thinking about something.
Annie Duke

Annie’s life was taking shape; she was playing poker professionally in Las Vegas and she and her husband began building their family.  In 1999 she lost the $5000 No Limit Holdem event heads up but banked $110k for the best score of her career.  She got pregnant with her third child but wasn’t deterred when the 2000 series came around.  512 players entered the $10k Main Event, and Annie missed the final table by one spot, placing 10th for $52k, the best woman’s finish since Barbara Enright final tabled the Main years earlier. 

4 years later, with 4 kids now, Annie was becoming known in the poker world but made her grand entrance in style with a win in the $2600 Limit Holdem event at the WPT Championship; a WSOP Bracelet in the $2000 Omaha Hi-Lo Split for $137k and then won the WSOP Tournament of Champions for $2 Million dollars.  She was the top money earner for women at the WSOP with over $650k and 25 cashes at that point and added to her totals over the next 4 years.  She would win the 2010 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship for another $500k and landed a sponsorship deal with Ultimate Bet.

All Good Things Must Come to an End

By 2010, there was growing concern in the online poker community that cheating was happening and ambassadors for those sites were not only in the know but participating in it.  The story of Howard Lederer at Full Tilt was at the forefront, but Ultimate Bet was not immune, and Annie was accused of knowing about the cheating at the site she endorsed which she dismissed.  Undeterred, she helped launch the Epic Poker League, a series of high roller tournaments that would cumulate in a $1 Million freeroll at the end.

April 15th, 2011 is a day that any poker player will remember for all of the wrong reasons as that was the day the US Department of Justice took action and shut down operations at three major online poker rooms – PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Ultimate Bet.  And while there was no proof that Annie knew what was going on, Black Friday did a lot of damage initially to the poker economy in the US.  Still the Epic Poker League pushed on, holding the first invite-only tournament on August 9th that was won by David Rheem.  A month later event 2 crowned Mike McDonald champion and the third, and ultimately last, event played out in December with 100 players paying $20k for a shot at the $800k top prize won by Chris Klodnicki.

By this point, sponsorship money was quickly drying up and the bills started piling up and the EPL struggled to get the 4th tournament, a $20k Heads Up event, off the ground.  By the end of February, the league pulled the plug and filed for bankruptcy.  Many in the industry blamed Duke for the downfall, linking her back to the cheating scandal on Ultimate Bet and assumed that the shady practices were her doing. Being the sister of someone linked to a bigger scandal on Full Tilt just added to the pressure, so Annie Duke retired from poker and moved on.

Life After Poker

At this point, Annie hit the rest on all phases of her life; she essentially had quit the job she had loved for over a decade, and she was now divorced from her ex-husband. She had published a few poker books during and after her poker career, but she turned to writing non-poker books. She has 3 since retiring from poker, and the books focus on critical thinking and how to make the best decisions possible with what you have in front of you.  The success of these books, coupled with her celebrity status from the early 2000’s has transitioned her to a keynote speaker, travelling all over talking to groups and businesses.

She was doing some charity work while playing poker professionally which she continued to do after poker.  Most recently she helped establish How I Decide, a non-profit organization to help young people develop essential life skills, critical thinking, and decision-making. The Alliance for Decision Education is another venture that Annie got off the ground which works to provide decision education for students in middle and high schools across the States.  She also served on the Board of Directors for the Franklin Institute, which is one of the oldest museums in the US.

Will Annie Duke Play Poker Again?

While we have no idea if Annie will ever play poker again, judging from how busy she is keeping with her various ventures, one could think that she has no desire to sit down at a poker table ever again.  And while people involved in those scandals have returned to the poker scene, none have done so without controversary. She might just be too busy to play poker again; she might not want to stir the pot by showing up to play, or she may have lost the desire to play poker again in the public eye.  Whatever her reasons are, one should not hold their breath waiting for Annie Duke to pull up a seat at a poker table.

Image Credit: Reuters.com

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