Until she was surpassed by Vanessa Selbst, Duke was poker’s highest earning woman, this despite only having won just a single WSOP gold bracelet. Born in New Hampshire in 1965, Duke’s parents were card players but not avidly so. Poker is clearly in her blood though as her brother (Howard Lederer) plays professionally. She has another sister who is a poet.
She played poker as a hobby until her brother encouraged her to take it up professionally – clearly recognising that she had a talent at an early age. Initially, she continued on her academic path but a short while before defending her doctoral thesis, decided she no longer wanted to pursue academia. This turning point led to Annie Duke (then Lederer) becoming The Duchess of Poker.
The Duchess of Poker
2004-5 was pivotal to Duke’s poker career. Not only did she get divorced and relocate to California, but 2004 was also the year she won her only WSOP gold bracelet. She had already been on the circuit for ten years, finishing 14th and a respectable 5th in side games of WSOP, and 26th in the main game of 1994. In 2000, she achieved one of the highest finishes of any woman in the history of professional poker and became the female highest earner – this despite having not (yet) won a professional tournament.
2004 was the inaugural year for WSOP Tournament of Champions and Duke won the main event, not just being the first woman to do so, but the first person. This cemented her status as the sport’s most successful woman until the arrival of Vanessa Selbst just a few short years ago.
Her second title came in 2010 when “The Duchess of Poker” at the National Heads-Up Poker Championship, claimed a $500,000 pot and became the only woman (to 2015) to have won that tournament.
Born Annie Lederer, she married Benjamin B. Duke in 1992. Their marriage lasted 12 years and produced four children, after which Annie Duke kept the married name and moved to California to continue her career.
Like many of her fellow professional gamblers, she has engaged with charity work and philanthropy. Along with the actor Don Cheadle and a mutual friend, they set up the charity Ante Up For Africa, a movement that organises poker tournaments to raise money for African charities. To date, they have raised several million dollars for worthy causes.