Poker ace Annie Duke plays poker like she is running a business, not letting emotions rule her play, thinking quickly and accurately, as witnessed in her latest TV show stint. With CEO-like skills, she is one of the most successful female poker players in the world. The 43-year-old Duke has been playing in the World Series of Poker since 1994 and has cashed in on 37 events, earning more than $1.13 million through the Rio tournament annually held in Las Vegas.
Her best finish in the tournament’s $10,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em Main Event was in 2000 when she placed 10th and won $52,160. She won her first World Series of Poker champion’s bracelet in 2004 at an Omaha High-Low event.
“I’ll probably play in about 15 to 20 events at the World Series,” Duke said. “It’s a long haul.”
Duke drafted a new legion of fans and followers, boosting poker’s image in the process, as a contestant in the television series “The Celebrity Apprentice.” She was one of 16 personalities trying to raise money for charity while trying not to be fired by the host, billionaire real estate developer Donald Trump. Duke finished second ahead of a whole slew of sports stars, but it was her acrimonious verbal battles with comedienne Joan Rivers, the show’s eventual winner, that had the audience turning on in record numbers, driving ratings out the roof.
Rivers said Duke was worse than “Hitler” and compared poker players to members of the Mafia. Although the comments raised the ire of the poker community and officials at the World Series of Poker, the media boost couldn’t have been better for the game, Duke and Trump– it raised more than $1.5 million for various charities.
But Duke believes that Rivers still owes poker players and Las Vegas an apology.
“Poker is a legitimate profession,” said Duke, who is a graduate of Columbia University with degrees in psychology and English. She also spent five years working toward a doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania in cognitive psychology, which she has set aside for now.
Divorced, Duke is the mother of four children, ranging in age from 7 to 14.
Her brother is poker standout Howard Lederer, who has two World Series of Poker titles to his credit. On four occasions she and her bro have ended up at the same table during World Series of Poker play- each time she has knocked him out of the competition, adding “I guess I have bragging rights.”
Duke is well known for her charitable giving efforts. Through poker events, she has raised millions of dollars for children’s hospitals and educational foundations.
In 2007, she and actor Don Cheadle established the Ante Up for Africa event, a $5,000 buy-in no-limit hold ‘em annual Las Vegas event in July that raises funds for the survivors of the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, Sudan. The event attracts the best Hollywood A-list celebrities and the poker elite, raising $500,000 last year alone for the cause.
Duke is also an activist on Capitol Hill in trying to change the federal law outlawing the Internet wagering. She is one of the founding members of the Poker Players Alliance, which supports making online poker once again a legal activity.