Annie Duke, a Portland-based mom of four, has paid the family bills with her poker winnings for the past ten years.
Duke, who made her WORLD POKER TOUR™ debut on the first WPT Ladies’ Night, at first glance seems an unlikely poker pro. Reared in Concord, New Hampshire, she is the daughter of writer and language expert Richard Lederer, who headed the English department at an elite prep school called St. Paul’s.
As a child, Duke was something of an outsider, a townie among privileged New England kids who would jet off to tropical islands during spring break. But she excelled in school, and after St. Paul’s went on to double-major in English and psychology at Columbia.
After graduation from Columbia, Duke stayed on an academic career path, going on to graduate school in psycholinguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. She married and moved to Montana, continuing her studies remotely. However on the verge of finishing her Ph.D., she left the program and then looked around for a source of income to support her family.
With a small loan and a few tips from her brother Howard “The Professor” Lederer, already a successful poker pro, she began playing poker in the state’s legalized card rooms. “We talked a little about the game, and he told me to read (poker expert) David Sklansky’s books for a foundation,” she says. “I did the reading and started winning regularly almost right away.” She soon earned the moniker “Annie Legend” and calling herself “just a housewife from Montana,” moved on to the tables of Las Vegas, where she bypassed the low- and medium-stakes ranks for the high-stakes games – and just kept on winning.
Her style at the table may be more living room than board room – she plays shoe-less, sitting with one leg folded under her – but never underestimate her. Duke is known all around as one of the toughest players in the sport, male or female. A World Series Bracelet winner in 2004, she recently took down a $2- million first prize on a televised tournament—the highest ever for a woman player. Currently, she and actress Lisa Kudrow are producing a sitcom pilot starring Jeanine Garafalo about Duke’s dual life as poker player and mom.
“You just can’t think of it as the mortgage money,” says Duke, of ante-ing up in high stakes tournaments. “Most people are gambling a lot more when they put their money in the stock market than I am when I put my money on the poker table.” Still, she’s been known to walk away from the possibility of a big win to concentrate on her kids. “If it’s a school play or a poker tournament,” says Duke,” the school play always wins.”