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Childhood and career
Annie lived with her two siblings Howard (poker pro Howard Lederer) and Katy on the campus of Saint Paul’s Prep School where their father taught English. Annie grew up in a very academic environment living on the school grounds. Annie’s father Dr. Richard Lederer, is a well-known American author and linguist. Her mother Deedy was also a teacher.
Annie’s parents instilled in her a love for games of chance and Annie grew up playing all sorts of card games. Those very games were the glue that held the family together and helped them spend the little spare time they had together as a family.
After finishing high school, Annie attended Columbia University where she completed a double major in English and psychology. She then started graduate school in cognitive psychology, specializing in psycholinguistics. Annie was able to start her doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania on a National Science Foundation Fellowship, which is a program offered by the government of the United States that supports graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines. Shortly before defending her PhD thesis though, Annie left the program and moved to Columbus, Montana with her husband Ben Duke leaving her academic career behind.
Wedding and first steps into the poker scene
Annie had planned to follow in her father’s footsteps, as an author and a teacher, but it seems that life had something else in store for her. Her long- time friend and fellow student Ben Duke, who had always been there for her, moved to Montana yet despite the distance their friendship stayed strong. On September 13th, 1991, on her 26th birthday, Annie called her buddy Ben and said, “Hey, let’s get married.” Shortly after, the two got married, without ever having dated. So Annie moved to Columbus, Montana to be with her husband, leaving back her old life and a half- finished dissertation.
Annie and Ben had very little money so Annie began to play poker in the local poker rooms to pay for the mortgage on their house. She confided in her brother Howard, who was already a successful poker player at the time, about her financial troubles and he sent her money so that she could play higher stakes games. Annie’s game constantly improved and she was able to work her way up at the Casino in Billings, Montana. In her first month at the poker tables Annie won approximately $ 3,000, at the time a nice amount of money but nothing compared to the money she is making now. Nevertheless, in those hard times every cent helped and boosted her self-confidence.
Despite her exceptional poker talent, playing at the casinos of Montana was far from easy. She was a woman in a man’s world – a rarity and an outsider at the same time – and all that before turning 30! It was not easy for her, as a young, attractive lady to play poker in the smoky, run- down backrooms against cowboys and ranchers twice her age. Yet Annie did not let this bother her and soon figured out how she could use the men’s sexist disposition to her advantage. She discovered that there were only two main reasons to why the men acted the way they did: either they were attracted to her or they were just chauvinistic, plain and simple.
Conquering Las Vegas
Annie visited her brother Howard in Las Vegas on a regular basis where she got her first taste of the professional poker scene. Howard recognized the potential of his sister early on, encouraged her to play poker and helped her improve her game. Howard even registered his sister for a ladies tournament at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) and paid the buy in of $ 1,000. When Howard confronted her and told her that she was taking part in a tournament the next day, being the nervous person she is, Annie’s first reaction was run to the toilette and throw up. Sitting at the poker table though, her tension disappeared and she enjoyed the game. Although Annie did not place within the cash ranks at this first tournament, considering that she had only been playing for a short while, she did very well.
Yet again It was Howard Lederer who encouraged her to take part in the “real” WSOP in Las Vegas. So in 1994, she participated in the WSOP for the first time and placed fourteenth (in Limit Texas Hold'em), even outperforming her brother. At her next WSOP tournament, also limit Hold’em, Annie placed 5th winning $ 26,000 in prize money. At the no- limit Hold’em Main Event she placed 26th and earned a nice sum of $ 17,000. Enchanted by the poker scene and her success, Annie decided to move to Las Vegas with her husband, to be able to play poker full- time.
Within the next ten years, Annie participated in countless World Series of Poker (WSOP) tournaments, World Poker Tour (WPT) games, and other important events, playing at numerous final tables. She captured the attention of the public in 2000, when she played at the WSOP Main Event eight months pregnant, yet still managed to place 10th. She was only one spot away from making the final table when she was eliminated. This legendary performance and the explosion of poker’s popularity, along with all the coverage by the media made Annie somewhat of a celebrity. She was lovingly named Annie Legend and The Duchess of Poker by the media due to her success and the nicknames stuck.
Annie is also a virtual poker star and a very active online poker player. She is a team-member at UltimateBet and a spokesperson for the online poker room, where you can find her playing games and chatting. With such a large family, it is not easy for Annie to travel from tournament to tournament, which is why online poker is an ideal alternative to brick- and- mortar casino poker games. In an interview Annie states that she almost exclusively plays online poker.
The "Dutchess of Poker" in top form
2004 was a very successful year for Annie. She won the “Five- Star World Poker Classic” of the WPT Championship Season 2 in no- limit Hold’em, winning about $ 160,000. One month later, Annie won her first gold WSOP Bracelet in limit Omaha Hi Lo, whereby she won approximately $ 140,000. That same year Annie won the WSOP Tournament of Champions, a no- limit Texas Hold’em invitational freeroll where only the best of the best go up against each other. Annie knocked out poker legends such as Phil Ivey, Johnny Chan, Doyle Brunson, Greg Raymer, Daniel Negreanu and her brother Howard Lederer and ended up facing “Poker Brat” Phil Hellmuth in the heads- up phase.
The winner was to get an unbelievable $ 2 million dollars and the atmosphere was hence very tense. Annie showed everyone who was wearing the pants at the poker table and eliminated Phil Hellmuth— winning the $ 2,000,000. Phil Hellmuth, who is known for his emotional outbursts at the table, congratulated Annie but was not able to keep his disappointment in for long, ranting only after leaving the table. The media of course, was all over it, and for several minutes of the coverage, all you could hear were the “beeps”, that censored the obscenities coming from Hellmuth’s mouth. Phil Hellmuth did not have anything against Annie personally of course, on the contrary, he even stated once that Annie is “the best all- around woman poker player in the world today”. This was her breakthrough and the media all but fought for the attention of “The Duchess of Poker”; Annie even made an appearance on the “The Late Show with David Letterman” and on “Good Morning America”.
The year 2004 was not just full of good tidings for Annie though. It was that same year that Annie and Ben divorced and Annie soon moved to Los Angeles to ensure that her children would grow up in a more family- orientated environment.
The enormous media attention around Annie is for the most part due to Annie’s poker talent, but also in part because she is a woman. If Annie were a man, she would only be half as famous, critics say. Annie also agrees in part with them, but she is determined to make sure that her poker performance is at the center of attention. After all, poker is one of the few types of sports where woman can compete against men on equal footing. It just so happens that Annie, being a mother of four, highly intelligent, with a friendly image, and a superstar brother, makes a perfect poster girl for female poker players.
In 2005, Annie placed fourth at the WSOP limit Hold’em tournament winning $ 90,000 and in 2007, Annie knocked out stars such as Chris “Jesus” Ferguson and Scotty Nguyen and placed third at the pot-limit Omaha and Seven-Card Stud WSOP tournament winning $ 75,210.
Aggressive playing style, girl power and sex-appeal
Annie has an aggressive playing style, yet she understands when she needs to be on defense. She has a very conceptual understanding of the game and is convinced that luck only plays a small, almost irrelevant, role in poker. According to Annie, the player who understands the mathematical concept behind poker wins the game, whereby experience and talent also play a role. Players who have no strategy other than to play aggressively and those who rely solely on their intuition will only win in the short run, whereas the mathematicians and the theorists are the ones who will really be making money in the long run.
Annie names emotional control as one of her biggest strengths. She does not allow previous results to distract her from what she is doing. She concentrates on the present game and is not preoccupied making up her previous losses in the future. She also admits that she is very good at bluffing and that her excellent bet management really forces her opponents to make mistakes. On her journey from an amateur to a professional poker player, Annie has learned most of all, the importance of patience. She folds about 70 to 80 percent of the hands that she is dealt. She was not a very patient person growing up, but in the meantime she has learned how important it is to stay calm.
As already mentioned, Annie has learned to use her looks to her advantage. Male poker players are either chauvinistic or they want to sleep with her; either way they do not pose a threat to her,
“If somebody wants to take you to bed, they don’t want to take their money. Because that’s probably not gonna be a very good strategy for getting somebody into bed.”
The moment Annie realizes that an opponent is sexually attracted to her she starts flirting with him, gives him hope and uses that cold- heartedly against him to win.
Annie does not think much of ladies tournaments. This is because poker is one of the few games with a totally even playing field for both men and women and where it is simply not necessary to separate the men from the women because of their physical differences. It is intellect versus intellect, which is why Annie finds it degrading to have ladies tournaments. When asked though why poker is still a man’s game she answers:
“Poker is, at its core, a game with math. Physiologically speaking, men and women’s brains are wired differently. So men, in general, tend to have more mathematical aptitude than women do. Women are encouraged to go into liberal arts; men are encouraged to go into math and sciences. Poker also requires an extreme amount of aggression, in order to succeed at it. Women aren’t encouraged to be aggressive and competitive. In fact, women that are aggressive and competitive tend to be called really nasty names, while men are praised to be aggressive. When women are gambling, they’re perceived as being irresponsible. And they’re clearly gambling away the grocery money. “
Profession: Housewife and mother - Side job: Pokerstar
Of course, being a woman raises her status as a poker player a bit, but also the fact that she is a mother of four sets her apart from the rest. To be a good mother and to be able to manage a poker career at the same time is her biggest goal in life. She is doing very well despite getting a divorce; her kids are always her priority and really, her life is not much different from that of any average mother.
Annie has her priorities set straight and no poker game, no matter how lucrative it may be, comes before her children. She has continually proven that this is the case which others, especially her brother, do not understand. Annie often has to decide between family and poker. One time she was faced with the decision of either staying abroad a couple more days to take part in a game with a six figure prize pool or return to Montana in time for her daughter’s sixth birthday party. Annie did not hesitate, and despite instructions from her brother to stay, she drove home in time for the party,
“I didn’t care what kind of money was at stake… I’m not missing that party. My brother said I could’ve paid for her college education that weekend. I said ‘You know what? When she’s 25 and in therapy, she’s going to be talking about how I missed her sixth birthday party.'”
Money means very little to Annie and becoming rich was never one of her goals - she wanted to become a professor. Annie started playing poker because the game fascinated her; the fact that there was a lot of money involved was a trivial matter,
“Honestly, if it were matchsticks, I’d still be playing just as hard.”
Poker lessons for Ben Affleck
In a way Annie managed to make her dream of becoming a teacher a reality by teaching others the game of poker. Her most famous student was the actor Ben Affleck, who thanks to his amazing teacher, won the 2004 California State Poker Championship. Those who want to get a few poker tips from Annie have to be prepared to splurge: for four hours she charges $20,000! Annie finds that this is a reasonable price,
“People pay way more to go to Harvard law school. With poker skill you’ll be making money for many years, therefore I’m actually quite cheap. The reason why I’m willing to do it so cheap is that it’s extremely helpful to me. The more that I figure out a way to express to different people the concepts that are in poker, the better off my game is.”
Her work with superstar Ben Affleck also helped her own celebrity image of course, but she remains down- to- earth despite her fame. Although a millionaire, she lives in a modest home. From her poker earnings she pays for her bills, finances her children’s education and lives in a nice home. Her place of residence, Los Angeles, reveals that her house was not exactly cheap, but she does not think much of expensive accessories, neither does she drive expensive cars or spend a lot on designer clothes.
The hard road to success
The fact that she remained so down- to earth may be because her path to fame and success was not an easy one. Although it seems that intelligence runs in the family, Annie’s family life has been anything but ideal. Annie’s mother was an alcoholic and the three siblings put a lot of energy into trying to help her get rid of the habit. While Annie and Howard tried to control their mother’s addiction by marking the bottle to see how much she drank daily, their younger sister Katy, on the other hand, helped their mother cover up her problem to avoid fights.
Annie’s mother was an extremely bright woman who continually amazed her children with her knowledge and her amazing memory, being able to memorize poems and to remember them a decade later. She was even able to solve the challenging crossword puzzles in each Sunday edition of the New York Times in only 20 minutes, a demonstration of her intellect. Unfortunately, she never lived up to her potential. Besides her alcohol problem, Mrs. Lederer had another addiction—one less dangerous but just as pronounced—namely cards. She regularly played Solitaire for hours on end and was so obsessed with the game that she would forget everything around her when playing.
As previously mentioned, card games was what kept the family close; the only thing that created somewhat harmonious family relations. Yet these rather frequent events were not all fun and games. The Lederer family was an extremely competitive household and Annie’s father would never let her win. Annie realized early on in life, that winning was everything. If she lost, she would throw the cards across the room and storm away crying. Winning was the only thing that mattered in the Lederer household,
“Our parents didn’t much care whether or not we got good grades in school. Winning at games was what mattered” (an excerpt from Katy Lederer’s book called “Poker Face: A Girlhood among Gamblers).
Although Richard Lederer was not very pleased with the career paths of his two oldest children in the beginning, he is now very proud of them,
“We are the greatest breeders of poker players in the country. It doesn’t surprise me that they are doing what they are doing.”
Annie also decided to put her life in the midst of her genius, yet dysfunctional family and her experience as a professional poker player on paper. In 2005, Annie Duke published her autobiography: “Annie Duke: How I Raised, Folded, Bluffed, Flirted, Cursed, and won Millions at the World Series of Poker”. What sets this book apart from books by other poker stars is that it does not talk exclusively about poker strategy. Annie also talks about her private life in the book the point of which was to show the world that she had to work hard for her success. In 2005, Annie talked about her book in an interview:
“I think that when somebody is successful at what they do, I think a lot of people think that their lives are very different or very easy. I’m not saying that my life isn’t relatively easy right now. It is. But, it’s not like I just magically got to the place that I was…I just wanted to tell people a story about someone who had a lot of really hard battles to wage. My childhood, in a lot of ways, was extremely unhappy, and then, by the time I was nineteen years old, I wanted to kill myself. Now, as a forty year old, I’m very happy and I don’t have moments of depression. But that didn’t happen magically. Through my twenties, I had horrible bouts of it and had to really work hard to get where I am now… […] Whether you play poker or not, [I wanted] to let people know that nothing is the end of the world and you can work through anything that happens to you.”
Katy Lederer also talks about life as a child growing up in the Lederer household in her book “Poker Face: A Girlhood Among Gamblers” where she describes the transformation of her siblings Annie and Howard from “normal” private school kids from New Hampshire to professional gamblers with millions living in Las Vegas. This is not just a book for poker players, but also a piece of skillful literature.
Annie’s favorite childhood memory is from when she was four years old and her family moved to Philadelphia for a year where her father taught at an inner city high school while on sabbatical. Every weekend, he would take the children to a different place; Annie’s favorite place was the Franklin Museum. In this science museum there was a huge model of a heart. You could walk through it and hear the heart beating and see how it worked. Annie still remembers how fascinated she was by this heart.
So far, she has only gotten to see the positive aspects of fame — which she is able to deal with quite well. Annie, just like many other female players, remembers back in the day when poker players were grouped with prostitutes and drug dealers.
“So, the fact that anybody thinks that what I do is cool is pretty awesome,” Annie says, thrilled.
Ups and downs in her poker career
The lowest point in Annie’s poker career was right at the end of her fourth pregnancy and right after she had her baby. She was tired, exhausted, and stressed out and as a result played very poor poker. She even admits that she should not have been playing poker during that time. It was a difficult time for her anyways, and then came the online verbal attacks by one of her poker colleagues. She actually quit and decided she did not want to play anymore, but after three months she was back at the poker table.
The climax in Annie’s career, according to her, was winning her first Gold Bracelet at the 2004 WSOP. When asked what her proudest non- poker accomplishment is she is quick to reply,
“That’s a really easy one. It’s seeing how my kids have turned out. I have four children who are all really funny, they all have a great sense of humor, they are all really smart, and my proudest thing is that they are all really loving and respectful.”
Another question that reporters like to ask Annie Duke, when they get the chance to interview her, is what it is like for her and her brother Howard to be rivals in the poker scene. Annie and her brother are with two different online poker sites but according to Annie, it does not matter because there is enough room in the industry for both of them.
Away from the poker tables
When Annie is not playing poker she likes to spend time with her children: Maud (*1995), Leo (*1998), Lucy (*2000), and Nell (*2002), as well as with her boyfriend, actor and producer, Joe Reitman (Bandidas, Lady in the Water). Joe is also an enthusiastic poker player and, getting lessons from Annie, won a tournament on Ultimate Bet.com in 2006 and $ 266,000 in prize money.
Annie and Joe were introduced to each other by a mutual friend in a club in Los Angeles and sparks flew immediately. What Joe has to say about Annie is,
“She’s the best mom and the smartest woman I ever met. She makes me laugh, and she’s beautiful to boot.” And Annie’s response is, “He’s funny, smart, and sweet.”
Annie and Joe also complement each other professionally. Annie helped Joe improve his poker skills and he got her to look more deeply into media opportunities available to her. One of these opportunities being Annie’s TV show “Annie Duke Takes on the World”, which was broadcast in 2006 on GSN (Game Show Network). On the show, four amateurs play against each other for the chance to compete against Annie heads- up. Annie worked as a commentator and gave them tips. Annie’s father and his second wife Simone van Egeren, with whom he lives in San Diego, California also get along very well with Joe.
Annie’s favorite pastime is going to the movies. Some of her favorite movies include “All That Jazz”, “Avalon”, and “Real Genius”. When it comes to music, Annie likes to listen to the White Stripes, the Violent Femmes, the Arctic Monkeys, and Willie Nelson. She names Jack White, the guitarist from the White Stripes, as her favorite star and the poker players she respects most include her brother Howard Lederer, Erik Seidel, Chris Ferguson, Phil Ivey and Ted Forrest. Annie’s favorite place is Portland, in Oregon.
If Annie could change anything in the world then she would make sure that people are much nicer to their children. If Annie could change anything in the poker world, then she would make sure that people are much nicer to the dealers.
Annie is, without a doubt, an indispensable addition to the poker scene. Her interesting past, her superstar qualities, and her sex-appeal along with her brilliant game makes this mother of four an unparalleled poker legend working her way up in what used to be a man’s world.
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