Annie Duke: Trailblazer for Women in Poker

Annie Duke. Is there a more iconic, inspirational and transformational figure for women in the game of poker? A mother of four who won big at the World Series of Poker and cut an imposing figure in the male-dominated world of professional poker, Annie is one of the top ten most successful female poker players in the world. It’s obvious that Annie Duke is anything but average. After all, very few mothers of four support their families through their poker winnings. But even within the world of professional poker, Annie Duke is something different. And not just because she’s a woman!
The highly educated New Hampshire native holds two Bachelor’s degrees from Columbia University – one in English and one in psychology. Prior to embarking on a career as a professional poker player, she was a Doctoral candidate in cognitive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and the recipient of the NSF Fellowship.

A true trailblazer for women in poker

Educated, articulate, attractive, and successful, it’s little wonder that Annie is a role model for women, both inside and outside of the game. But it’s within the poker world that Annie has been a true trailblazer for women. She was not just one of the first women with the courage to assert herself into the male-dominated world of poker, but also to find success in the process.

And while women in poker are not uncommon these days, it took a lot of guts for Annie Duke to break into that male hierarchy more than two decades ago. Although Annie herself is quick to point out, that despite the strides women have made in the game, there is still some distance to go.

“When I started playing the WSOP Main Event back in 1994 about 3% of the field was comprised of women,” said Annie, speaking in 2011. “This year? About 3% of the field was comprised of women. So while the absolute numbers of women playing the game have certainly grown during the poker boom, the percentage of women playing has not. When you consider the fact that over 30% of all poker TV viewers are women – I know we can do better.”

Poker transformed by television

Obviously there were women in poker prior to Annie coming onto the scene. In fact when she was first starting out in the WSOP she regarded players like Barbara Enright and Linda Johnson as her mentors. But Annie Duke’s success coincided with the boom in poker being televised. Suddenly Annie’s face and telegenic presence were being beamed into homes across the country. Women and girls everywhere could watch as this clever, slightly saucy, redhead competed with men in open events and won prize money and bracelets while doing so. Annie’s high profile success helped transform poker’s image from that of a game played by old, cigarchomping men, into a game that anyone could play.

Annie Duke’s legacy

Nowadays people accept women poker players without batting an eye. Players like Jennifer Harman, Kathy Leibert, Kristy Gazes, and Cyndy Violette compete and win on television, for the entire world to see. And while you can’t exactly say that without Annie Duke, none of this would be possible, it’s a given that Annie’s success certainly accelerated the timeframe for this to be possible.

“I truly believe that we have a responsibility as women who have successfully found their place in this game to mentor young women,” said Annie. “To provide them with the same confidence and belief that your intellect is your greatest weapon that my mother gave to me.”

With her intellect, wit, beauty, guile, charisma, and card smarts, Annie presented the path to professional poker success to women everywhere. Beyond that, her roles as a mentor and teacher herself, at the WPT Boot camp and the WSOP Academy, have enabled her to pass on her knowledge to a new generation of female poker players.

Successful players like Marsha Wolak, who won the Ladies Event at the 2011 WSOP, studied directly under Annie. So while she might not compete as actively on the poker circuit as she once did, her influence is still felt strongly today. Even players who’ve not directly studied with Annie are indebted to her influence. Players like Annette Obrestad, Vanessa Rousso, Sandra Naujoks, JJ Liu, and Vanessa Selbst are all successful, thanks in some part to Annie.

Now devoting much of her time to consulting, teaching and speaking on pokerrelated matters, Annie still feels successful women in the game have an obligation to nurture the next generation of female poker players. “On a personal level, consider becoming a mentor, to take another female player under your wing, teach her, encourage her and nurture her.”

Having won millions in the WSOP, authored two books on poker, and even starred on Celebrity Apprentice, Annie Duke has firmly established herself in the history of women in poker. As for the player’s own opinion on female players? It couldn’t be any clearer:

“We have arrived and we are here to stay.” Annie Duke

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