Annie Duke Wins 2010 NBC Heads Up Championship

Annie Duke, once better known as Howard Lederer’s sister, can now add a new bullet point to her resume: “NBC National Heads-Up Champ, 2010”. She has demonstrated extraordinary poker prowess, and dominated the whole minefield that is the road to that particular title, and did what Vanessa Rousso fell just short of doing last year: become the first woman to take down the prestigious all-star poker title.

Her previous record in this particular tournament was 1 win and 5 losses prior to this edition, which would make her decidedly an underdog and especially so if we compare her to the likes of bonafide heads-up specialists like Phil Ivey, Chris Ferguson and Huckleberry Seed, each of whom also participated this year.

Duke was relatively absent from the felt in the past three years. Instead of grinding it out versus other players on No Limit Hold’em tables, she could be seen on a variety of television programs. In 2008, she appeared in NBC’s Deal or No Deal as support for a contestant named Mary Beth Holtzheimer who almost took home the $1,000,000 maximum prize possible in the show. She also appeared on Donald Trump’s reality TV show titled Celebrity Apprentice, in which she took second place to another contestant named Joan Rivers, who barely edged her out on the criteria needed to win.

This time, the title was hers and hers alone, and she would not be content with second place. So she won the whole shebang.

Her path to the 2010 NBC National Heads-Up title game was definitely not an easy one. This $20,000 buy-in invitation only event, as you can expect, has a ton of the very best poker players in the world. The moment you defeat one, another one that is even better shows up as your next opponent. Other participants included, among many: perennial favorite Allen Cunningham, everyone’s favorite “Texas Dolly” Doyle Brunson, the “Poker Brat” Phil Hellmuth, poker wunderkind Annette “Annete_16” Obrestad, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, and the man that instills the most fear in all his opponents Phil Ivey.

Duke’s first opponent was the guy who wrote the book on the math side of NLHE, who is her close friend Andy Bloch. After she dispatched him, her next opponent was 2006 WSOP Main Event runner up and 2007 NBC Heads-Up Championship winner Paul Wasicka. Annie had to stretch her luck a bit to stay alive in the tourney, by cracking Wasicka’s aces with one of the worst dominated hands possible in that spot which was ace-ten off-suit. She hit a straight on the river to stay alive. And then she cracked Wasicka’s pocket Jacks with 8-5 of diamonds to take down the match.

Her next opponent was 2007 WSOP Main Event winner Jerry Yang. Jerry Yang, early in the match, was displaying some of the luck he had to take down the Main Event, and seemed unable to make any wrong moves. His A-4 cracked Duke’s A-K, and his 6-9 also won the hand versus Duke’s K-9. His luck did eventually run out, when his J-3o got destroyed by Duke’s A-8o, despite hitting the flop. Duke hit the flop too, but she hit it harder with top pair, while the turn and the river blanked out to grant her the victory.

In the Semi’s, she took on PokerStars Pro Dennis Phillips of November Nine fame. This was a long and bloody battle, and after enduring a ton of chip swings, once again Duke emerged victorious when her pocket 7’s held up in the coin flip versus Phillips’ A-8o. The board ran out all blanks, and Duke was headed to the final.

The final table boss was none other than perhaps the most famous runner-up in history, her good friend Erik Seidel. In the 1988 WSOP, Seidel and Johnny Chan played in what is perhaps the most famous hand of the WSOP Main Event, in which Johnny Chan got the best of him by slowplaying the nuts the whole way to take home the title.

This time it was a best of 3 match between Duke and Seidel for the title. The first one went to Duke, when Seidel moved in on a K-J-2 flop with a flush draw and did not hit versus Duke’s A-Ko. In the second match, Seidel flopped an OESD and hit the nuts to win putting the total wins to 1 apiece.

The final hand of the third match was an all-in, with Duke’s pocket 9’s holding up against Seidel’s A-2o, giving her the title, $500,000 in cold hard cash, and a place in the record books for being the first woman to take down the NBC National Heads-Up Championship. And while Seidel did not take the title, he did get a nice prize of $250,000, which is not bad for a consolation prize.

The win moved Annie to second in lifetime tournament winnings with just about $4,200,000, behind Kathy Liebert and well ahead of online wunderkind Annette Obrestad.

Total Tournament Results:
Buy-in: $20,000
Entrants: 64
Total prize pool: $1,280,000

1st – Annie Duke – $500,000
2nd – Erik Seidel – $250,000
3rd – Scotty Nguyen – $125,000
4th – Dennis Phillips – $125,000
5th – Jerry Yang – $75,000
6th – Doyle Brunson – $75,000
7th – Jason Mercier – $75,000
8th – Peter Eastgate – $75,000
9th – Paul Wasicka – $25,000
10th – Eli Elezra – $25,000
11th – Annette Obrestad – $25,000
12th – Barry Greenstein – $25,000
13th – Gabe Kaplan – $25,000
14th – Phil Laak – $25,000
15th – Chris Moneymaker – $25,000
16th – Jamie Gold – $25,000