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December 19, 2014

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Annie Duke outlasts 63 poker pros, becomes heads-up champion

Duke defeated Erik Seidel in the finals to win $500,000

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Mona Shield Payne/Special to the Sun

Annie “The Duchess of Poker” Duke celebrates with family and friends after beating 2007 World Series of Poker Main event champion Jerry Yang in the quarterfinal round of the National Heads-Up Poker Championship Sunday, March 7 at Caesars Palace.

National Heads-Up Poker Championship

Dennis Phillips reacts after knocking out 10-time World Series of Poker champion Doyle Brunson, 76, in the quarterfinal round of the National Heads-Up Poker Championship Sunday, March 7 at Caesars Palace. Launch slideshow »

If there was any debate heading into this weekend about who was the world’s premiere female poker player, it has now vanished.

Annie “The Duchess of Poker” Duke bested a field of 64 players in the National Heads-Up Poker Championship at Caesars Palace to become the first woman ever to win the event in its six-year history. She beat old friend Erik Seidel 2-1 in a best-of-three match to win the first place prize of $500,000.

"I just think it's great to really represent the women," Duke said. "There's some really great women poker players out there."

Destiny seemed to shine down on the 44-year-old Duke all weekend in the single-elimination, bracket-style tournament. She was on the verge of elimination Friday night against former champion Paul Wasicka in the round of 16 when she went all-in with ace-ten against Wasicka’s pocket aces.

An ace came on the flop, which made Wasicka a 99 percent favorite to advance to the next round. But the next two cards were a queen and a king to give Duke an improbable straight and control of the match.

"I can never, ever complain about a bad beat again," Duke said.

Duke steamrolled her competition from there. She got by a resilient Jerry Yang, who won the 2007 World Series of Poker Main Event, in the round of eight Sunday morning.

She followed that with a victory against poker pro Dennis Phillips in the final four to set up what she called a “storybook matchup” with Seidel for the title.

Duke has known Seidel since she was a teenager. Seidel’s best friend, poker professional Howard Lederer, is Duke’s brother.

“We’ve known each other for a long time,” Seidel said. “This was my perfect final.”

Seidel, who won $250,000 for second place, didn't sound too disappointed after the match. If anything, Seidel said he felt relieved about his performance.

Seidel had appeared in each of the previous five heads-up national championships and never made it out of the first round.

“I think I was very unlucky for the first five years,” Seidel said. “I’ve gotten a lot of (stuff) for it.”

But Seidel did more than make up for his past failures in 2010 by navigating through a treacherous path to the finals.

He beat last year’s heads-up champion, Huck Seed, in the first round and followed it by knocking out three more Main Event winners — Chris Moneymaker, Peter Eastgate and Scotty Nguyen — to get to the championship.

"I was really happy to see Erik make it this far," Duke said.

Duke also hadn’t found any success in past years of this tournament. She entered this year’s national championship with a 1-5 overall record.

That’s hard to imagine after the way she stormed through the field this year. Duke picked her spots precisely and kept an even keel.

This was best evidenced in her match against Phillips, who was able to fight back to even with Duke after trailing for the majority of the time and surviving an all-in where he held an inferior hand.

Duke’s pocket sevens eventually held up against Phillips' ace-eight for the win. Phillips made the final four in his first appearance at the tournament, good for $125,000, and knocked out legendary pro Doyle Brunson, who won $75,000, in the round of eight.

“I had a blast,” Phillips said. “I went 4-1, which is not too bad.”

It wasn’t easy for Duke in the finals. She took the first match, when her pair of kings held off Seidel’s spade flush draw when all the chips went in after the flop.

Seidel cruised in the second stanza, where Duke said she was totally outplayed. Despite being down 3-to-1 in chips in the third match, Duke doubled up when her queen-nine of diamonds turned two pair against Seidel’s ace-king of diamonds. A few hands later, Duke’s pocket nines made a straight to beat Seidel’s ace-two.

"I got lucky, but I felt like that was OK," Duke said. "I feel like overall we played really even."

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