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Lady players break through at WSOP

May 25, 2004 6:54 AM

It might be premature to say 2004 is the Year of the Woman at the World Series of Poker. But women have left their mark at this year’s tournament as two seasoned pros, Annie Duke and Kathy Liebert, and a newcomer, Cyndy Violette, broke through to win their first gold bracelets.

Annie Duke topped a field of 234 players to win the $2,000 Omaha High-Low event while capturing the top prize of $137,860.

Best known as a high-stakes pro and mother of four, Duke has been a regular on the tournament circuit for nearly 10 years. She recently moved from Las Vegas to Portland, Oregon.

Duke has made several final tables at the World Series, but this marked her first win. With the victory, Duke moved into first place on the all-time Ladies Money Winners list with over $600,000 in lifetime earnings in the World Series alone.

Not far behind is Kathy Liebert, who is now in third place on the money list after taking home $110,180 for winning the $1,500 Limit Hold ”˜em Shootout.

Throughout her 10-year career as a pro, Liebert has always maintained an emotional equilibrium that sets her apart from most competitors. She never complained about bad beats or bad luck and took wins as well as losses in stride.

She began playing in tournaments in the 1990s, making final table appearances at the World Series and other tournaments. In 2000, she was the chip leader after day two of the championship event, and her biggest win came in 2002, when she won the main event of the inaugural Party Poker Million ("I took a cruise and came back with one million dollars," she said.)

Earlier in the tournament, Cyndy Violette won the $2,000 buy-in Seven-Card Stud High-Low Split event, marking the first time since 2002 that a female player won a non ladies-only event at the World Series.

Violette was only the eighth woman to win a gold bracelet, but Duke and Liebert quickly upped that total to 10.

Violette, a forty-something lady with Meg Ryan good looks, started playing poker professionally at a time when most young, twenty-something’s were either graduating from college, or getting married and starting families.

She started out dealing blackjack in downtown Las Vegas in 1982, and gradually moved her way to the other side of the table as a player. Violette played low- to middle-limit poker around Las Vegas and California during the poker boom in the 80s.

She was featured in national magazines and on television, her photographic smile and humble sincerity, a glaring contradiction to the image of the tight-lipped "professional poker player." Violette stood out in the testosterone-laden Taj Mahal like a flower inside steel mill. Her 100-pound frame and winsome looks fooled more than a few card players, who took one look at her and wondered what in the heck a woman was doing in the big game.

Yet for all of her accomplishments, the one thing that had eluded her, at least until three weeks ago, was the coveted World Series of Poker gold bracelet — the benchmark of achievement in the poker world.

She had previously cashed at the WSOP eight times, and came close to winning a few others. But, she always came up just short. This time, however, she had the gold bracelet and $135,900 in prize money.