Women In Poker
March 8, 2012, Posted by Jeff.Kimber
There are very few sports and vocations that men and women can compete at on equal terms, but poker is one game where sex has no bearing on a player’s ability to be the best.
Yet you can count the number of world class, fearless female players, those that you would hate to be drawn on the same table as, on one hand. On two fingers by my reckoning in fact – Vanessa Selbst and Annette Obrestad.
If I sat and wrote a list of the top 500 players in the world, Vanessa and Annette are the only two who I would put on it, a grand total of 0.4%, in a world where 50% of the population are female.
There are others that aren’t bad – Meanie Weisner, Vanessa Rousso, Jen Harman for example - and some who have had a big score you can’t argue with – Liv Boeree, Victoria Coren – but for every one of them you could name at least 10 comparable male players, all outside the top echelons of the game.
It’s 26 years since Wendeen Eolis blazed a trail for female players and became the first woman to cash in the WSOP Main event, finishing 25th.
Nine years later, in 1995, Barbara Enright became the first female to make the WSOP final table, and it seemed only a matter of time until we had a queen of poker, a female main event champion.
Yet it feels like we’re as far away as ever. Last year, just 242 women entered the main event, 3.5% of the field.
The top woman was Erika Moutinho, who started off sat two to my left on day one, and ended up coming 29th in the tournament. She played okay, but let’s face it, it was obvious to anyone watching the live stream towards the later stages, and to me watching live in the early stages, she was never going to win the big one.
Festival organisers realise that the female market is one of the last great untapped areas they can expand into, offering women-only events and trying their best to encourage female players, but if there is any progress, it seems extremely slow.
The reasons that poker is a low female participation game are many, and there’s little doubt that one of the main factors is self-perpetuating; a lack of female players makes a poker room a less welcoming place for other females, and that room remains male-dominated and intimidating to outsiders.
Every poker player makes generalisations and presumptions about opponents judged on their appearance, from the headphone-wearing kid who we presume never has anything, to the 90-year-old whose reraise preflop sees us sending our pocket kings skidding towards the muck.
It’s safe to say that female players bring with them a reputation for being tight, and therefore are generally targeted, another reason they can feel unwelcome, although no more so than an old guy or a first-time player.
The challenge for any of those groups of players, if they choose to embrace it, is to use those presumptions to their advantage, and is a microcosm of the game of poker itself.
If opponents presume you’re tight, be it on grounds of sex, age, number of hands played, or anything else, then poker is all about using that to your advantage and adjusting your game.
Poker has traditionally been a man’s game, and while there’s no reason for that to remain the case, it feels as if we’re as far away as ever from women dominating the game.
Maybe that will never happen, and like football, it will remain a game generally played and enjoyed more by men, though a minority of women participate too and that minority will grow.
With the number of online poker players moving into the live area having accelerated due to Black Friday, perhaps there’s numerous online female stars about to come out from behind their computer monitors and follow in the footsteps of Annette15.
Being a minority usually makes life harder, but for women in poker, I would argue it’s easier; easier to get into, with special women-only events, easier to play, with preconceptions held by many male players allowing you to take advantage, and easier to gain sponsorships, with poker sites much more likely to offer deals to successful female players than equally successful male payers.
Poker has done its bit…girls it’s over to you.
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