Monday, August 01, 2005

Women and Poker

Blogging from the new laptop!! Halleluljah! It runs so beautifully and now that my apartment has Fort Knox security, aint no burglars gettin' at my new baby.

My first read of the morning was Amy Calistri's fantastic piece on what seems to be the poker blogging world's debate du jour-- Women and the Poker Boom. There's been the McManus article, Al Can't Hang's fantastic rebuttal to that article, and a number of bloggers whose work I respect have offered intelligent, divergent opinions. Not to mention that every interview with every female pro offers a take on it, or at least the annoying question-- "does it help you to be a woman in such a male-dominated game?"

Well, I am a woman, and I'm a product of the poker boom, so here's my take for whatever the hell it's worth.

I'm a 28 year old single woman in Los Angeles. By day I work in the entertainment industry, and by night I am a poker sponge-- playing, reading, watching, thinking, and absorbing all I can about the game. By that admission alone, you'd agree that I'm wired a little differently than my peers. The urban single women I know fill a good percentage of their time away from their careers with hip bars and online dating and shopping and movies and socializing with friends. With my time, I do all of that, but mostly I play poker.

Let's face it. Women my age are more interested in dating and socializing than they are poring over poker texts or folding hands online. It sounds stereotypical, but really it's just a fact. I don't have a single female friend who is as deeply interested in the game as I am. But I can fill eight seats at my dining room table with guys who are.

When I tell other women I play poker as much as I do, I tend to get the same response. It happens in two stages. Stage 1: wide-eyed excitement/disbelief. They've seen it on TV and think it's exciting. Their boyfriends are addicted and even play the occasional session at Hollywood Park. They think you must be so cool and clever to be able to go out there and take cash off these guys and spend it on Manolo Blahniks if you want to. But... aren't those cardrooms I don't know, a little seedy? And you sometimes go by yourself? Now we transition to Stage 2: concern. You play how often? And online too? Like, for real money? The astonished smile begins its transformation into a furrowed brow as thoughts of Gamblers Anonymous and psychotherapy begin to run through their heads. You may have a different experience, but this is mine. I think I've had this same conversation half a dozen times with my female colleagues in my office kitchen since I won my seat into the WSOP. My male colleagues? They wanted lessons so they could get into the agents' games and asked me if I'd heard of this guy called Chris Moneymaker.

Is it that women lack the Alpha-Male competitive drive? Certainly not. Just look at women in business. Top colleges and universities today pretty much embed a freakin' competitive microchip in your head upon matriculation. And they're churning out more female graduates than ever before. McManus thinks it's biology-- what utter B.S. Competition isn't male or female-- it's just human. And regardless of sex, some of us have a little more of it than others. It's how we express that competitive spirit that's the issue. Women aren't expressing it by playing poker, but men are.

So let's look at some of the social realities that lead to that imbalance. I believe that more than anything else, the thing that sets female poker players apart from non-poker playing females is a fiercely independent spirit. The "lone wolf" thing. They don't care that their other girlfriends don't necessarily share this passion. They're not intimidated by the fact that 98% of their opponents are men. And they're not afraid to get in their cars and head down the freeway alone to the cardroom (because let's face it-- do you have a bunch of girlfriends you hit the tables with? I didn't think so. If you do, please email me.) We have the will and the drive and the patience to learn the game- be it via self-instruction or a mentor. Many female players I've met do have male mentors-- a boyfriend or brother or husband who taught them the game. That's fantastic and they're lucky-- anyone with a trusted teacher is. But some don't have that luxury. Look at Jennifer Harman, perhaps the greatest female player in the game today. She taught herself all the way from $4-8 to $4000-8000 against stiff familial objections. And now she's the mentor-- just look at her husband, Marco Traniello's phenomenal performance at this year's WSOP. I'd say she taught him a little somethin'.

But most girls I know just aren't like that. Now, I'm sure if you asked a married woman in her 30's or 40's you might get a different answer. I'd say most of the women I meet and talk to in the cardrooms of Southern California fall into that category. That's a statistic I'd love to know-- single female poker players vs. married female poker players. Perhaps the answer lies in there.

Amy concludes her piece with a slew of great questions to answer and issues to debate:

1. "Are there more women at the lower ranks of poker, just working their way up…but they will eventually get there? Or are women opting to stay in the areas of poker representing more consistent and lower variance returns such as cash games?"

In my experience, I see a lot more women playing cash games than I see in tournaments. It's common for me to have one or two other women at my $4-8 or $6-12 table at Commerce. I see them at the middle limits as well. Not so much in tournaments. Though I did have one woman at my first table at the WSOP, I didn't play against another throughout the rest of the event. In a 575 person NLHE tourney at the Bike last month, I busted out somewhere around the top third mark and I was the second-to-last woman standing. Online? You can never tell-- guys love to use the female avatars to try and throw people off.

2. "How is poker being marketed to women? (Because I’ll tell you, I don’t think those scantily clad women in the online ads are being aimed at me…lol)"

On the whole, I don't think poker is being marketed to women. Look at who buys ad space on the WSOP broadcasts-- beer, razors, deodorant, Viagra. This year, we even have the Levitra final table to enjoy. Well, there is that one commercial with the "hot secretary" playing poker in the office and fooling all the guys online, but that's about it. But what do you expect? If I'm a poker-related advertiser, I'm marketing to guys since they make up 98% of the players. It's just common sense. Once we girls are hitting the tables in bigger numbers, we'll have Party Poker ads in InStyle.

3. "And what about the ever controversial topic of "Women’s Only" tournaments. Have they been successful in bringing women into the main tent of poker, or just isolating them?"

I don't have as huge a bone to pick with women-only tournaments as many others do. When I select a tournament to play, I choose based on my ability to beat the field, and the money involved. That's pretty much it. If it's a Ladies Event, fine. If it's an open event, fine. Just give me a Red Bull and my starting chips. Many women think it's sexist and they're right. But if it makes some women feel more comfortable and confident in entering a cardroom, then why not have them? The byproduct is that those women who were previously intimidated now realize that it's not that scary. Maybe they'll come down next week and play the $10-20 or an open event. I hope there's a day when we don't need ladies events to get more women into casinos, but until then, I think they're fine.

4. "And role models. Who are the real role models for women in poker?"

We have a number of them. Annie Duke, mother of four. Jennifer Harman, who played for the highest stakes ever played in the face of life-threatening illness. Kathy Liebert, who has made a living from tournaments, -tournaments!- for over a decade. Linda Johnson,the first lady of poker and a true independent spirit. And Cyndy Violette, who simply steamrolled this year's WSOP. She also eats ridiculously healthy, meditates, and does yoga (I don't know about you but I kinda aspire to that, though Jack in the Box would probably miss my business). That's not to say that there aren't role models to be found in some of the newer female "stars," but these are the ones with the track records to back it up. In Hollywood terms, these ladies are the Sherry Lansings and the Dawn Steels of the poker world-- the ones who really had to hack at that glass ceiling so those of us learning and playing now don't have as difficult a time.

5. "Are the stunning, "guy magnet" women getting all the press?"

Of course they are. Just like all the stunning, "guy magnet" women in anything the media covers get all the column inches. Doesn't matter if it's Hollywood or poker or any other sport. That's America.

6. "And what about the Cinderella factor? So far Cinderella has been wearing a jock strap. Do we need our own "Christine" Moneymaker?"

We have one. Her name is Jennifer Tilly! Did you catch her on Leno? It was genius.

OK that's enough for now. Flame away. Give me your take on it. I, for one have already destroyed my workplace productivity for the afternoon (just as you are by reading this).

I can't wait to play tonight.


April said...

I really enjoyed this post. It was well thought out and you made your points without beating anyone over the head. I agree with a lot of what you said and I am definitely the "single, independent spirit" you talked about.

Thanks for sharing your opinions.

lj said...

hi. i just found your blog and am really enjoying it as i go through the archives. great post. i don't play cash games so much, mainly tournaments, and mainly in amsterdam, where i've been living. so true about the reaction of friends/family...i'll be returning to nyc soon, and don't know of any private clubs, so if you know of any and are willing to pass along, pls email me!

Playgrl1017 said...

That was the first post I read it was awesome. I think your the first person i could relate to in a while, it feels good to know someone out there feels the same way. I'm home right now playing poker while my friends are out...and I have drove to the casino alone a few times...the article is awesome..thank you for this article you really make me feel like i'm not alone anymore..thank you again

PokerLawyer said...

How have I not read your work (other than on twitter) before? Know this is a post is from years past, but your writing is phenomenal. Please write a book about your experiences like Pauly did!

The way you were back then about your game is the I feel today. Are you still as moved by poker or have you moved on to other horizons? Thanks for the great post.