Poker and Women: The Ladies Event Debate

Debate has surrounded female involvement in poker ever since the game was born, but it's fair to say that the nature of the debate has changed somewhat.

In the early days, views were a little more repressive, with the poker table seen as an unsuitable place for a woman to be. Even a gentleman like Doyle Brunson expressed his view back in 1979 that, he didn't like to see women at the poker table, and didn't feel comfortable fighting them in “high stakes warfare.” Views questioning female involvement in poker were widely held back then, but in the years since, opinions have shifted, including Doyle's.

How do we get more women into poker?

The question has now become “How do we get more women into poker?” With equality being an important goal for most people, it is crucial that everyone should be welcomed by poker, regardless of gender. It's fair to say that although poker is male dominated in terms of player numbers, the game would embrace new female players happily. But how do we encourage those women to return that embrace?

WSOP 2015 Winamax

WSOP Ladies Event (Photo

The WSOP has hosted a ladies event since 1977, and in order to prevent men from entering, women are given a 90% discount. Opinions are divided on this subject, as some see these tournaments as a way for women to feel more comfortable at the table, and consequently, that should help more women to become enthusiastic about the game. Others however, feel that these tournaments suggest that women don't have the necessary skill to mix with male competitors, and as such, are a little insulting. In physical sports, the male physique gives them a distinct advantage, but in combative brain games, like poker and chess, we all have equal skill sets. Vanessa Selbst, Annette Obrestad, Victoria Coren-Mitchell, and Jennifer Harman are just a few names that prove this fact. There are several top poker pros out there who are female, and so there seems no obvious need to segregate players based on gender. Annie Duke, who is the third biggest female winner in history, has stated quite openly that, while ladies nights are great for introducing women to poker, when it comes to the serious business of awarding world championship bracelets, ladies events devalue these bracelets. Certainly, awarding a WSOP bracelet in an event where 95% of the poker playing world is excluded, seems farcical.

Why more women don't play poker?

One of the important questions here is why more women don't play poker. It has been suggested that some male players put them off, either by flirting, or intimidating them at the table. To make a comparison with chess, another highly male dominated brain game, almost all of the top players are men, but if they do sit to play against a female player, they do it silently, and politely, as they do against male players. Yet, the ratio of male to female players in that game almost exactly reflects the ratio in poker, which suggests table behaviour is not the real problem.

Whatever the root cause, it seems important for the poker world as a whole to recognise that while bringing more women into poker is a noble ambition, the means by which we achieve that goal are equally important. Excluding a group of people from a world championship poker tournament, based on gender, race, sexuality, or anything else, seems like a slightly backward way of realising that goal. To clarify this point, could we ever justify having a tournament purely for men, with women excluded? Of course not, because it would be seen as intolerable sexist behaviour. We're currently doing exactly that, when it comes to ladies events, simply with the genders switched. It's difficult to get away from the simple truth that treating men and women in two very different ways, can never bring us any closer to equality, regardless of the purity of our motives.

Article by Craig B.

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