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Ladies Poker Tournaments are Awesome March 6, 2010

Posted by Jennifer in : feminism,poker , add a comment

I qualified for a Satellite tomorrow into the EPT Ladies Monte Carlo event. I almost won on my first try, got heads-up with a 2x chip lead but we were very deep and I eventually lost the battle. In heads-up it can be hard to tell if you’re getting owned or unlucky–still not sure. The next day, I ran better, played better, avenged my loss and qualified. There is one 3500 Euro package for every 18 players in the tournament, so I’ll have to run really well to win.

Time to explain the merits of ladies poker tournaments, and to contradict some of the criticism (see the Black Widow of Poker blog for a detailed example and some fiery comments.)

Before my thoughts, let’s hear what famous female poker players think about segregated poker tournaments.


Annie Duke “Poker is one of the few sports where a woman can compete on a totally equal footing with a man, so I don’t understand why there’s a ladies only tournament.”

Vicky Koren “I don’t think I will play the Ladies’ Event again. A special women’s competition sends out the wrong message, as if we’re admitting we need some kind of help. I want to get better at poker and take my chances in an open field. Of course I want to win a tournament one day, but I don’t want it to be a handicapped one. I want to win a real one.”- From For Richer, For Poorer: A Love Affair With Poker

Tiffany Michelle : “If we’re sitting here and talking about equality, and wanting to play with the boys, then obviously it’s not fair to have a ladies only event…I mean, I would be pissed off if they ever did a men-only event, so how in the world can we sit here and do this?” –From cardplayer.com


Kathy Liebert- “Ladies events are usually weaker fields.” (In response to my tweet to her asking why she plays in ladies tournaments. Interestingly Kathy is considered by many to be the best female tournament poker player, but she is not sponsored. See an interesting article about this here..)

Annette Obrestad : “I haven’t played in any (women’s tournaments). They’re just haven’t been any – I can’t play in Vegas. I guess one day I will play one in Vegas – I think the field will be really soft. It’s a good chance to win a bracelet! (laughs) It wouldn’t be as good as winning a normal event, but it’s still money, it’s still good.”- Poker Player Interview

Mixed, Mostly Positive

Vanessa Rousso- I don’t often play in ladies events because they usually have a fast structure and I gamble a bit too much in the beginning. But I plan to play the PCA (the Pokerstars Caribbean Adventure, which she ended up winning) which has a great structure so I’m excited about that. Paraphrased from a pokercast interview, January 4, 2010

Evelyn Ng: “Even though there is no apparent gender bias inherent in poker tournaments, there is no doubt that women-only events have a totally different feel than open events… it was so wonderful that almost 1,200 women came out to play this year’s Ladies Championship (2008). Many of them were playing their first poker tournament, and perhaps, their experiences at the WSOP will be their gateway into open events in the future. For what it’s worth though, I think that the term ‘Women’s Event’ is much more appropriate than ‘Ladies Event,’” From her bodog blog.

Maria Ho: “I see the ladies events as a very good platform. Some women don’t feel comfortable playing at the same table as men. They feel more comfortable learning with other women. This just gives them the option and I don’t see a problem with that. It’s great for women, which will only be good for the game. The bad thing is that these tournaments are usually crapshoots. The structure is pretty poor. I’m not sure if they don’t feel the need to create a good structure, since we’re just females.” From a pokerpages interview.

If you haven’t guessed by the article title, I am in the Yay camp. Here are seven reasons why:

1. Women poker tournaments are NOT admitting we’re not good enough to play against men. One of the main poker skills is game selection, finding spots where you’re plus EV, accounting for the rake and expenses. You could be the second best poker player in the world, but if all you do is play the best poker player in the world, you’ll go broke eventually. Women’s fields are usually softer especially for equivalent buy-ins (not due to some inherent lack of female poker skill, but due to less exposure). Who would dare tell a man that he shouldn’t play in an event where he had a positive EV at? This line of argument would suggest a male pro who waits desperately for a spot at the table with the drunk businessman is actually admitting his inferiority? That women shouldn’t play in women’s tournaments because it’s degrading strikes me as so anti-poker it’s hard for me to believe that famous poker players espouse this idea. In chess, maximizing EV is not an integral part of the game’s skill, so the argument against segregated tournaments holds up much better. I grappled with the issue in Chess Bitch and went back and forth, but in poker this argument is in a roundabout way, sexist. Women should not be told how to manage their bankrolls in a moralistic, anti-money way—this is poker, not identity politics.
2. Variety of Opposition is a Good Learning Experience: In poker, unlike in chess, it’s good to play against as wide a variety of skill levels and styles as possible. Playing in ladies events may make women more capable of generalizing on how to play against females, which could give them an advantage in mixed competitions.
3. Women who play in Ladies’ Events, Once Knocked out, often play in other events- I always see more women at open events, sit n gos and tables before and after ladies’ events. Check out this hilarious but sad video from the EPT event in Copenhagen, which as far as I know, did not hold a ladies event.

Watch EPT Copenhagen 2010: Where Are The Women? on PokerStars.tv

  • 4. Women's Poker Tournaments are Exciting and Fun- Poker tournaments can get repetitive to the media/boring to the players, so the more types of events you have, the better.
    5. Lack of Intimidation for Newbies- Some women may find a ladies' event more fun and comfortable, and a good excuse to come to a major event. Therefore, hosting ladies events has the potential to make poker more balanced and popular. Ladies poker events also allow for targeted promotions.
    6. Structures are Often Very Good Value- Contrary to Ho and Rousso's comments above, I've often found that the structures in Ladies' events are a very good deal for the buy-in. For instance, at the Borgata, generally Ladies' tournaments feature the lowest buy-ins of the event, and yet they usually have similar structures to more expensive tournaments. Surely I wouldn't object to even more time for our money, but we have to expect that to some extent, we'll get what we pay for. The Mancession may be reducing the lingering differences between American male and female salaries. Still, it seems like women are generally less likely to risk their life savings on poker. So if the goal is to lure women to major events and balance the male:female ratio, offering prestigious and deep tournaments for less money is a good strategy.
    7. Men can Play a Ladies Event If They Really Want to- In the last year, men have won two major ladies' events in Lake Tahoe and Atlantic City. The casinos call the tournaments "ladies' events" and discourage men from participating but for legal reasons, they have no actual intention to prohibit insistent men. Even in these cases, I think it's rude for a dude to play in a women's event and probably not the best way to get a date. But the option is there- when I played last month at the Borgata Winter Ladies Open, there was raucous applause after each of five men were eliminated from the competition. So, at least in Vegas and AC women's tournaments are only segregated by the cultural construct/biological fact of gender (pick your percentages.) Men are free to ignore the gender label of the tournament if they don't mind getting booed.

    The arguments above run the gamut from pragmatically self-interested to philosophical, but the antipathy over ladies events is so surprising to me that I had to rant out every reason I could think of. Hope I win tomorrow so in May, I can bring you more thoughts on women's poker tournaments from one of the most expensive places on earth :)