A Change of Heart Regarding Women-Only Poker

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My journey through the world of poker has produced a number of opinion pieces with regard to women-only poker tournaments. Some of those articles have been rather harsh, asking women to toughen up, look at the big picture, and stop using ladies-only tournaments as crutches. I have criticized the World Series of Poker for awarding a bracelet to a field that excludes men, and I have called women-only events discriminatory and destructive.

I still have strong feelings on some of these subjects. I still object to women-only tournaments being given the same trophies and status of open events in any given tournament series at a live casino. The way women are treated in the WSOP Ladies Championship, with special gifts and silly comments from the tournament staff, is downright embarrassing. And I always stand by my opinion that poker is an all-inclusive game, and more women should compete in tournaments on the level playing field that poker offers.

My change of heart has developed over the past year. My freelance work took me in a direction I never expected, and since 2011, I have done some work with PokerStars Women. I was cautious, as were they, when the opportunity arose, knowing my stance on women-only poker, but it was also known that I respect poker and have no problem working on a project that welcomes more women to the game. Handling the social media and helping with PS Women promotions has caused me to reflect on some of my previously harsh notions over the past year.{loadposition pokerstars}

Almost daily, I interact with women via the PS Women Facebook and Twitter accounts, and I watch them play in weekly tournaments and monthly leagues. I see their excitement when we offer freerolls that will help them get into bigger tournaments. Last week, we held a live web chat with Celina Lin and Adrienne Rowsome, and there were thousands of comments and questions aimed at the pros regarding their poker careers. It lets me know that women are very much interested in poker and breaking into the game.

vrwinsMoreover, women seem to be particularly inspired by the PokerStars Team Pros. Those like Vanessa Selbst and Vanessa Rousso have managed to attend law school while playing poker around the world, and Rowsome plays online poker regularly while working a gratifying full-time job. Celina Lin is young but incredibly well-spoken and inspiring. Charlotte Van Brabander is working her way through school while trying to find her big poker break. Women want to talk to them and know more about how they’ve done it. Though most female players likely don’t aspire to be pro players, as they have other obligations like family and careers that come first, they all seem to respect the pros for their own decisions.

For those who are seeking to play poker on a professional level, they crave information and find lessons and tips everywhere. Mostly, though, they seek camaraderie and support from their fellow female players. Forums like those on Woman Poker Player allow women to discuss their concerns as well as their accomplishments, and the PokerStars blog’s focus on successes in the Women’s Poker League, Women’s Sunday, and PS Women Live events are gratifying. A win of $2K in the Women’s Sunday gets as much attention on the blog as the winner of the Sunday Million, and that treatment is exciting to many.

Is it fair that up-and-coming female players get attention that men playing at those levels do not? No. But is it fair to offer an opportunity for a segment of the poker-playing population a safe place to play without fear of sexism, harassment, unfair criticism, and rudeness? Yes.

While the Internet offers a fairly anonymous place to play, gender is sometimes evident among the players, and until the majority of men can refrain from insults and crude behavior, it’s often not a comfortable place for women to compete. Poker should be fun and challenging, not a place to defend one’s own gender in accordance with their playing style. The women-only tournaments allow them a place to be shielded from that type of behavior.

twigirlsThe same goes for live tournaments. Though I still advise women to thicken that skin and step into the lion’s den whenever possible, I have been witness to more than a few instances of sexist behavior at the poker tables that rivals anything from 30 or 40 years ago. There are differing opinions amongst players about the level of competition in women-only tournaments, but the indisputable fact is that women can be assured of a comfortable environment without sexist comments. Those who choose to play them are not only seeking lower buy-in tournaments than most included in tournament series, but many of them are looking for friendships and conversations with like-minded women. They want to be near women who understand their love of poker most of all, and it does ultimately make more women feel comfortable sitting at the tables, making bets and raises, and becoming accustomed to live tournament poker.

Will women-only tournaments bring more women to open events? Eventually, I believe they will. For now, there are more women joining the ranks of online poker sites every day. Those women are working on their bankrolls and improving their skills, so it won’t surprise me to see a number of them in larger open tournaments in the future.

So, as I watch another Women’s Sunday on PokerStars to recap the action for the blog, I notice that my stance on the subject has certainly softened. The regulars in the tournaments have helped me see their struggles and the meaning of even the smallest of successes. They are not playing for six-figure payouts in the Sunday Million; they are competing for hundreds or a few thousand dollars, something with which more people – like me – can identify.

Women, do your thing. If you want to play in tournaments reserved for ladies only, do it and enjoy yourselves. I’ll have my objections from time to time with certain aspects of the women-only poker world, but I see your love of the game in its purest form. And I can’t help but support that.eom

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