PokerStars just announced it is sending the top five female poker players to PokerStars’ European Poker Tour Barcelona. This year’s research, conducted by PR firm Hatch and 888poker, notes a rise in interest in poker among female customers. Apparently, there has been a 22% increase in interest, which is very impressive. And as I am reading that news, I can’t help but think that the status of women in poker is still far from the acceptance, unicorns, and rainbows that those big companies want you to think.
The thing about the status of women in poker is that you have no idea what it’s like until you have felt it in your own skin. If we are to trust celebrated poker players who just happen to be girls, things can get pretty dark, pretty quickly. Linda Johnson shared her experiences on more than one occasion. The First Lady of Poker said she faced men getting angry just seeing her joining a table. To make things worse, they often used to conspire to kick her out.
The hostile environment forced Jamie Kerstetter to rethink her life decision to play poker more than once. Xuan Liu, who approached the game studiously from a very young age, said she was hustled left and right, despite having immense knowledge as well as practical experience.
Skeptics may say they are overreacting. “They are women”, they might say and roll their eyes. From personal experience, I know they are not lying. Poker is like boy scouts on steroids – a place where only men can find their seat at the table.
In the late 2000s, I was one of the very few girls I knew to play poker. Most of my friends weren’t any better or worse than the guys we played with. Yet somehow, as soon as one of us entered the room, there was nagging, complaining, rude comments, and you know – “boy stuff”.
Here are some prime examples of misogyny in poker. A guy yelled at me and accused me of bluffing. It’s poker. Bluffing is an essential element of the game. A friend of mine had to listen to snide remarks because she didn’t want to take the role of the dealer and play at the same time all night long (normally, we all take turns). And finally, when the two of us landed in a spectacular finale with two full houses, do you know who got all the praise?
Our boyfriends. “You taught them well”, everyone said, as my friend and I were trying to enjoy our success. This sentence is engraved in my mind even 15 years later. Mind you, these incidents didn’t happen in one night. They repeated Friday after Friday, and there was always some new guy looking at us as we were two housewives who took a wrong turn and ended up at the table.
Those of you who still don't think things are that bad should only check out the Twitter account belonging to Daniel Negreanu, one of the best poker players ever. This May, he shared a series of Tweets on women in poker. And before I start, I’ll remind you – the public perceives him as the “nice guy”.
Negreanu had done some “research” by reading tweets and created a list of reasons why women don’t play poker. While some of them might be true, his bigotry is crystal clear. Raising children and the gender pay gap were at the top of the list, yet unpleasant experiences landed near the bottom. Oh, Daniel, you just don’t see it from your pedestal, do you?
I am not advocating for women to have special treatment. I am advocating for us to have human treatment. As a person who used to love watching Negreanu play, I have to agree with Kyna England in saying that his comment was completely out of place, and unnecessary. He was just trying to justify all the bad practices, and all the prejudice and stereotypes that male players have against their female counterparts. Also, watching Vanessa Rousso kick his butt in heads up is now more fun than ever. I recommend you check out this cult classic of a YouTube video, if you haven’t already.
I stopped playing poker on a regular basis, mainly because of the men in the room. Now I play only when it’s people I know, who don’t mind seeing me there, and who will celebrate with me. Cowardly, I know, but there is not much fun in it when you feel you constantly have to justify yourself. As Taylor Swift wrote in her song, “And I'm so sick of them coming at me again/'Cause if I was a man /Then I'd be the man”. Double standards, people. They do exist in the 21st century, even in the glitzy shiny West, but especially in poker.
Is there a ray of hope? I think there is. If you like to play, go online. When you are introduced as KickAce123 or DiamondsAreFrorever, no one knows who you are. Danielle Andersen, a pro who started as an online poker player, mentioned that was one of her strongest assets. 888poker’s research showed that women enjoy playing with friends, with online cash games taking the 2nd spot. Organized cash games and live tournaments take 3rd and 4th place.
I hope that young women out there will be ready to face the men more than my generation did. They are entitled to play without all the extra “benefits” we were getting. And more than that, I keep my fingers crossed there is a little girl somewhere who’ll show Daniel Negreanu who’s the boss.
P.S. As a special bonus in this opinion piece, you also get a playlist. Enjoy it!
This article delivers the thoughts and opinions of the author, and it doesn't represent the stance of GoodLuckMate.