I was born to play poker. From the time I was very young, my grandmother took me to her Saturday “luncheons” with her lady friends where they played seven card stud. I sat, watched intently and learned while the ladies played. Way back then …… (over 50 years ago) women were playing poker.
What made women in the late fifties and early sixties sit and play poker to the exclusion of men? For women then, as well as now, playing exclusively with women provides some feeling of safety and also camaraderie. As I recently sat in a women’s only tournament looking around the table and listening to the conversation, it became very apparent to me that while women can be just as fiercely competitive as men, we genuinely care about one another, engage in fun and meaningful banter and are just as interested in having a good time as we are in the playing the game.
Let’s look at a few historical and notable female poker players:
“Poker Alice” Ivers (1851 – 1930)
Alice married a poker player and learned at his side. When he died, she made a living playing poker.
Mayme Stocker (1874 – 1972)
Mayme applied for and received the first gambling license in the state of Nevada for her soda shop/card room called the Northern Club.
Susie Isaacs (1946-Present)
Susie is a long-time poker player with many accomplishments to her name. She has finished in the money in six WSOP ladies’ events and won the ladies event back-to-back in 1996 and 1997. Susie finished in 10th place in the WSOP main event in 1998. Susie was inducted into the Women in Poker Hall of Fame in 2008.
Barbara Enright (1949 – Present)
Barbara began playing poker when she was quite young and discovered that she could make more money playing poker than she could holding down several jobs. She is the first woman to reach the final table at the World Series of Poker placing fifth. Since then she has won bracelets in 3 WSOP events and is the first woman to be inducted into the World Series of Poker Hall of Fame. She is also in the Senior Poker Hall of Fame and the Women in Poker Hall of Fame.
Linda Johnson (1953 – Present)
Linda started playing poker after learning that there was more money in it than blackjack! Linda won a World Series of Poker bracelet in 1997 playing seven-card razz. Linda was inducted into the Women in Poker Hall of Fame in 2008 and is best known as “The First Lady of Poker”. She is a co-founder of the Tournament Directors Association, former publisher of Card Player Magazine, former Chairperson of the Poker Players Alliance, World Poker Tour studio announcer and co-owner of Card Player cruises. A little known fact is Linda was the first affiliate of online poker in the United States. This was the beginning of the poker boom. Linda was also inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2011.
These, and many other women, have paved the way for the rest of us trying to make our way in poker.
Make no mistake …… in many ways I believe it is easier to play poker with men. Generally speaking, men tend to underestimate the woman poker player and believe that they can bully women off their game.
So, how do we move forward to ensure more inclusion of women in poker?
- Find a poker room where you are comfortable and bring a friend!
- Enter into some low dollar tournaments (coed or women only) to dip a toe in the poker water.
- Change the marketing of poker to entice more women rather than objectify them. Most often the marketing is aimed at men with women being the “eye candy” who present the final table money in short skirts and plenty of cleavage.
- Create change in how women are treated in the poker rooms and among tournament staff. There is still a need to address actions, language and attitudes so that women do not feel mistreated by male players.
- If you feel you are being mistreated, speak up! Be sure to let the dealer, floor person or tournament director know if you are being made to feel uncomfortable by one or more players …. male or female!
The Women’s’ Poker Association is an international educational organization with a focus on poker skills training for women who are interested in the game as well as training for poker room staff who are interested in making their rooms thrive and become a welcoming place for all players.
Author – Bonnie Carl, Board Member