Women in Poker – Battle of the Sexes

By Kelli Mix | February 9, 2009

It comes as no surprise that the number of women playing poker continues to rise. When I first started playing poker for a living it was normal for me to be one of the only women in the cardroom. Fast forward only six years and I see at least one woman at every table in a cardroom. This still proves that women make up a very small percent of the playing population; however, the numbers are climbing.

Many women start out playing poker in small buy-in tournaments or low-limit cash games. Women’s only tournaments are another venue for them to try their hand at poker before moving up the ranks. This is a source of contention for many players, including some women, who feel poker should not be separated by gender. I have played in some of these events and admit I have mixed feelings about the practice. I would be irritated by a male-only tournament that I was prohibited from entering, but on the other hand most tournaments are predominately male-only already. I understand why some professional players take a stance against women only events. I also am aware however that these tournaments provide an outlet for women to learn the game or simply enjoy the camaraderie of other women. Many professional women players also find these tournaments enjoyable and realize that even with the lower buy-ins, there’s a lot of money to shoot at. I once heard Kathy Liebert say, “I will play in any tournament I am eligible to play in”.

Sexism is an issue in this game, a game dominated by men. When a woman plays poorly at the poker table she isn’t remembered as the bad player, instead she is remembered by the most basic characteristic – she was a woman. This would hold true for any minority that came to the table. Even when a woman plays well at the table it’s common to hear a back-handed compliment such as, “Wow, you sure don’t play like a girl,” or “You play like a man.” I don’t take this as an insult. Back-handed as it may be, when someone says this to me I take it as it’s meant – a compliment. I am aware that most successful poker players are men because most players in general are men. I’m smart enough to know that if the gender playing field were level, men wouldn’t make those statements because good female poker players would be as common as good male poker players.

So, instead of calling it a battle of the sexes rather than a battle of poker players, consider the following points:

Things for Men to Consider

Ponder the following points about women in poker:

It’s a numbers thing

More men play poker than women – approximately 95% of the players in fact are male. Of that 95%, most are them are not great at poker. Of the 5% of women that play, most of them also are not great at poker. Also, since 95% of the field is comprised of men, it is statistically probable that most final tables and bracelet winners are men. Once the player gender numbers even out, you will likely see more women making final tables and winning bracelets.

Women have to learn the game in order to climb the ranks and play at higher limits

Once the numbers even out and as many women as men are playing I vote to get rid of the women’s only events. Until that time, give women a chance to learn the game and feel comfortable enough to play at higher limits.

Berating them at the table makes you look more foolish than them

This is a common etiquette issue that holds true for men and women alike. Give the same respect you hope to receive. You accomplish nothing by berating another player and actually lose respect from other players when you resort to name calling or attempting to educate a player at the table. A fish is a fish whether male or female, so as the saying goes, “Don’t tap on the aquarium.”

Making blanket statements like, “All women suck at poker,” is ignorant

As with any generalization, this is not the case. There are plenty of women who are great poker players and make a very healthy living playing the game. It is ignorant to think otherwise.

Be prepared to contradict what your parents have taught you

Men are battling against years of training to protect rather than fight women. This is a tough hurdle for some gentlemen to jump. Try to separate yourself from this training while at the poker table and don’t feel guilty about playing tough against a woman.

Realize that some women use their sexuality to get you to fold hands to them

The low-cut shirts, the head tilts, and the winks are usually a lure to get you to fold or play soft against them. The sex-driven male in you must fight against the urge to fall for this trap or you will lose money.

Women playing at higher levels prefer you play them hard like any other player

Women playing in higher limit games are typically experienced players who will not resort to flirtatious games in order to win. These players do not expect or want to be soft played. They have put in their time at the table and will treat you the same way you treat them.

It’s in the genes

Women are physiologically different than men. Women are less aggressive in general and are programmed to be nurturing rather than combative. This is somewhat challenging in the game of poker and is why some people believe women only bet when they have the best hand and fold frequently. These traits however can be overcome. When you come across a woman player who is experienced enough to bypass these physiological traits, you will see she is on a level playing field. Compound that with a woman’s innate sense of intuition and you will encounter a dangerous poker player.

Things for Women to Consider

Ponder the following points about playing poker:

Learn the basics of the game

Study the rules of the poker before playing otherwise you are setting yourself up to be ridiculed. You should at least understand the poker hand rankings, the flow of the action, and the options of folding, calling, betting, and raising. If you do not fully understand these basics, you have no business in the game. Read books, do hand simulations and play friendly games until you are up to speed.

Don’t be afraid to tell the table you are learning the game and may make mistakes

Once you know the basics, you will still make some normal mistakes. Don’t try to cover it up. Embrace the fact that you are learning. Players will not fault you for trying and will help when you ask. If you cover up your mistakes or pretend to know it all, you will only hurt yourself and anger the other players.

Stick to low stakes games and graduate to higher limits

Put in time at the tables in low limit games where you can learn proper game skills as well as table etiquette. Once you beat the game on a regular basis, move up a level and repeat. Before long you will have earned your way to high limit games and proven that you have the skills and the knowledge to be a contender.

Keep sex out of it

Don’t play the sex kitten game at the table and then be angry when they treat you like the girl at the bar rather than a real opponent. The same holds true for online play and poker forums. You can make a logical statement about poker, but if your online poker avatar is a picture of your butt in a g-string, you can kiss all respect goodbye.

It’s in the genes

Males are physiologically different than women in many ways. The testosterone in men creates a higher level of aggression. This can work to their advantage in a game where aggression pays off. Be aware of this and adjust your game when you notice a male with higher than normal levels of testosterone.

Male intimidation

If you feel like you are not prepared to handle male intimidation, create a unisex screen name and play poker online until you feel more confident in your abilities.

Your best defense against sexism is to prove them wrong

The proof is in the play. If you follow proper poker etiquette, understand the rules of the game, and consistently win, you will garner respect from even the most obnoxious sexist.

By Kelli Mix

Kelli is the author of the 'Game Day Poker Almanac - Official Rules of Poker'. She lives in Carrollton, Georgia, where she is the state director for the Poker Players Alliance.


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