Gambling and casinos are traditionally quite sexist establishments, and there is nowhere this is more true than at a Poker table. Traditionally male-associated traits, such as maintaining a cool exterior no matter what is on your cards and aggression, are considered pre-requisites to winning a game. They’re certainly required if you’re going to be taken seriously.
As it stands at the moment, men account for about 95% of land-based Poker players. If the numbers evened out most people believe that there would be an equal amount of female champions and bracelet-winners as there are males. Right now, the first woman in the list of the top 100 Poker players in the world comes in at number 31, and the second is only seen in the early 70s.
The tide does, however, definitely seem to be turning. As one professional female Poker player notes, when she first started playing she was often the only woman in a Poker room. Now, almost every table will have at least one member of the opposite sex. Women are certainly still in the minority, but numbers are growing all the time.
One of the reasons the numbers of females are swelling is online and mobile Poker play. These situations make it possible to create a gender-neutral persona, and play without any conscious or unconscious bias from other players. In this arena, where women get to sharpen their skills and be treated as equals, they account for about 47% of the total number of players.
Another way women can play and learn without gender bias is to simply play all-female games. Many competitors have mixed feelings about these tournaments; while the female bonding and camaraderie is great, and while they are not pigeonholed in any way based on their gender, it is also considered by some to be a step away from a hard stance against sexism in the game.
While it is true that many high-level female Poker players would prefer not to be discriminated against because of their gender, it’s also true that some women use this bias to their advantage. It is a fact of life that men can be manipulated by women pretending to be naïve or vulnerable, and a certain school of thought would argue that using that to the best of her advantage is simply what a savvy woman who makes use of all the tools at her disposal would do.
Liv Boeree, for example, one of only 3 women to have ever won the European Poker Tour, makes no apologies for flirting her way to a win. She says the key to winning Poker is to understand what opponents think of you, and then to do just the opposite of what they expect.
Navigating a Minefield
Overall it seems that in Poker, as in so many other areas of life, women are faced with a very challenging situation. To prove they deserve a seat at the table and to play against men, they need to prove they are unexpectedly good.
As one player puts it, all that will be remembered by most tablemates is that you were a woman, so in service of the sisterhood you need to make sure that you win. That’s a lot of pressure, which is why it’s so understandable that many women choose anonymity or decide to use what could be a disadvantage to a psychological advantage in high-level Poker games.
However, with greater female numbers we might see everything change and shift. As the playing field continues to become more level, it will be interesting to see what happens to gender relations in Poker.