Recently we learned the encouraging news that Miramax is finally committing to produce a sequel to the 1998 classic poker movie Rounders in 2011, with plans for a 2012 release. One of many classic lines to emerge from that movie was Worm exclaiming that "In the poker game of life, women are the rake."
Worm (Edward Norton) is decrying Mike McDermott's girlfriend walking out on Mike (Matt Damon) when he wants to get back into poker. His inference is that women drain your "life profit", limiting and restricting you from the freedom and joy that life provides, much as a casino saps your profit potential by taking their large rake percentages. The debate over whether women act as a pseudo rake on the massively male poker playing demographic can be argued another time. I am interested in exploring the impact of the women who do play poker?
Interestingly enough the rake that most online poker rooms charge averages roughly 5%, which also happens to be the rough percentage of women who make up most live poker tournaments, according to Daniel Negreanu's latest blog. If we assume that women and men poker players are equal in ability, we could expect that women would win one out of every 20 tournaments or typically win 5% of the prize pool. Unfortunately, I don't know of any comprehensive cross-tour compilation of results that could affirm or deny those results. In the absence of those figures, I would argue that women poker players make a bigger impact than their 5% figures would indicate.
The top women poker players had a particularly strong 2010. The poker media was quick to label the phenomena "The Year of the Women" in poker. Some highlights:
- Annie Duke won the NBC Heads-Up Championship
- Vanessa Selbst won the NAPT Mohegan Sun Main Event, Partouche Poker Tour Main Event, and took fourth in the EPT London High Roller
- Liv Boeree won the EPT San Remo Main Event
- Vanessa Rousso took 8th in the WSOP Heads-Up Championship and 3rd in the WPT Doyle Brunson Five Diamond World Poker Classic
- Annette Obrestad won the EPT London Heads-Up, won $1k PLO Aussie Millions event, and 7th in the Aussie Main Event
- Young-Shin Im won the APPT Cebu Main Event
In Negreanu's recent blog, he compiled stats from the 75 Team PokerStars pros that supported the strong results of the top women poker players with three of them placing in the top 10 of live results. Vanessa Selbst was first with $2,865,830 in live winnings, with Liv Boeree in 2nd and Vanessa Rousso in 9th. These three women find themselves quickly climbing the All Time Money List behind Kathy Liebert with $5.7 million and Annie Duke in 2nd with $4.2 million.
In spite of those great results in 2010, I would argue that the impact that women have on poker is far greater then their financial results. In a game that is so heavily male dominated by sheer numbers, women are magnets of attention. Their media coverage is proportionally much greater. A quick check of any poker forums will indicate that any post containing images of female poker players blow away those containing picture of male poker players. Attractive women play the hostess or lead advertising role on many poker rooms, poker shows or poker news outlets. The poker audience is heavily male and they relish the opportunity to view and hear about women's involvement.
There have been several waves of women poker players that have had an impact in the poker world. The first group were the pioneers, individuals who played despite little promotion or media. They played before poker became mainstream, with a love for the game and driven by their competitive spirit. (*Note - Google is your friend if you are unfamiliar with any of the female poker player's appearances)
In the last decade, the established top female players having the best results or receiving the most attention came from this group:
Jennifer Harman Traniello
Joanne "JJ" Liu
In the last few years, new female stars have emerged in a more competitive live and online environment:
Annette Obrestad - Dominated online during teen years, youngest WSOPE champion with over $3 million in live winnings
Sandra Naujoks - German woman with $1.8 million in winnings
Victoria Coren - UK poker columnist with 1.1 million
Anna Wroblewski - $975k in live winnings
Katja Thater - German mixed games player with a WSOP bracelet
There are many women in poker who have received considerable attention, some may consider disproportionate to their results, over the last few years:
Erica Schoenberg - dating Erick Lindgren
Maria Ho - was on The Amazing Race
Tiffany Michelle - was on The Amazing Race
Beth Shak - divorced from high stakes player Dan Shak
Shannon Elizabeth - actress
Maya Antonius - married to Patrik Antonius
Dee Luong - married to Prahlad Friedman
Trishelle Cannatella - Real World
Lily Elviro - Married to Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi
Alexia Portal - French actress
Deanna Dozier - Country singer
Leo Margets - Last woman standing in 2009 WSOP ME
Cecilia Reyes Mortensen
Melissa Hayden - dates Allen Cunningham
There is also a special category for women having an impact in the poker world and bringing attention to a wider audience. All the poker news and poker hostesses representing poker:
WPT Royal Flush Girls - with greatest focus on Melanie Iglesias who just won the Maxim Hometown Hottie
Victory Poker girls - including Victoria Moore, Rosie Jones, and Sarah Underwood
Gaelle Garcia Diaz
The last category is a group of a dozen poker women from whom the next breakout star could come from in the next few years. They have each had some success and attention but have yet to fully break out or reach their potential:
Lauren Kling - Graduated from Berkely College with degrees in engineering and business
Svetlana Gromenkova - winner of the WSOP ladies event, former pro bridge player
Vanessa "PrincessDonk" Peng - Strong online results, starting to focus on live play more
Young-Shin Im - Korean who won APPT Cebu ME fourth final table in two years
Helen Prager - married to poker pro Josh Prager
Fatima Moreira - former Women's Hockey World and Olympic Champion who also has a Masters Degree in Law.
Charlotte Van Brabander - former CounterStrike World Championship contender
Melanie Weisner - tours EPT events
Laurence Grondin - French Canadian cash game specialist with tourney scores
Sofia 'wellbet' Lovgren - 20 year old PKR pro
Amanda 'manderbutt' Musumeci
(Honorable mention to online players bdbeatslayer, peachymer, hotjenny314 and millie "pokersnoopy" shiu, and rumored female cash game player rikjamesb1atch)
With all the success of women poker players in 2010, it is important to note that no women won any of the 54 World Series Of Poker events, although Jennifer Harman made two final tables and Joanne "JJ" Liu made one and narrowly missed another. Continued results in the biggest live events will dispel the myth that women are not as strong players as men. There are also no women listed on the top 100 online tournament players, according to Pocketfives. Poker is a numbers game and if women remain only 5% of the fields their results will seem few and far between, but their impact on the poker world and poker economy will continue to have significant impact.
I have to respectfully reject Annette Obrestad's infamous utterance that women are “Easy money…I’ve always said that girls suck at poker.” Her opinion is more a factor of the limited numbers and experience of women poker players. The more women that pick up the torch of poker coming from a love of the game, as opposed to a self-promotional angle, the more women poker players we will see battling for the biggest pots and crowns in poker. If women are the rake in poker, I am gladly paying my dues to keep playing the game I love.