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When you picture a group of people around a poker table, chances are good that the tableau in your mind will be composed of men. That is because poker has long been considered a game for “the boys,” a nightly diversion that guys can participate in, well away from their wives or girl-friends. However, like it or not, females are making serious in-roads into this once testosterone-dominated pastime. The only question that remains is this: Do men and women really play the game of poker differently?
Although guys still hold an eight to one advantage at the poker tables, women are gradually making their presence known. Females have recently been getting their start in less threatening ways, often by participating in small buy-in or women’s-only tournaments. The gender-specific competitions are controversial in the poker community; many people consider them to be patronizing and even insulting. That being said, many women might never get their start without the easy-going, friendlier camaraderie that they find at these events.
There is still a long way to go when you consider that women make up less than 10 percent of the players at a casino poker table. When females can hide their identities by playing online, a full one-third of players are female.
Few would argue with the statement that there are physical differences between the male and female of the human species. But ask yourself this question: Are there just as evident behavioral differences in the ways that men and women play poker? It turns out that there are, and they seem to fit some somewhat discomforting stereotypes. While guys play poker for the sheer love of gambling and competing, girls join in the games as a means of escape. Some people theorize that men’s tendency to bet more aggressively is actually a function of the increased hormone levels stemming from the presence of women. Perhaps this is the modern-day equivalent of the jousting matches that occurred between knights in King Arthur’s time, all for the pleasure of the ladies of the court. By contrast, women are less likely to play to win, preferring to double up and form groups for everyone’s mutual advantage. Some attribute this to women’s natures as nurturers; others might conjecture that society has made them that way.
Whatever the case may be, there are a number of female players who have bucked the stereotypes and have become forces to be reckoned with at the tournament tables. Vanessa Selbst, Kathy Liebert and Annie Duke have all made names for themselves against high-rolling males who were initially quite skeptical about their ability to be victorious in professional tournaments. Nevertheless, these powerful female poker experts have made millions in recent years; just take a look at what these top three players brought home in 2015 alone. The problem is, even those impressive numbers pale in comparison to what their top three male counterparts, Daniel Negreanu, Antonio Essangiari and Erik Seidel, raked in during that same 365-day period. Until girls who win poker tournaments are winning purses comparable to those that their male counterparts earn, the disparity will continue.
Probably one of the best ways to equal things out between the sexes in the poker world is to create an environment where all players, regardless of their gender, feel supported and challenged as they learn the intricacies of the game and slowly rise in the rankings. Once that happens, gender-specific tournaments can become a thing of the past. The currently all too common incidents of males berating and insulting female players can stop being a social convention and become behavior that is frowned upon by peers. Insulting or attempting to educate an opponent at the table is always a breach of poker etiquette, no matter who the players are.
Another sad reality must be faced head-on: Some women will use their sexuality against male players. This could come in the form of provocative clothes, flirtatious body language and even off-color comments from a female player. To the extent to which a man can ignore these, he will have the capability to master his opponent by means of his true skills.
By the same token, there are things that women poker players should bear in mind. Learn the basics, including the concepts of folding, raising, betting and calling. Become familiar with the rankings of the different poker hands by reading a lot and playing friendly games before you go against tough competitors. While you are in the learning phase, let your fellow players know your novice status; don’t try to prove that you are an expert when you’re not. Spend most of your time playing low-stakes games where you can learn the details of play as well as table etiquette. Unless you want to be treated in a patronizing or belittling way, don’t flaunt your sexuality. Be as professional as you wish to be treated. If you win often, understand the rules of the game and follow proper table etiquette, you will earn the respect of the poker community, even the sexist naysayers.