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The Poker Ethicist: WSOP Ladies’ Event

by Andrew Brokos |  Published: Jul 05, '11

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As “The Poker Philosopher”, and in honor of one of my favorite non-poker blogs, I occasionally consider the ethical dimensions of a high-profile controversy in the poker community. Today, I consider the WSOP Ladies’ Event, which began yesterday and is scheduled to conclude tomorrow. Older editions of The Poker Ethicist are available in the archives.

Once again this year, a handful of men have entered the WSOP Ladies’ Event, citing a belief that a women-only event is discriminatory and a Nevada Gaming Commission policy that prevents the WSOP from actually excluding, rather than just discouraging, male players. Critics of these men say that they are only playing because they expect the field to be softer (no pun intended) than open events of comparable buy-in.

Do these men have a case for discrimination? Is it ethical for the WSOP to offer an event that excludes (or at least attempts to exclude) players based on their gender?

Shaun Deeb in the 2010 WSOP Ladies’ Event

It is. This event serves not to exclude but to include.

Segregation is reprehensible when it carries with it a “badge of inferiority” or assigns privileges and opportunities to people based on factors beyond their control. This is not the case here, where men have 50 other WSOP events, including numerous other $1000 buy-in events, to play. Significantly, every single one of these is a male-dominated affair. Any male player would be hard-pressed to demonstrate how the existence of a single Ladies’ Event harms him personally. The purpose of this tournament is not to push men away from the game but to draw women in.

Historically, only about 3% of players in the main event have been women. Walk into any poker room at any hour of the day and it’s easy to see that women are in the distinct minority. There may be reasons why poker is intrinsically more appealing to men than to women, but surely it is not thirty times more appealing. There must be other reasons for women’s underrepresentation at the poker tables.

Granted, as a man, I am not the best spokesperson for this cause, and it is not my intent to speak for female players or to claim that my observations are perfectly consistent with their experiences. In my experience, though, a female poker player is virtually guaranteed to get comments at the table. These range from relatively innocuous banter (“That’s a big raise for a little lady”) to outright sexual harassment. Casinos may be empowered to stop the worst of it, though they generally don’t, but on the whole there seems to be no avoiding the fact that a female poker player must deal with comments and attention directed at her because of her gender.

Granted, needling and table talk can be part of the game. I don’t mean to argue that women are necessarily entitled to a poker game free of such talk or that males who “fold to the pretty lady” ought to be penalized in anyway. I do think, however, that a desire to avoid such situations keeps many women from playing live poker, and that’s an unfortunate outcome.

Having more women playing poker is valuable in a number of ways. For one, it’s generally good for the game when more people, whoever they are, play. There are a wider selection of games available and more money in the poker economy. Women represent a tremendous, largely untapped market into which the game could expand. This is a worthy goal for the WSOP to pursue, and if they believe that a Ladies’ Event will help them to accomplish it, then they are justified in hosting such an event.

Second, appealing to a broader pool of players is a good thing. Our game is embattled in many parts of the world right now, and winning hearts and minds will require demonstrating that poker is a game with mass appeal, not an unhealthy fixation for criminals and degenerates. There’s a reason that the Poker Players Alliance repeatedly chose Annie Duke to testify before Congress, and it’s because as a mother of four she portrays a wholesome image.

Duke actually argues that,

the Ladies event is not bringing more women into the WSOP. If that were the case we would expect the % of women playing in open WSOP events to have grown over the years and that is just not the case. The % of women entering open WSOP events has remained pretty steady at 3 to 5% of the field

Over 1000 women played in the Ladies’ Event last year. Of course some of these women probably would have played a different event has this one not been available, but many of them surely would not have played at all. Whether they go on to play open events in the future or not, they are still playing at a higher level and stepping up their involvement in the game. They may be more likely to host home games, to play at their local casinos, and to talk about and share the game with friends. When people learn that respectable folk like their friends and neighbors play poker, the stigma that the game still faces in some circles will be broken down.

Duke also asks,

“Why is there a Ladies Event if poker is measuring mental acumen? Are we saying there is a difference between the intellect of men and women that means that somehow we need a separate championship event just for the women? What is that really saying about how we view women in comparison to men on the mental playing field?”

To my knowledge, no one has said this. It’s possible that the event had its origins in some patronizing thinking, but these days I’m not aware of any proponent who argues that women need their own tournament because of some mental deficit relative to their male counterparts. The Ladies’ Event is a marketing tactic designed to draw women into the game, not to demean them or to marginalize male players in any way. If the argument is not that women can’t compete with men but rather that many choose not to for reasons that have nothing to do with a perceived inferiority, then it makes no statement about the skills or capabilities of female players.

The World Series of Poker is about a lot more than crowning the best of the best these days. The WSOP is now the world’s largest poker festival and the dream destination for millions of recreational players. The smaller buy-in tournaments are where amateurs get a chance to play for life-changing money and rub elbows with their heroes from TV. If a Ladies’ Event can encourage more women to have these experiences, then that’s good for the game and everyone who plays it.

Andrew Brokos is a professional poker player, writer, and teacher. He is also an avid hiker and traveler and a passionate advocate for urban public education. You can find dozens of his poker strategy articles at www.thinkingpoker.net/articles and more information about group seminars and one-on-one coaching at www.thinkingpoker.net/coaching.

 
Any views or opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the ownership or management of CardPlayer.com.
 

Comments

GordonGejko
over 10 years ago

men that play the ladies event are attention grabbing parasites

 
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YakshaNZ
over 10 years ago

Disagree with the OP here. You've pretty much contradicted yourself right at the start btw Andrew.

"Segregation is reprehensible when it carries with it a “badge of inferiority” or assigns privileges and opportunities to people based on factors beyond their control."

So you mean like the opportunity to play this tournament, which is (essentially) assigned to people based on their gender? To state "well there are lots of other tournaments men can play" is a huge cop out of actually arguing the case. This specific tournament is an opportunity by itself, and to exclude men (or to ridicule them publically/officially if they enter) based on their gender is sexual discrimination, by definition.

The above is a statement of legal fact: it is sexual discrimination. Once we accept this, the argument from your side of the table will always then descend to "Okay, technically it's discrimination, but it's 'good for the game'". And sure - you're right; promoting the game to this relatively untapped market can only be good for poker players. But at what cost? You're being completely disingenous by inferring that there are no costs for men, or society at large. It's about social attitudes, prejudices, and how they form.

When someone says 'ladies need a tournament so they can be comfortable and not have to deal with men while they learn the game' - what are we really saying? In at least a small way, we're equating women with n00bs, and men with chauvinists. That simply isn't cool with me, and discouraging the perpetuation of these attitudes is FAR more important to me as a human being than any gains in the vitality of our game.

If they wanted to create a tournament for n00bs, so people could have a more 'light-hearted' and fun experience at the WSOP while they learn what live tourneys are really about; I would fully support that. But using gender as the dividing factor is lazy and bogus.

 
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Foucault82
over 10 years ago

Men can still play in the WSOP, and they can still play in $1K buy-in events. Adding an event for women isn't the same as denying an opportunity for men. At worst there's a very minor discrimination going on in that the resources (dealers, floor space, scheduling block) used on this tournament aren't directed elsewhere. Since every other tournament is overwhelmingly male, though, it seems clear to me that men are already getting far more than half of the available WSOP resources.

I agree that a tournament for first-time players, something Shaun Deeb suggested last year, is a good idea but not likely to address the problem of harassment at the tables.

My argument is not that all men behave inappropriately or that all women feel harassed/uncomfortable at the table. But it does happen, and I believe that it does deter some women from playing. I don't think that either of those statements is bigoted/discriminatory/whatever.

A female commenter on my main blog suggested that the women's tournament might actually remove the impetus to address the problem of misogyny at the tables. If true, I think that would be the best argument against the Ladies' Event.

 
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YakshaNZ
over 10 years ago

Sorry, "adding an event for women isn't the same as denying an opportunity for men"? Really?

How many tournaments are available for women to play at the WSOP?
How many tournaments are avaiable for men to play at the WSOP?

Notice how the first number is higher by one? :P

 
 

YakshaNZ
over 10 years ago

To illustrate the point another way - ask yourself, what benefits does the 'ladies tourney' provide to a female, relative to any other $1k wsop tourney? Because gender-neutrality is the factor which separates them, your answer will inevitably be something like "Because there aren't any men, and so ".

So please, help me fill in in a way that isn't sexist / doesn't make an inherently negative comment about either women or men. Tell me how you know that I, as a male, fit into the statement, and therefore should be kept away from these women.

 
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YakshaNZ
over 10 years ago

Oops, cardplayer read part of my post as tags and left it out, that should've said in previous post:

"your answer will inevitably be something like "Because there aren't any men, and so (x).

So please, help me fill in (x) in a way that isn't sexist / doesn't make an inherently negative comment about either women or men. Tell me how you know that I, as a male, fit into the (x) statement, and therefore should be kept away from these women."

 
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mikeyb111
over 10 years ago

will no one mention the thousands of transgender players who are completely excluded. Their voice is but a peep in the forest.

 
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Foucault82
over 10 years ago

You are starting to grow on me, mikey ;-)

 
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SevenKidsPoppy
over 10 years ago

...could've done without the photo of Shaun eyebrow-plucking Deeb.

 
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Ragaboo
over 10 years ago

Huge +1 to YakshaNZ. All of your points are entirely valid, and I couldn't have said it better myself.

There is, however, another problem that I have with the ladies event: While it arguably does good in the short term for women in poker -- and this is certainly debatable, given the non-existent growth of women playing events recently -- it does much HARM to women in poker in the long run.

Let me explain. For groups experiencing discrimination, they definitely need an initial helping hand when laws/policies/social norms are changed to discourage discrimination. That helping hand is entirely necessary at first to give them some momentum toward equal footing. However, that helping hand should NOT be permanent, because for as long as it exists, it is a reminder to a generation of people that a certain group needs help. At some point, the helping hand needs to be pocketed -- even if the group isn't at a point of total equality yet -- simply so that a generation can be born and grow up never having lived through a period where they "knew" that group needed extra help, or that the society they live in (rather than the society of the past) viewed them differently.

Keeping the Band-Aid on reminds you that there is/was a wound there, even when the wound heals. Taking the Band-Aid off once the wound is close enough healed to fend for itself uncovered is the best way to move on.

The ladies event is patronizing, discriminatory, and a constant reminder that society views poker players who happen to be women as women playing poker.

This is coming from a guy whose girlfriend is much better at poker than he is, and who is damn proud of that.

 
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pouchmouth
over 10 years ago

There is speculation that due to the overwhelming "marketing" success of the annual Ladies' event, WSOP officials are considering a new event for 2012: "The 1K No-Limit Hold em' Negroes' Championship", to be played as event #42 in honor of Jackie Robinson.

 
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pouchmouth
over 10 years ago

...However, the results will not count toward WSOP POY standings.

 
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sbl21
over 10 years ago

Just make it an "Invitational" and invite any women that want to play. Done. No more laws are broken and no more "men" will be able to enter. Other tournaments outside of poker use this strategy to eliminate the legal issues with women's only events.

 
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LVKat15
over 10 years ago

You know if you just look at any poker room today you will see a significant increase in females sitting at the tables than even a year ago..those numbers will increase as time goes on. One of the reasons women used to like playing in a "ladies only" event was because some were intimiated by playing with men, especially those new female players trying to get their feet wet..otehrs say it was because in general women are more polite..this I have seen firsthand having played in several ladies only tourneys..it is very rare to see a woman become verbally shitty to another woman where some men just think they can intimidate a woman in a way they would not to another man (ass kicking possibility). My personal opinion is that there should not be a ladies only event..the reality is there are no differences between a man or a woman playing this game and if even some people believe that there is, having a tournament for ladies only just magnifies this mis-conception ten fold. Personally I prefer to play with men, I believe it is an advantage to play with men, they do things like stare you down, say sexist things, flirt with you which turns into soft playing that benefits me etc..the list is endless. As far as men playng in the ladies tournaments I will refrain from saying how I really feel about them and their "point" that that think they are making..personally I think they are making an ass of themselves. I will leave it at that.

 
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SQUEEZE
over 10 years ago

Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer gut, and still think they are sexy.

 
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