Las Vegas, NV
Once or twice a year (including every summer at the WSOP), everyone gets in a ugly discussion about the merits of Ladies Only events. You really discover a lot about people in how they react to socio-political-gender issues that are bigger than the game of poker.
I'm a "live and let live" kinda guy and I can agree to disagree with someone. I don't have the annoying desire to be right on every single issue and I have the wisdom to know that many issues are not two or even three dimensional, which is to say that the issues are too complex and complicated that there is no simple solution.
Ladies Only tournaments? I don't have an uterus, therefore no opinion. Besides, it's one of those ambiguous and intensely debated political issues that tends to divide people when the original intent was to bring people together.
Half of my female friends think that Ladies Only events are good for boosting numbers of women in poker and the other half think that they are demeaning to women. I'm thirty-something years old and if there's one thing I learned the hard way -- it's that you never get in between two women in the middle of a vicious dispute. Nothing good can come of it, even if you're holding out for that 1% chance of a three-some, it's still not worth it.
With that said, I know better to stir the bees nest, and Ladies Only events often attract a swarm of killer bees. But as long as women want a Ladies Only event, then I say let them have it.
As someone who makes a living in the poker industry, especially in the post-UIEGA wasteland, I know how vital it is to attract new players and get them interested in the game. I don't care if it's men, women, trannies, or guys who blow goats -- the poker industry will only survive on a steady flow of new players to the game since every day more and more people are bailing from the scene since they went busto. Women represent such a huge untapped market, it would be foolish not to go after them from a business standpoint. I've seen the slowing trends in poker. Games are tougher online. Dead money is drying up. That's why I'm not going to scoff at Ladies Only events because if it keeps women interested in poker, then it's an effective marketing scheme.
The Moneymakers and Raymers of the world helped attract middle-aged guys with mortgages and receding hairlines to the Main Event at the height of the poker boom. But with the slumping economy, guys with families are putting their WSOP dreams on hold. The easy accessibility to the internet and clever programming on ESPN attracted a slew of males aged 16-26. But there's a cap on how many of those college-aged (and younger) kids enter the live marketplace because only so many of them turn 21 for the first time every year. It's good to know that you have some prospects growing down on the farm, but what you really need is huge surge in a different demographic -- one led by women.
Ladies Only events won't create another huge boom, like if a woman won the Main Event, but it's definitely a start. In 2004, 200+ women played in the Ladies Only event. Back then it was LHE. Seriously. Limit. At my first WSOP in 2005 the format was changed to NL and over 600+ women arrived at the Rio. The staff was not prepared for the huge numbers because they scheduled it to be a one-day event. As is, it ended up a two-day event with Jen Tilly winning the bracelet.
These days, the Ladies Only events attract 1,000+ women. At any given day, you don't see too many women playing in the open events. Maybe 1 to 2% at the most. Women can play at any time, but they don't show up in numbers and clubs like they do for the WSOP.
"Women want to have the thrill of the WSOP, and this a more relaxed atmosphere than a donkament," said Benjo.
"Americans often lack respect for history and their elders," explained another member of the foreign press. "The Ladies Event acknowledges the importance of women in the game of poker."
Ladies Only events at the WSOP are a celebration of women in poker. The WSOP has a deeply rooted history. All you have to do is look a round the Amazon Ballroom and glimpse at the black and white murals of the champions of yesteryear. Heck I sit underneath Chris Moneymaker's mural, which is fitting because without Moneymaker, I wouldn't be here. Which is to say, without pioneers like Linda Johnson, Susie Issacs, and Barbara Enright -- many women in poker would be where they are today with out their efforts. That's why respecting and honoring the Ladies event is the best way to pay homage on the arduous journey that women had taken in poker over the last forty years.
The First Lady
Linda Johnson gave a quick, yet inspiring speech to kick off the Ladies Only event.
"It was hard not to get choked up by Linda Johnson's speech," said Linda Geenen, a veteran and former dealer who worked on the staff that opened both the Mirage and the Bellagio poker rooms.
As much as we give Moneymaker credit for the poker boom, you have to give your props to Linda Johnson. It was her canoe trip in the Amazon with poker industry friends that spurred a discussion that led to the formation of the World Poker Tour. The early success of the WPT was also a vital component of the glorious poker boom. Everyone in poker considers Linda the First Lady of poker, and at the same time she's been an international ambassador. Linda Johnson is a true trailblazer. Why would I want to ruin her party?
I will never play in a woman's event. I don't need to make a political statement, draw media attention upon myself, prove a point, or play in the event to donate money for charity. There are far better and more effective ways to do that.
Even though I can technically play in women's only event, I will never do so. Why? Out of respect. I have a deep respect for one of the few times a year that women can play with just other women.
There are a few unwritten rules that everyone follows in poker, for example, everyone knows that slowrolling is a no-no (well everyone, except Men the Master). And everyone knows that men don't play in Ladies Only events. Just because we can... we don't... out of respect.
That did not deter a dozen or so men from buying into the Ladies Event. Just like the merits of the Ladies Only events, the act drew tons of criticism (from both genders) and a smattering of support... including women.
The WSOP crew have dissuaded men from playing in the WSOP the last few years, but this was the first summer that they stepped up efforts to deter male runners. Some of the entrants were searched by security guards. One male player got his pharmies taken because he did not have a prescription.
Rumors swirled around the Pavilion, Amazon Ballroom, the media room, and the hallways about a ban (I heard numbers varying from a one year ban to lifetime ban) that might be imposed on men who played in the event. As much as men can legally play in the Ladies Only event, the WSOP and Harrah's does have a right to refuse service to anyone. Legal recourse or not, a casino can 86 you without prejudice. This is the ways it's been since the first casino sprang up in the Nevada desert. You can try to appeal, but once you're in the proverbial black book, it's hard to get out. Getting banned is a cake walk compared to the old days.
I can't help but think if any of these guys showed up to play at a Ladies Only event at The Horseshoe, that Benny's thugs would take them in the back room, remove their testicles with pliers, before they let them buy-in to the event thereby making them adhere to the no-cock-and-balls rule in Ladies Only events.
Men entering ladies women events have been going on for over a decade, maybe longer. The Tilt Boys (Perry Friedman, Rafe Furst, Phil Gordon, et al) gained notoriety in the late 1990s when they entered their first ladies event for shits and giggles.
"I was running the Ladies tournament at Bay 101," explained TD extraordinaire Matt Savage. "And the Tilt Boys showed up in drag. The now infamous photo that's on the cover of their book (Tales from the Tilt Boys)."
It was good to know that after the Tilt Boys grew up a bit, that they'd spearhead one of the biggest charity organizations in poker -- Bad Beat on Cancer.
Over the last few years, more and more men began entering Ladies' Only events. Last year, one of those knuckleheads won the Borgata's Ladies Only event. The Commerce Casino in LA stopped hosting Ladies Only events because after a while too many men showed up and ruined the event.
I cannot recall if any men entered the Ladies Only event when I started covering the WSOP in 2005, but I know that while Jeffrey Pollack was the Commish, not one man entered the Ladies Only event on his watch. Only a couple of men actually entered, and Pollack personally spoke to each one and persuaded each of them to sit it out.
I guess that's why everyone is up in arms because this was the first time that male entries got in, and their numbers reached the double digits.
"It's ten this year which means there will be 50 next year," suggested Benjo. That's what happened with Commerce and the powers to be were worried it might ruin the future of Ladies Only events.
Respect. It's a two way street. There are certain things you do out of respect like hold a door open for an old lady, or give up your seat on the subway for a pregnant woman, or abstain in playing in Ladies Only events.
The tampon incident was really one of the worst things I've ever seen at the WSOP in six years. According to PokerNews' Ben Conoley...
One of the dozen or so male players left in the event was recently penalized for taking out a tampon to use as a card protector. The floor ruled that he was to sit out for two rounds of play. We're not sure which rule he was violating, besides that of a lack of class, but he's back in action now - this time with the tampon in his pocket.I'm surprised he wasn't jumped by some of the appalled women in the field and brutally sodomized with said tampon.
I'm a live and let live kind of guy and I'm turned off by so many rules being imposed upon our society. With that said, I also believe that there are times in life when it's pointless just to make a point and that you should respect long-standing institutions. It's not up to me whether or not Ladies Only events are good or bad for poker. I just know that as long as they exist, we need to respect them.
Bouncin' Round the Room on Day 15...
Event #18 2K LHE Final Table: Matt Matros made a second final table for LHE, but he could not become this year's first double bracelet winner. Eric Buchman was the November Niner who many thought was the odds on favorite to win the 2009 Main Event. He failed to win the Main Event, but cruised to the LHE title for his first bracelet.
Buchman's First Bracelet
Event #19 2-7 Lowball Final Table: Tough final table with Seidel, Juanda, and Danzer, yet David "Bakes" Baker survived them and faded a field of 101 players to win his first ever bracelet. Baker made a final table of the 50K 8-Game, but his girlfriend Maridu was unable to sweat him because she had to play in the LAPT Peru. This time, she was at the final table and got to see him ship his first bracelet. Congrats to Bakes.
ODB David Baker
Event #20 PLO Junkiement Day 2: Old school British player Peter Costa jumped out to the lead late on Day 2. Christian Harder, Nenad Medic, Blair Rodman, and Tyler Patterson all advanced to the final two tables. Costa bubbled off the final table in 10th place. Action resumes on Saturday with former bracelet winner Nenad Medic as the chipleader.
Event #21 Stud Day 2: With two tables to go, Sorel Mizzi held the lead. Alex 'KGB' Kravchenko also went deep, proving my theory that the Russians are sick Stud players. Tex Barch... holy shit Tex Barch, remember that guy from Hachem's Main Event final table in 2005? He was still left in the field when I bailed. Veteran ginger Dan Heimiller was seeking another final table while Jon Turner was also lurking.
Steven Albini, writer and punk rocker, was in the field. I had gotten a few messages (sorry I didn't respond!) telling me about Albini's run, but I was so swamped with other stories that I never got to properly sweat him. If you have no idea, Albini attended (one decade earlier) the same university as Change100, Jeffrey Pollack, and Michalski. That's where he formed Big Black, a punk band that took the Chicago scene by storm in the early 1980s. These days, Albini is a music journalist and recording engineer. Alas, Albini couldn't muster up a final table appearance when he busted out in 14th place.
Event #22 1K Ladies NL Day 1: Despite getting tons of shit for playing, Shaun Deeb had a simple message. By the way, congrats to a few friends who were among the final 139 women left in the event... including Michele Lewis, Jess Welman, and Lacey Jones.
Photos courtesy of Harper & Benjo.