WSOP 2014: Year of the Woman

Poker Women

This is a great week for women in poker with events such as the Women in Poker Hall of Fame induction ceremony honoring Allyn Jaffrey Shulman and Deborah Giardina and the WSOP’s Ladies’ Championship. But the biggest story of the summer is Vanessa Selbt’s becoming the winningest female player in poker tournament history with her historic bracelet win in the $25,000 Mixed Max event at this year’s WSOP. She also became the first woman to hold the top spot on the Global Poker Index (GPI), a ranking of the top live tournament players in the world. Female participation in the WSOP has increased dramatically since I began playing in it the 1980’s, but we as a poker community can do much more to increase those numbers.

Last year, I wrote about this same topic, and it is a good time to revisit it. To move forward we must first honor the achievements of the pioneers that blazed the trail for today’s women in poker. No discussion would be complete without first talking about Barbara Enright. To this day, Barbara Enright is still the first and only woman to make the final table of the WSOP Main Event. She accomplished this historic feat in 1995 when she placed 5th. That was just the beginning of her firsts. She was also the first woman to win three WSOP bracelets and the first woman to be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2007 along with Phil Hellmuth.

Though no woman has reached the final table of the Main Event since Enright, two women came close in 2012–Gaelle Baumann, who placed 10th, and Elisabeth Hille, who came in 11th. Only two women have lasted the longest in the Main Event twice—Annie Duke in 2000 and 2003 and Marsha Waggoner in 1993 and 1997.

Loni Harwood’s spectacular run was the big story of the 2013 WSOP. The 23-year-old poker player from Staten Island, New York, won her first WSOP bracelet that year in the final $1,500 No Limit Hold’em event of the series. That win marked her 6th cash of the summer (accomplished by only three other players that year) and tied Cyndy Violette’s 2005 record for most final table appearances by a female in a single series. With $874,698 in tournament earnings for the entire summer, Harwood jumped to the No. 8 spot on the all-time WSOP money list for women that year. Harwood’s three final table appearances at last year’s WSOP was an impressive accomplishment for any poker player, male or female. Add to it the fact that the percentage of female participation is so small made her achievement all the more stunning.

Female players are every bit as skilled as male players, but I feel one of the fundamental problems facing women is the lack of opportunity and sponsorship. Sponsorship money is critical for competing in poker at the highest levels regardless of a player’s gender. Women make outstanding ambassadors for poker, and it is a mistake to overlook them for sponsorship opportunities.

It is time for both men and women, the legends of the game and the up-and-comers, to work together to increase the level of female participation in the game we all love. Women such as Lupe Soto work tirelessly promoting women in poker, but it is time we all do our part.

It is just a matter of time before a woman finally wins the Main Event. I have been playing poker for nearly 50 years, and I have had the pleasure of being at the table with some of the best female players in the world. They all have the makings of a champion, but to watch a woman win it all would be a historic feat I hope to see in my lifetime. Maybe this is finally the year….

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and marketing expert. Robert is most well-known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He also created the Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995. He also was instrumental in helping create Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM. He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing mobile apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing group.

Find Robert on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner.

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Before Poker Was Cool, Part 2: Lyle Berman

Lyle Berman

It’s hard to write in a single article about all the contributions Lyle Berman has made to the gaming industry. Lyle, like Jack Binion and Steve Wynn before him, had a great passion and respect for poker and its players. Lyle was not just a lover of poker but one of the most successful entrepreneurs the gaming world has ever seen. He has headed such diverse operations from the Rainforest Café restaurant chain to Grand Casinos, Inc., and he was instrumental in the development of the World Poker Tour. His name has become synonymous with gaming in the last two decades.

What is unique about Lyle is not only is he a successful businessman, but he is also an accomplished poker player. Lyle has three World Series of Poker bracelets to his name and based on these contributions to the game he was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2002.

After I had retired from poker in my 30’s, my friend Billy Thomas called me and said, “Robert, how can you not go to California? They have legalized hold’em, and there will be thousands of players who will switch from low ball and draw to hold’em.” I explained to Billy we needed at least $15,000 each for us to go and that I was retired and had promised my wife I wouldn’t use any of the money I had won to go back on the road to play.

He said Lyle Berman will give us a bankroll–all you have to do is call him. I did just that, and Lyle sent around $15,000 each right into the cage at the Bicycle Casino. Lyle helped many poker players in the 80’s and 90’s (more than anyone I know), which turned out to be great investments. But he didn’t do it for the money; he did it because they were his friends. Players from Stu Ungar, Jack Keller and T.J. Cloutier all benefitted from his generosity.

I remember when I called Mike Sexton to tell him I wanted to roast him at the Bicycle Casino. Mike said, “Robert, I am not the one who should be honored with a roast. No one has done more for poker than Lyle Berman.” So the Bicycle had a big party to honor Lyle.

Lyle wanted me to help him turn around the Stratosphere after it had failed. Lyle invited me to meet him for breakfast at the casino. There was a newspaper lying on the table with a headline shouting, “Stratosphere Fails.” Lyle said to me that he had replaced the president yesterday and was meeting with the new president in a few hours. I was wondering how Lyle could handle all the stress.

As we started to eat, Lyle noticed the cream cheese. He couldn’t believe that they were using the wrong brand. He asked to speak to his food and beverage director. Lyle proceeded to tell him that this particular brand of cream cheese was unacceptable. I knew that with this streak of perfectionism Lyle could handle the stress of the casino transition. I wish I could remember the brand of cream cheese that he hated to see if the company is still in business.

Another legendary story involved Doyle, Chip and Bobby Baldwin. We were all at Bob Stupak’s Vegas World during a poker tournament before Lyle bought it. There was a rumor going around that a big Omaha game was being planned, and Lyle was the main attraction. The sharks waited on Lyle to start the game, and after a few hours the buzz around the room was how big a game it turned out to be.

All of sudden it broke up, and everyone wondered what happened. Lyle had busted Doyle, Chip and Bobby out of $400,000 and had quit to go to a dinner or a meeting. The look on their faces was priceless. That was classic Lyle.

From then on Lyle was not the main attraction. He became one of the best Omaha players in the world. He continued to play some of the highest stakes cash games in the world, but no matter how successful Lyle became in business, he never gave up on his friends or the poker world.

Lyle would visit the Bicycle Casino to play in the Legends of Poker and became friends with George Hardie. George had an ambition to build the largest poker room in the world in Mississippi and purchased a piece of property called Buck Lake around Tunica. George had lobbied to have the nearest casino to Memphis, Tennessee. He would later sell that property to Lyle, who built the Grand Casino in Tunica, which helped established poker in Mississippi.

In my next article I will talk about how George Hardie changed the California gaming industry.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and casino marketing expert. Robert is most well- known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995. He also helped create Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM. He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing mobile apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing group.

Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. He can also be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting and teaching.