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.