Pioneering Women in Poker: Phyllis Caro, Part 2

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Last week I wrote about how Phyllis Caro got her start in poker and how she ended up working with her husband at the time, Mike Caro, and founder of the Bicycle Club, George Hardie, to clean up poker in California.

People like myself who have been playing poker since the boom times have no idea how bad it was, especially for the dealers. As a dealer herself at one time, Phyllis can tell you some horror stories, but as she says, it was an accepted part of poker.

Players acted out and blamed the dealers for everything. She says players were not only verbally abusive towards dealers, but physically as well.  My husband Robert Turner described a horrific incident where a player actually got out a lighter and tried to burn a dealer.

It did not happen overnight, but Phyllis was instrumental in helping stop dealer abuse. Players were given warnings and then time out (yes, like children). Poker was changed forever once management took a stance against dealer abuse.

Phyllis continued to rise through the ranks from Dealer Coordinator to Vice President of Casino Operations of the Bicycle Club. In between, she worked tournaments becoming the first female Tournament Director making such innovations as starting the first non-smoking tournaments.

Always an advocate for women in poker, she started the annual Queen of Hearts tournament, which runs to this day; in fact, it was just held this Sunday at the Bike.

As Tournament Director of the Bike, she also ran the second largest tournament in the industry at the time, the Diamond Jim Brady. In 1993, when Phyllis became the Vice President of Casino Operations, she was the first female to hold that position in the industry.

In April 1990, the Bicycle Club was seized by federal authorities making federal government part owner of the most valuable asset ever seized at that time under federal racketeering laws.

The government appointed a trustee named Harry Richard to oversee operations at the Bike. Under the trusteeship, Phyllis fought to keep poker honest. As Phyllis says, “Mike ingrained the fact that all games should be honest.”

In 1995, Phyllis was hired as Casino Manager at Hollywood Park Casino and eventually became Director of Poker Operations where she continued making history.

Phyllis may be retired from poker now, but she will always stand for integrity in poker; she has committed her life to it.

Listen to me and Robert discussing Phyllis’ career on High Roller Radio here: https://youtu.be/bmhuFvCUw38

 

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Pioneering Women in Poker: Phyllis Caro, Part 1 by Patricia Chavira

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In the poker world, the name Caro represents integrity in poker. But before Phyllis Caro became the well-respected casino executive she is known as today, she worked her way up the ranks starting as a dealer.

She played 7-card stud in the 70’s at Caesars Palace. At the time, poker was a small community where everyone knew each other. She was going back and forth between Las Vegas and New York, where she is originally from.

While she was in Vegas in 1979, she had a neighbor who was a box man at the El Cortez, which just opened a poker room in Downtown Las Vegas. She was asked to shill for a few days, and so began Phyllis’ first foray into the poker business.

The next day the room had four tables, and they still needed help, so she sat in the box. The room was very successful from the beginning. Over the years, she dealt at the Las Vegas Club, Aladdin and Golden Nugget.

She was dealing at the Golden Nugget in 1982 when Bill Boyd replaced Pineapple with a new game called Nugget Hold’em. This game would become Omaha, which Robert Turner brought to Boyd.

Not only was Phyllis there at the start of Omaha, she would also meet someone at the Golden Nugget who would take her life in a new direction. That person was Mike Caro.

They married in 1983, and Phyllis quit dealing and helped Mike write books. During that time, Mike was invited to a seminar in Redding, California, where George Hardie was also in attendance.

He told them he was going to open the biggest poker room in California and asked Mike to be involved. Hardie wanted to run a clean, honest poker room, and the Caros were the perfect people to help him.

Before the Bicycle Club opened, Phyllis helped interview and audition dealers and set up the casino staffing. She was offered any job she wanted. She became dealer coordinator.

Hardie had a new vision for California gaming, and it was different from the rampant cheating that defined Gardena at the time. It was so bad, Mike said, “I didn’t know poker was a team sport.” They had their work cut out for them.

In Part 2, read about how Phyllis helped shape the future of poker in California.

Patricia Chavira is a freelance writer specializing in poker. She writes the “Poker Scene” column for Gaming Today. Follow her on Twitter @pinkchippoker.

Bridge to Poker: Meet Poker Pro Robin Kay, Part 1

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Robin Kay is one of the most humble people you will ever meet in a card room. Before I met her, my husband Robert Turner would tell me about a woman who started playing at Hollywood Park Casino.

He told me, “There is this woman Robin who has come out to L.A. recently. She has an uncanny ability to make her opponents want to play longer and enjoy the game more. That’s a rare quality for a poker player.”

Robert continued, “What impressed me most was not her skill level, which is high, but her attitude toward her opponents. She is different; she has the ‘It Factor.’”

This piqued my interest, and I had the pleasure of interviewing her and discovering that there is much more to Robin than meets the eye.

Bridge Royalty

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Robin’s father, the late Norman Kay

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Robin’s mother Judy Kay-Wolff

The first surprise is that Robin comes from bridge royalty. Her father, Norman Kay, was known as the “Babe Ruth of Bridge.” He was a 27-time national champion while her stepfather, Bobby Wolff, is an 11-time world champion whose column “The Aces on Bridge” has been appearing daily for over 25 years and is syndicated in more than 130 newspapers worldwide. Both men were inducted into the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) Hall of Fame.

Though she has been playing cards since she was 4 years old (Robin says while other families were going to Disneyland, hers was going to bridge tournaments), she didn’t find out her father was a legendary bridge player until she walked up to a table for the bridge club at college orientation.

The person manning the table told her that there was a very famous bridge player with the same last name as hers and brought her a book on bridge that was written by her father. She had no idea!

Though bridge was in her blood (Robin’s mother Judy is a well-known bridge player, who was a teacher and administrator with a national title to her name), Robin forged her own path and majored in mathematics and economics and soon found herself working on Wall Street as an options trader on the American Stock Exchange.

At the age of 30, as she was beginning to get burned out, a girlfriend, whose mother Gail Greenberg founded Honors Bridge Club, suggested Robin teach bridge there.

Soon, the world of bridge and poker would collide in Robin’s life, which would change her life forever.

Read how in Part 2 next week.

Patricia Chavira is a freelance writer and social media consultant specializing in poker. She writes a column called the “Poker Scene” for Gaming Today. Follow her on Twitter @pinkchippoker.

 

 

 

 

A Passion for Poker: Meet Hollywood Park Casino’s Ginger Lee by Patricia Chavira

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As I have written about before, women are underrepresented both at the poker tables and on the casino floor, so when I meet a woman who has both played poker and worked in a casino, I know I am talking to a very rare person indeed, and that special woman is Ginger Lee.

Ginger ended up in a card room like many women do—she tagged along with a friend. When she was a college student, she was asked if she would like to go to the Bike. She said yes thinking she was going to a bicycle shop.

Much to her surprise, she ended up at the Bicycle Club in Bell Gardens, California, one of the largest card rooms in the world. Little did she know that fateful decision would change her life.

When she was a waitress at a sushi bar, a customer who worked at Commerce Casino convinced her to apply for a job at the card room. In 1990, she learned to deal and passed her auditioned. She began working as a dealer but realized that to be a better dealer, she had to learn how to play poker, so she began playing after work.

Working With Poker Legends

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Linda Johnson, the First Lady of Poker

Ginger rose through the ranks being promoted to the tournament staff by her mentor Cheri Dokken, Commerce Casino’s tournament director for many years. She also had the privilege of working tournaments with legendary tournament directors Jack McClelland and Matt Savage.

Ginger began playing tournaments herself even meeting her future husband at the L.A. Poker Classic in 1992. She tells a funny story about registering another player for a tournament who never showed up. She didn’t want to be stuck for the buy-in, so she decided to play herself. It was her first No-Limit tournament. She ended up chopping it. Ginger is also a skilled 7-Card Stud player who has cashed in several stud tournaments.

In 2003, she dealt during the first season of the World Poker Tour to such poker luminaries as Phil Ivey and Gus Hansen. But the best part for her was working with her idol Linda Johnson, “The First Lady of Poker.”

After working at Commerce for 25 years, Ginger now works at Hollywood Park Casino as a shift manager with Director of Casino Operations Ramy Wahba. They worked together at Commerce for over 20 years.

Over her career, Ginger has learned that a casino’s success depends on customer service. As she says, “We are here because of the customer; we have to listen.”

With her passion for poker, you can be sure any casino that Ginger Lee works at is a place you want to play.

Patricia Chavira is a freelance writer and social media consultant specializing in poker.  She writes a column called the “Poker Scene” for Gaming Today. Follow her on Twitter @pinkchippoker.

 

 

Women in Poker: Meet the Gardens Casino’s Carolyn Uzeta by Patricia Chavira

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It’s a fact that women are underrepresented in poker. Whether at the tables or on the casino floor, seeing a woman is still the exception rather than the rule, so when I see a woman in a card room, I am always curious about her journey. This is Carolyn Uzeta’s story.

Carolyn ended up in a card room the same way many other women do: her boyfriend was a poker player. As she says, she was that woman who sat behind her beau listening to bad beat stories and offering support.

At the time, she was in college working as a cocktail waitress. She figured she may as well work at the card room where her boyfriend played, and that’s how she ended up at Hawaiian Gardens casino in 2000 when it was still just a tent, not the showplace it is today.

She worked in various positions in the casino until she ended up at a corporation banker. It was in that job that Carolyn realized she wanted to be a dealer, and knowing how difficult it was to get a dealer position in those days, she practiced until she finally auditioned for a dealer position.

She became a dealer, and now she is the Training and Development Manager at the newly-named Gardens Casino. She has two assistants and a team of trainers who ensure the Gardens Casino has some of the best dealers in the business.

There is an extensive training and continuing education process the dealers are put through from learning about customer service to training them to deal in such a way that a player should never notice any difference from dealer to dealer.

As Carolyn puts it, if a customer has a bad time, not only does the casino lose one player, but that player may tell 20 other people who may never step through the door because of that one negative experience.

And she is right. The poker scene in Los Angeles is a tight community, poker players talk, and word spreads like wildfire.

But dealers talk, too, and it is imperative that poker is a positive experience for all. Dealer abuse should never be tolerated.

Carolyn works hard to ensure her dealers are well-trained; we as players should always show appreciation for a job well done or call the floor if we need a ruling.

In poker as in life, everyone makes mistakes, and everyone deserves respect.

Patricia Chavira is a freelance writer and social media consultant specializing in poker.  She writes a column called the “Poker Scene” for Gaming Today. Follow her on Twitter @pinkchippoker.

 

 

 

Women in Poker: Chellie Campbell by Patricia Chavira

Chellie Campbell

I had the most amazing time in the Big O tournament at Hollywood Park Casino this Saturday. I made the final table with two other women, Chellie Campbell and Lulu Flippin, who ended up in second and first, respectively. As we played down to four players, I chatted with both women, which inspired me to write this article.

As I have played more Omaha in the past year, I noticed fewer women seem to play this game than hold’em, so when we got down to two tables, it was great playing with two other women. We chatted with the dealer Leslie, and were having fun. We only had to lose one more player before the final table, and it just happened to be the hand Chellie was in.

She won the hand at showdown, and her male opponent wasn’t happy. He kept berating her, and I finally had to tell him to stop criticizing her. He was knocked out in the next hand.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Chellie after the tournament after Lulu told me how accomplished Chellie is in life and in poker.

Chellie started her career as an actress. While working at Walt Disney World in Florida, she noticed some of the men would bring their lunch and play poker in the barn where they rehearsed. Because she had never played poker before, she watched them once before she sat in the game. Naturally, she won all the money the first time she played; she was bitten by the poker bug.

When she moved back to Los Angeles, she played with friends in home games. They would go to Vegas every January and June to play poker. She honed her game by playing, reading books and watching old VHS tapes of the World Series of Poker.

When Hollywood Park Casino opened in 1994, Chellie played 7-Card Stud for two years before moving on to hold’em. She played that for six months before being introduced to Omaha by her friend Mitch.

When she sold her bookkeeping business in 1994 to teach financial stress reduction workshops, it gave her more freedom to play poker. Today you can find Chellie playing Omaha in L.A cardrooms. She is the redhead with the bright smile.

She has written numerous books including her latest “From Worry to Wealthy: A Woman’s Guide to Financial Success without the Stress.” Visit www.chellie.com for more information on this inspirational woman.

Patricia Chavira is a freelance writer and social media consultant specializing in poker. She writes a column called the “Poker Scene” for Gaming Today. Follow her on Twitter @pinkchippoker.

 

Playing Poker with a Little Help from My Friends by Patricia Chavira

Playing Poker With Friends

After the World Series of Poker concludes in mid-July, the next series I always look forward to is the World Poker Tour (WPT) Legends of Poker at the Bicycle Hotel & Casino which starts in late July. My husband and Gaming Today columnist Robert Turner wrote about its history last week, and it is still favorite on the poker after 20 years.

I was fortunate to play Event 3: $200,000 guarantee No-Limit Hold’em. For once, my husband railed me as I played late into the night on Day 1B on July 30. I made Day 2, but the problem was it was on Monday, August 1 at 1 p.m.

I have a job across town, and with L.A. traffic, was not able to get to the Bike until nearly 4 p.m. But I was happy to get a call from Robert as I was stuck in a traffic jam that I had made the money without even being there!

I had less than 10,000 chips when I finally sat down, so I decided to gamble on my third hand as I was going to be blinded out anyways and beat Ace-King with my Queen-Three when I called out for a three, and the poker gods obliged by putting a three on the flop.

The next hand I had King-Eight and went all in and made a full house but was beaten by a bigger full house. But I had a great time getting to that point. My table on Saturday was so much fun; I haven’t had that much fun at the poker table in a long, long time, which got me to thinking—what happened to the excitement of this game I love so much?

We can debate what happened to poker, but as I only have one hundred words left, I will say this. My brother, who works in a hospital, sparked my love of poker with his lively home games. He would have a mix of players who came to his house to play, and for a $20 buy-in, I made $200 and thought, this is easy, and just like that, I was bitten by the poker bug.

Of course, as anyone who has played for any length of time will tell you, that was simply beginners luck, but I look forward to a lifetime of playing poker with my friends. How about you?

Patricia Chavira is a freelance writer and social media consultant specializing in poker. She writes a column called the “Poker Scene” for Gaming Today. Follow her on Twitter @pinkchippoker.

 

Pioneering Women in Poker: Terry King by Patricia Chavira

Terry King

Photo of Terry King from “Poker For Women” by Mike Caro

 

My husband Robert Turner has been playing poker for over fifty years and has met many characters of the game. He directed me to his friend Madison Kopp’s post on Facebook about poker player Terry King. Robert also spoke of Terry in such high regard that it inspired me to write this article.

 

Terry King is one of the trailblazing women in poker. This is her story told in her own words.

Terry says, “I got to Vegas in 1972, right after graduation from high school. My friend played poker, and I sat behind her watching at least ten times before I got the nerve to play.”

Terry continues, “My friend Natalie and her husband really helped me learn how to play better, and in 1978 I won the WSOP Ladies’ event. I was also was one of the first women to deal the $10,000 Main Event.”

Tales of the Legends of Poker

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Photos of Chip Reese and Stu Ungar Courtesy of Sextonscorner.com

 

Terry crossed paths with poker legend David “Chip” Reese, an event which changed her life forever.

Terry explains, “In 1979, Chip Reese asked me to play in the mixed doubles event. Not long after that, Chip took over the poker room at the Dunes and asked me to play for him to keep games going. Our first date was going to Lake Tahoe to play blackjack.”

“Stuey Ungar owed some rather unsavory people $70,000, and Chip couldn’t play in Vegas, so we helped him get his money back in Reno and Tahoe.”

The couple were together five years and engaged the last year, but they split amicably, and Terry eventually moved to California and went to work at the Bicycle Club. She also helped open Hollywood Park Casino and was a shift manager for 5 years.

Phyllis Yazbek, one of the most respected female executives in the casino industry says of Terry, “Many years ago Terry and my paths first crossed at the 1978 Ladies WSOP Stud tournament final table where she claimed first place and the bracelet. I was just one of the victims of her poker-playing prowess.”

Robert Turner adds, “Terry has played poker at the highest limits, managed the largest card clubs in the world and dedicated her life to poker. She’s a perfect candidate for the Poker Hall of Fame.”

With the World Series of Poker kicking off in Las Vegas in a month, what a fitting time to shine the spotlight on one of the pioneering women in poker.

Visit Madison Kopp’s blog at http://www.madisonkopp.wordpress.com.

Patricia Chavira is a freelance writer and social media consultant specializing in poker. She writes a column called the “Poker Scene” for Gaming Today. Follow her on Twitter @pinkchippoker.

 

Poker from a Woman’s Perspective by Patricia Chavira

 

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What does this have to do with poker skill?

 

My birthday was last Thursday, and to celebrate my husband said we can go to dinner at my favorite restaurant, or he could put me in a tournament. I chose the latter.

We chose the $10,000 guarantee Pot Limit E.O. Stud 8/Omaha 8 during the World Series of Poker Circuit at the Bicycle Hotel & Casino on St. Patrick’s Day.

I had never played Pot-Limit before, but with a little coaching and encouragement from my husband, fellow Gaming Today columnist and creator of Omaha, Robert Turner, I thought I’d take a shot. He has pushed me to play out of my comfort zone, and it has really helped me in all my games.

Where Are All the Women?

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How many women can you count in this picture?

 

The first thing that struck me when I looked around the room was the lack of women in the field. There was one woman at my table and another one sitting a table away. Three women out of a field of 50 is a sad commentary on the state of poker in 2016.

On Twitter there have been numerous debates about the reason for this, and the answers have ranged from biology and cultural expectations of women to outright misogyny. I can only speak from my own experience, and I can say, when anyone—male or female—is starting out playing poker live, the environment is extremely intimidating.

We all have a responsibility to make newcomers feel comfortable. If you cannot be friendly, don’t be rude. When I was starting out, men would often remark on my play. I simply learned to say, “Where can I get your book?” and that would often end the conversation right there.

“Nice Rack”

Nice Rack

I don’t think he means my chips.

 

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the men who are too friendly. When I started playing poker in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, I would often have my dad accompany me. So when I would get a remark like “nice rack,” I would introduce the fellow to my father. One time the gentleman just racked up his chips and left.

Of course, being a woman at the table also has its perks and can give you a slight edge if you don’t let sexist behavior put you on tilt. I’ve had players say, “Honey, do you want me to call or fold?” I answer, and they do it. I wish I could get my husband to do the same!

I can’t say it enough, be courteous to your fellow poker player—male or female. The game will be better for all.

Patricia Chavira is a freelance writer and social media consultant specializing in poker. She writes a weekly column called the “Poker Scene” for Gaming Today. Follow her on Twitter @pinkchippoker.

 

 

Women in Poker: Sweeping Summer Tournaments by Patricia Chavira

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Gina Hecht, Winner of WPT Legends of Poker Omaha 8 or Better

Women have been dominating some of the biggest tournaments of the summer. The winning streak started at the 2015 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas when Carol Fuchs became the only female winner of an open event this summer by winning the $1,500 Dealers Choice event on June 27. Fuchs, a screenwriter and film producer, topped a field of the best mixed game players in the world to win her first bracelet and the $127,735 first-place prize. The Dealers Choice is one of the toughest events in the entire series as it includes 18 different forms of poker.

Another notable achievement came on July 31 when Loni Hardwood won the 2015 WSOP National Championship at Harrah’s Cherokee in North Carolina. She took home the $341,599 first prize and her second gold bracelet. The final table included such notables as Daniel Negreanu, fresh off his 11th place finish in the WSOP Main Event, and Alexandru Masek, the most successful player on the WSOP Circuit with eight rings to his name. The final table was filmed by ESPN and will be broadcast on August 18.

Harwood now has over $1.6 million in live tournament earnings. She won her first gold bracelet at the 2013 WSOP in a $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em event. She had a spectacular run that summer as the then 23-year-old player from Staten Island, New York, cashed six times and made three final tables, tying Cyndy Violette’s 2005 record for most final table appearances by a female in a single series. Harwood won $874,698 at the 2013 WSOP, setting the record for the most money ever earned by a woman in a single WSOP in Las Vegas.

Women have also made an impressive showing at the World Poker Tour (WPT) Legends of Poker, running through Sept. 4 at the Bicycle Hotel & Casino in Bell Gardens, California. Three women have won events so far. Gina Hecht, an actress and producer, took first place in Event No. 6: a $235 buy-in Omaha 8 or Better on Sunday, August 2. The next day, Monday, August 3, Diana Yang topped a field of 242 players to win Event No. 9: the $150 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em Deepstack. Then on Tuesday, August 4, Wendy Weissman emerged victorious in Event No. 10: a $150 buy-in P.L.E.O.-Stud/Omaha 8 or Better.

While a debate rages about women in poker on social media, these female champions have proven they have what it takes to challenge the best poker players on the felt.