One of the best aspects of poker is that it is a game anyone can play. So you can learn to play poker and enjoy it online and in real life, regardless of your age, profession, or gender.
In theory, at least, but poker is overwhelmingly dominated by male players.
Looking at any open poker tournament, you’ll notice that the gender ratio is easily 20 to 1 at best.
Why is this the case? There are numerous reasons, not the least of which is psychological; this article will delve into these, so grab some popcorn and read on!
Poker Was Strictly A Man’s Game Throughout the History
Poker has traditionally been a man’s game. When men discuss poker and its history, they tell stories about the men who played the game, promoted it, publicized it, and became stars in it.
Because poker was not “their game,” women rarely tell its history.
As time passes, it becomes more common for men to recount poker’s history, highlighting the men who blazed trails and helped shape the game into what it is today. Women were in the minority at the tables, which meant they were unfamiliar with the game’s stories, history, and traditions.
Sexism and Misogyny
It’s a word that many men despise hearing because it makes them feel attacked, as if they’re being punished for sexism they don’t believe they’re committing.
It indeed exists. It is one of the many stereotypes surrounding poker since its inception. Women were traditionally expected to care for the home and family while men worked and played. Women who defied the norms were rarely welcomed at the poker tables. They were instead insulted and mocked, harassed, and ridiculed.
The sexism in the poker world today is very different from the years when Poker Alice had to use the threat of weapons or, on the other hand, her feminine wiles to get a seat at a table. While some women face overt sexism at the tables, much of it nowadays is disguised as “locker room talk” or men who don’t know any better. Worse, men frequently blame women for being too sensitive and lacking the necessary skin thickness to play poker with men.
Poker, like anything else, is a product in the grand scheme of things. It’s not by chance that the game has become so popular around the world.
The 2003 Moneymaker victory was a great catalyst, but the poker boom would have been much smaller if it hadn’t been for a lot of money spent on advertising.
However, a large portion of that advertising was aimed at men. If you don’t believe it, look at the best poker ads yourself.
Women were rarely featured in poker advertisements back in the day, and that hasn’t changed much since.
Of course, more women in poker are signing sponsorship deals and representing poker sites, but we don’t see a lot of female poker players in the spotlight, which is unfortunate.
However, this approach makes sense from a business standpoint because it is much easier and less expensive for poker sites.
Because you can’t target and reach everyone, hotels choose their ideal customers and tailor their advertisements to them.
It maintains the notion of poker as a “boy’s game” and something to do to escape from everyday life.
Also, in most countries, men have more disposable income, and, more importantly, they are more likely to be willing to put that money on the line in the game.
If advertising is what sells, then poker is doing a poor job of selling to women. It seems to be telling them to stay away and do something else instead.
Things have improved recently, which is why there is an increase in the number of female players.
Poker sites are now recruiting more female ambassadors, and we have a number of female players creating poker content, but there is still much work to be done.
The Game’s Psychology
Another major reason women aren’t drawn to poker, even online, is the nature of the game itself.
At the end of the day, poker is a very competitive game in which you must do whatever it takes to outwit your opponent and steal their money.
It’s all fun and games on TV, but seeing someone’s expression after a particularly painful bad beat isn’t always easy.
Women and men are widely thought to have different emotions. Although nothing is ever that simple, and this statement is overly simplistic, men will find far more satisfaction in crushing their opponent’s soul than women.
Despite being primarily a skill game, Poker contains an element of gambling.
Gambling implies risk, and most men are much more inclined to take risks.
Many studies have found that women are more risk-averse than men, which isn’t ideal if you want to play poker.
The most popular poker variation, Texas Hold’em, is a game of incomplete information. Taking risks comes with the territory, no matter how good or observant you are.
Players who have done exceptionally well have generally been those who have embraced variance rather than avoided it.
Of course, this isn’t a given, and plenty of women aren’t afraid or hesitant to take necessary risks, but we have to speculate if we want to understand why women are diversifying.
This relates to the general appeal of poker to women.
If a player isn’t comfortable with one of the game’s fundamental premises, they will enjoy it less and will find less enjoyment in playing it.
What About Women in Online Poker?
The days of driving to the nearest casino or cardroom to play a few hands are long gone.
Numerous online poker sites do not discriminate in any way. You are welcome to sign up and play as long as you are of legal age.
It makes no difference whether you are a man or a woman.
Furthermore, your identity is concealed behind an alias, so other players at the table will not know your gender if you prefer to remain anonymous.
So, with that in mind, are there more women playing online poker?
Although there are no studies to back this up, it’s safe to assume that many more women play the game online in a safe and secure environment.
The ratio still heavily favors male players, but it is far better than in the live scene.
Even so, female players show different levels of interest in the game, indicating that there is more to it than just the fact that women only sometimes feel comfortable at the tables.
Poker Organizations for Women
Nearly a dozen national and international organizations now unite women to support and learn from one another. There are no joining fees. Instead, the groups sprang from a shared love of poker and a desire to meet like-minded women.
One of the goals of women’s poker groups is to help women improve their skills at the tables. Women can share poker hands and discuss strategies in Facebook groups and forums without fear of being judged. Women of all skill levels can improve in this accepting environment.
These groups also allow people to share information about poker rooms that support women in poker versus those that do not stand up to male harassment.
Finally, women can share their travel plans to poker events in these groups without fear of being followed or stalked.
Tournaments for Women Only
Many women get into poker through women-only tournaments, allowing them to play without fear of intimidation or harassment. While many poker rooms and events do provide safe environments for women, it can take time to determine which ones do. When a poker room or event organizer schedules a ladies-only tournament, it’s like extending a hand to women, an invitation to play.
While some women only participate in these types of events, many others enter and exit the game via this inlet. They then gain experience with poker and progress to open tournaments with no gender restrictions.
Finally, these events provide a setting where they can meet other female poker players and form bonds and friendships. Poker can be a solitary game at times, but many women also enjoy the social aspect of the game.
Are There Any Benefits to Being a Woman in Poker Nowadays?
As difficult as it can be for women to find their place in the male-dominated poker world, those who do often find themselves in a rather advantageous situation.
With so few female players, particularly those playing seriously, there are plenty of opportunities.
Successful women in poker usually have no trouble obtaining sponsorship and endorsements from related companies. So, in this regard, female players have an advantage.
Men’s competition is fierce, and getting a good sponsorship deal is usually reserved only for the best of the best – or the lucky few who luckbox their way to a major tournament victory.
This is not meant to justify the various types of issues that women in poker face daily, but it is at least one bright spot in the discussion.
Who are the More Talented Players?
It’s difficult to say whether men or women are better at poker. So few women compete, so comparing their rankings or earnings would be unfair.
The gambling habits of men and women differ. Men come to play poker for the competition, to put their skills to the test, and to risk money, whereas women frequently play to escape boredom or loneliness. Women are thought to be better at reading people’s emotions, but men are thought to be more confident and better at taking risks.
Because all of these characteristics are important in the game of poker, it is difficult to predict which gender will perform better.
Three of the World’s Best Female Poker Players
It takes work to compile a list of the greatest female poker players of all time. Because there have been so many talented female players in this game. However, for this article, we narrowed it down to those we felt deserved special recognition.
What qualifies “best”?
The best female poker players are determined by a combination of factors. This includes both live tournament earnings and online earnings, as well as general poker accomplishments.
Some of the latter include corporate sponsorships, special places in poker history, and what they did to pave the way for other women to follow in their footsteps.
These three superstars all played critical roles in introducing women to the game and performing at high levels.
The list will evolve over time, but for now, these women are at the top.
3. Vanessa Rousso
Vanessa Rousso, known for her intellectual view of poker and early applications of game theory, began playing poker after initially succeeding at chess. She completed Duke University in 2.5 years and the University of Miami School of Law with honors. She then used her interest in psychology and training to become a better poker player.
Rousso began final-tabling events on the WSOP Circuit and the World Poker Challenge shortly after beginning to play in the early 2000s. In 2006, she came in seventh place at the World Poker Tour Five-Star World Poker Classic and won events ranging from the Borgata Poker Open to the European Poker Tour.
Rousso joined PokerStars as a team pro in 2006. She traveled the world as a sponsored professional, competing in televised poker tournaments. She also participated in online poker tournaments and won hundreds of thousands of dollars. She also frequently played live and won on Poker After Dark.
Meanwhile, Rousso worked to expand legal poker in the United States by lobbying Congress to pass favorable poker laws and the Florida legislature to remove buy-in caps.
She was one of the first poker players to earn a non-poker industry sponsorship with GoDaddy while also teaching at a poker academy. She has earned over $3.5 million in live tournaments throughout her career.
Rousso eventually left poker to pursue his passion for music deejaying.
2. Foxen Kristen (Bicknell)
Kristen Foxen (Bicknell) is without a doubt the best female poker player right now. She’s been crushing it on the high roller circuit for a few years now, and she’s the three-time defending Global Poker Index Female Player of the Year.
Alex Foxen, her husband, was named GPI Player of the Year in 2018 and 2019. Bicknell, the only Canadian on this list, has had success in both online and live poker tournaments.
The former Partypoker ambassador has more than $5.5 million in live tournament cashes, including three World Series Poker bracelets.
In addition, she won the $2,500 No-Limit Hold’em 6-Handed event for $356,412 during the 2020 WSOP Online Bracelet Series on GGPoker. Bicknell and Foxen are arguably the most gifted poker couple in history.
They’re both regarded as two of the game’s top high rollers.
She now plays more high-stakes poker tournaments and will compete in the WPT 500 High Roller in 2021, among other events. She reached the WPT Choctaw Main Event final table and finished fifth for $135,000, bringing her lifetime earnings to more than $5.5 million.
1. Vanessa Selbst
Although Foxen is currently one of the top female poker players in the game, Vanessa Selbst still holds the all-time title. Selbst, a native of New York, largely retired from poker in 2019.
The former lawyer and Yale University graduate has just under $12 million in live tournament cashes, far and away the most all-time from a woman (Bicknell is second with $5.18 million).
The former lawyer and Yale University graduate have moved on from the game of poker other than the occasional tournament she’ll pop up at.
Selbst is also the only woman in history to have won three World Series of Poker bracelets in open events. She won it three times: in 2008, 2012, and 2014. Her largest-ever win was $1,823,430 in the $8,500 buy-in Partouche Poker Tour Main Event in 2010.
Will More Women Be Playing Poker in the Future?
In recent years, there has been a lot of emphasis on attracting more women to poker.
A large portion of the poker industry recognizes this significance, as it will help increase the overall player pool and paint the game in a different, more favorable light.
Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go and many obstacles to overcome before women can consider poker to be “their” game.
A couple of bad experiences can turn anyone off; unfortunately, women are much more likely to have such experiences at the poker table.
A different approach to marketing and campaigns led by successful female professionals would help achieve this goal, so let’s see this sooner rather than later.