Take female poker players off the short stack

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The mere fact this column needs to be written means there’s still plenty of work to be done.

Perhaps it’s because American poker is rooted in riverboats, battlefields and the Old West, or maybe it’s because men tend to be territorial by nature. Whatever the reason, women continue to struggle with equality when it comes to life on the felt.

That’s not to say female players haven’t made incredible strides in poker — especially since the boom in 2003 — because they have. More and more you’ll find female players at final tables or in high-stakes cash games on television. Think about some of the great male players who haven’t won World Series of Poker bracelets (Hollywood’s Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi, Gavin Smith, and Gus Hansen jump to mind), yet there are quite a few women who have won bracelets in open events (Jennifer Harman, who won twice, Cyndy Violette, Annie Duke, Kathy Liebert, Katja Thater, Linda Johnson and Barbara Enright, to name but a few). And these ladies don’t have “more testosterone” than other women, as pro Clonie Gowen once said when asked why she was more aggressive than her female counterparts on Poker After Dark.

Clearly women can be just as smart, competitive, cunning and determined as men. Yet there still is this kind of “good ol’ boys” mentality when it comes to accepting women in poker. Take ESPN’s coverage of the World Series of Poker’s Main Event. Every year it makes a big deal out of following the final few women still alive in the event, plucking them off one by one until there’s just one woman standing. Why is that? And when she ultimately gets knocked out, there’s a huge round of applause. Are the guys applauding because they’re showing respect? Or are they just happy a woman didn’t beat them?

They certainly don’t cheer when the next male player gets booted. Is ESPN’s gesture a backhanded compliment or is it sincere? If it’s genuine, then why doesn’t it air the ladies-only event anymore? And why were there grumblings of eliminating the ladies tournament as a bracelet event? Is Harrah’s trying to blaze a trail? Is it saying men and women are equals at the table so let’s do away with gender-based tournaments? Perhaps.

Annie Duke once was interviewed during ESPN’s coverage of the WSOP ladies tournament as she played in an open event. Essentially she said she chooses to play open events because women don’t need their own event and can compete and excel among the men. Not every woman would agree, and not because they’re intimidated or feel unequal, but because the sheer numbers make it difficult to win any tournament. Many female players choose to play ladies-only events for camaraderie, value and to raise awareness to help increase the female numbers.

Another woman doing her part to bring equality to female poker players is the subject of our cover story: Florida’s Lauren Failla. She’s the founder and owner of the High Heels Poker Tour, an organization dedicated to empowering women at the poker table and striving to give them opportunities and recognition.

Ante Up is proud to work with HHPT and is honored that Failla has agreed to write a Women In Poker column for us. Look for her story on page 26, and be sure to read her column (page 41), which will introduce readers to some of the finest female players in the state (and beyond) while offering insight to what it’s like to be a woman seated at the felt.

We’ll see you at the tables.

Christopher Cosenza and Scott Long