Enright’s poker career keeps on chugging

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I recently had the pleasure of spending some time with Barbara Enright, who is known to most for being the only woman to make the final table of the World Series of Poker Main Event. She placed fifth in 1995, taking a tough beat where her pocket eights couldn’t hold against Brent Carter’s 6-3 suited all-in preflop.

Her name has been appearing all over the local tournament results lately. Through April 1, she has eight cashes this year, including a win and five cashes in the Bicycle Casino Winnin’ o’ the Green tournament series.

What makes it more impressive is her longevity. Enright’s first cash and tournament win happened in 1986. These most recent cashes bring her near the 200 career mark. Her resumé is incomparable. Some of Enright’s career achievements include 31 wins, 2007 inductee to the Poker Hall of Fame, 2008 inductee into the Women in Poker Hall of Fame, more than $1.4 million in tournament winnings, 1995 WSOP main event final table, and three WSOP bracelets.

I met her at the Bicycle Casino where she took a break from the $20-$40 mixed game to speak with me. Her long-time companion Max Shapiro joined us to (presumably) make sure I didn’t get out of line. In our 40-minute talk, I got the impression she likes to play poker, but more than that, she likes to win.

The beginning

“I started playing in casinos in 1976, in Gardena. There was the Normandie, the Rainbow, the Monterey and the El Dorado. The Hustler is there now where the El Dorado used to be. The Gardena Club and the Horseshoe. I was a barber and a cocktail waitress and a bartender. I worked a lot of jobs. Sometimes at the same time. I’d work days and nights. Cutting hair in the daytime, serving drinks at night. At a certain point, I found out I could make money playing poker.”

Tournaments or cash

“Sometimes I go on streaks where I just want to play cash games and not interested in tournaments. At first I was traveling a lot playing tournaments. And there wasn’t that many. Four or five a year. Now there’s so many all over. It drains you. You can’t just play tournaments every day.

“Plus the tournaments today, they take a lot more money. It costs you more to play a tournament than it used to cost. For example, the World Series’ $10,000 buy-in; they didn’t charge any juice for that tournament. They pay too many spots now. You work all day and get your money back and a couple hundred dollars. Sometimes that’s not worth it. To me, the idea of a tournament is to invest a little bit to win a lot. If you just want to win a couple hundred dollars you’d play a ring game and try to win a pot or two.

“Paying 10 percent is all right. Sometimes they pay more. They take more off the top places and give it to the bottom. I remember the winner usually got 40 percent of the prize pool, and most ended when they made a deal three- or four-handed.

“It’s a lot different now than it used to be. They’re taking a lot of juice. You have to win twice as many times and cash a lot more than you used to. You have to win more often to make up for the way it used to be. If somebody today wins a big tournament for $280,000, back in the day it would have been $350,000 or $380,000. They pay more (spots) today. They want to give everybody enough to come back again and get more juice from them. They’re smart. People’s bankrolls are getting depleted from the juice they’re taking. They can’t win fast enough to keep up with it like in the past.

“Last year I hardly played any tournaments. Sometimes I feel like I want to play more tournaments and sometimes I’m not interested in them. I’ll probably play more World Series events this year than I’ve been playing. I like that one with the $1,500 entry and the $1 million guaranteed first place.

Recognition

“Sometimes I’m told afterward that someone recognized me. The ones that watch a lot of TV and are really into it know, but the newer ones don’t.

“It used to be when I sat down at the table, I knew almost everybody at the table. There might be one or two at each table that I didn’t know. Now there’s one or two in a room that I do know. It’s just so different. I know the ladies. … Some ladies come up to me and ask for a picture or autograph, so I guess some of them know me.”

World Series of Poker

“I have been going every year, but I don’t play a lot of events. There are a lot of tournaments all over town. The year I won the ladies tournament for the second time (1994), I didn’t go that year until the last week. I went just for that.

“I missed the ladies tournament two years ago for the first time since I won in 1986, my first trip to Vegas. Then I went every year to play it since then. The reason I didn’t play it two years ago, I got in the money in the stud tournament and I had to come back the next day. The second day of stud was the same day as the ladies.

“I heard about the ladies in the main event last year, but I don’t really follow too much anymore. There are so many tournaments and they’re all running into each other. When I first started, there were only a handful of women playing. I think when I made the final table of the main event, there were only 11 women.

Career highlight

“The most exciting thing for me was winning my first tournament for $16,400. I never saw that much money in my life. I was making money and playing poker, but I was grinding it out, paying rent, just making it. All these stacks of hundred-dollar bills, it was overwhelming.”

I asked Max if he could think of anything to add. “A couple years ago, ESPN interviewed her and they asked her what she would be willing to give up to win the World Series. She pointed to me and said, ‘Him.’ She is unique and everybody loves her. She treats everyone the same and doesn’t look down on anyone.”

From what I’ve seen, I can only agree. And as I write this, she just finished 19th at the final event of Hustler Casino’s Liz Flynt Spring Classic. And the beat goes on.

— Dave Palm is Ante Up’s L.A. Ambassador. Email him at LA.AnteUp@gmail.com.