While poker has historically been a gambling activity in a male-dominated world, women have gradually proven they belong at the table and today, poker is played by men and women at the same table, without discrimination. However, there is still much that needs to be done to encourage more women in poker.
Globally, male poker players up more than 90 percent of players in live and online tournaments. As female poker players face no official barriers in the game, the imbalance indicates other factors that make poker predominantly a man’s game, other than few women wanting to spend their free time in cardrooms filled with cigar smoke, cheap booze and testosterone. However, some influential women have been game-changers in poker, some of whom are listed here.
The WSOP (World Series of Poker) has been held in Las Vegas every year since 1970. In 1978, Barbara Freer became the first woman to enter the main event, finishing in 18th place in a field of 42 players, not all of whom welcomed a woman player. Freer entered the main event because she did not want to limit herself to only competing against women. Freer was back at the WSOP in 1979 to play the main event and would win the separate Ladies Limit Seven Card Stud tournament to take home USD13,000 which was a huge sum at the time. Her results over the following years were modest, but she was an ambassador for women’s poker.
In 1995, Barbara Enright becomes the first woman to make the finals of the WSOP Main Event taking fifth place from a field of 273. Enright had won two women’s titles at the WSOP in 1986 and 1994. In 1996, she became the first woman to win a WSOP bracelet in an open event, beating a field of 179 players to win $180,000. Her role in influencing changes in the game cannot be overstated. At the time, few women were willing to enter open tournaments because of societal expectations and the stigma of gambling. In recognition of her success as a player and ambassador for the game, Enright was inducted into the prestigious Poker Hall of Fame in 2007, the first female player to do so.
Thanks to the success of earlier players like Freer and Enright, more and more female players signed up for tournaments. By 2000, Jennifer Harman was a big name in the sport after she won a No-Limit Deuce to Seven tournament, a poker variation for which she had no previous experience. She won again in 2002 in a Limit Hold’em event, a game in which she had expertise. Harman earned the respect and admiration of the male players.
Like Jennifer Harman, Kathy Liebert was playing tournaments since the mid-1990s. In the 2000 WSOP Main Event, she was 17th but just a couple of years later, in 2002, she won $1 million in the first Party Poker Million event. She made the finals in several tournaments with second place in the 2009 Shooting Star event probably the most important. In total, she has won close to &6.5 million and continues to play and inspire other women in poker.
In 2005, Cyndy Violette made three final tables and cashed five times at the World Series of Poker proving her skill in variants of poker including Limit, Pot Limit, No Limit Shorthanded, and regular NL Hold’em. Violette took some time away from the tables while married, which accounts for her lower ranking in this list. If she had not taken a break she could possibly be the most successful female player of all time. Her only win was in 2004 when she won the Seven-card Stud Hi/Lo event.