One of the advantages of poker is that it is a game accessible to everyone. No matter what your age, profession or gender, you can learn and enjoy poker online and live without any real obstacles.
At least that’s how it is in theory, but poker is largely dominated by male players.
If you look at any open poker tournament you will see that the male to female ratio is easily 20 to 1 at best.
You can also clearly see this trend by looking at the All-Time Poker Money List. Vanessa Selbst is the only player to appear in the top 100, surrounded by 99 guys.
Given that there is nothing in the rules of the game to discriminate against female players, it is natural to wonder why there aren’t more women in poker?
Don’t women find the game interesting enough or is there a deeper explanation for this phenomenon?
The answer to this question is quite complex, but I’ll do my best to break it down today.
Poker was strictly a ‘men’s game’ for many years
The first thing to consider when discussing this matter is the history of the game.
Poker started out as a male-dominated business, and early in the game it was almost exclusively played by men. The few players to hit the felt definitely went against the social norms of the time.
Those who decided to break unwritten (and sometimes even written) rules were tagged with not-so-favorable labels by their contemporaries.
So from the start there was this aura of exclusivity around the game.
Poker was a boys’ game and girls, even tolerated, were generally not welcome. Their presence would disrupt the usual setup, and one can only guess that it might make men uncomfortable or uncomfortable at this time?
Of course, things have changed quite a bit over the decades, and we are no longer living in the era of the Wild West, but the fact remains that the game started off on the wrong foot for the inclusion of women.
Misogyny and sexism
It’s no surprise that some men don’t have any inhibitions, especially when they’ve had a few drinks or when they’re tilting.
From unsolicited seduction attempts and sordid comments to straightforward slurs, there are many unacceptable things that players face.
You could say it’s all part of the game, but is it really?
It’s one thing to try to confuse your opponents, but guys sometimes go too far.
And you always wonder why there aren’t more women in poker?
If you find yourself in an environment where you don’t feel welcome or intimidated, what is the motivation to keep coming back?
Most people who play poker aren’t exactly professionals who make a living out of it, so it’s the overall experience that draws people to the tables.
When you are a female poker player and repeatedly have to deal with these unpleasant situations, it can affect the overall experience.
You won’t have fun, you won’t feel welcome, and at the end of a session, even if you end up winning, you’ll come home with a bitter taste in your mouth.
I’m not saying it’s the rule and it happens all the time, but it’s pretty common.
Many prominent players, like Selbst, Liv Boeree and Vanessa Rousso, have spoken about these issues repeatedly.
And, if this is happening at the highest level, why would it be any different in the small local gambling halls?
This is probably one of the main reasons why women even today tend to stay away from poker and find different hobbies.
As fascinating as the game is, for some it isn’t worth all the added abuse that comes with live play.
What about online poker?
Gone are the days when you had to go to the nearest casino or card room just to be able to play a few hands.
There are countless online poker sites out there, and they don’t discriminate. As long as you are of legal age, you can register and play.
Whether you are a woman or a man does not change anything.
Plus, your identity is hidden behind a pseudonym, so other players at the table won’t even know your gender if you’d rather keep it hidden.
So with that in mind, is the number of women in online poker more important?
Although there are no real studies to refer to in this regard, it can be assumed that many more women play the game online in a safe and secure environment.
The ratio is still strongly in favor of male players, but the situation is much better than on the live scene.
But even so, there is not the same level of interest in the game among female players, indicating that there is more than just the fact that women sometimes don’t feel comfortable at the tables. .
In the grand scheme of things, poker, like anything else, is a product. It is no coincidence that the game has become so popular across the world.
Moneymaker’s victory in 2003 was a tremendous catalyst, but if it weren’t for the heaps of money spent on advertising, the poker boom would be much less.
But a huge percentage of that advertising targeted a male audience.
Women were rarely featured in poker advertisements at the time, and not much has changed since.
Of course, we have more women in poker signing sponsorship deals and representing poker sites, but we don’t see too many female poker players at the center of the publicity, no matter how sad.
Having said that, this approach makes good business sense as it is much simpler and more profitable for poker sites.
You can’t target and reach everyone, so rooms choose their ideal customers and adjust ads based on them.
It perpetuates the idea of poker as a “boy’s game” and something to get away from your everyday life.
Additionally, in most countries, men tend to have access to more disposable income and, more importantly, are likely to be more inclined to put that money on the line.
If it’s advertising that sells, then it’s a really bad job of selling poker to women. Rather, it almost tells them to stay away and do something else instead.
Things have changed for the better lately, which is why there is an increase in the number of players.
Poker sites are now recruiting more female players as ambassadors and we have a number of female players creating poker content, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
Another big reason why women aren’t so drawn to poker, even online, is the very nature of the game.
At the end of the day, poker is a very tough game where you have to do whatever it takes to outsmart your opponent and take their money.
Everything is fun and entertaining on TV, but the expression on someone’s face after a particularly painful bad beat isn’t always easy to see.
Women and men are widely considered to be different in terms of emotions. Although things are never so clear-cut and this statement is quite reductive, in general, men will find much more satisfaction in crushing the soul of their opponent than women.
Although it is primarily a game of skill, there is still a gambling element in poker.
Gambling is all about risk, and most men are much more risk averse.
Many studies have shown that women are more averse to risk, which is not the best thing if you want to play poker.
Texas Hold’em, the most popular variant of poker, is a game of incomplete information. No matter how good or observant you are, taking risks comes with territory.
Players who have done very well are usually the ones who didn’t try to avoid variance but embraced it instead.
Of course, it is not set in stone, and there are plenty of women who are not afraid or hesitate to take the necessary risks, but we have to speculate if we want to find the reasons for this diversification.
It goes back to the general appeal of poker to women.
If a player is not comfortable with what is one of the fundamental premises of the game, they will not enjoy it as much and will not find as much pleasure in playing it.
Are there any benefits of being a woman in poker today?
As difficult as it is often for women to find their place in the male-dominated world of poker, those who do often find themselves in a rather favorable situation.
With so few players, especially those playing in a serious capacity, there are a lot of opportunities to be seized.
Women who are successful at poker generally have no problem obtaining sponsorship deals and endorsements from related companies. So in this regard, the players have it a little easier.
I like the way Marley Cordeiro illustrates this with a bit of irony:
For men, the competition is fierce, and getting a good sponsorship deal is usually reserved for the best of the best – or the lucky few who manage to fight their way to a major tournament victory.
This is by no means meant to justify the different kinds of issues that women in poker face on a daily basis, but it is at least a bright spot in the whole talk.
Summary: Will there be more women in poker in the future?
Over the past couple of years, there has been a lot of effort to attract more women to poker.
Much of the poker industry understands that this is very important as it will help increase the overall pool of players and paint the game in a different and better light.
Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go and many obstacles to overcome before women can consider poker “their” game.
A few bad experiences can be enough to put anyone off, and unfortunately women are much more likely to have such experiences at a poker table.
A different approach to marketing and campaigns run by successful pros would certainly go a long way towards achieving this goal, so hopefully we’ll see that sooner rather than later.
Main picture: WSOP.com