Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Regarding the WSOP Ladies Event (2 of 2)

Regarding the WSOP Ladies EventLast post I mentioned how I had asked Vera Valmore what her thoughts were regarding the WSOP having a ladies only bracelet event. Vera rides dressage -- a sport in which men and women compete against each other, much like poker. Since there are no “ladies only” events in Vera’s sport, I had thought perhaps she would say poker shouldn’t have them either.

I was wrong.

“I don’t see why not,” Vera responded. “Have they always had a ladies event?”

“Well, I know they didn’t back when the WSOP first started in 1970. I think the first ladies only event might have been around 1977 or so. They starting having a ladies seven card stud event sometime around then . . . .”

“It’s not like every bracelet event is the same, anyway. Right?”

“That’s true. Like the ‘seniors’ event . . . .”

“What’s that?”

“For people 50 and above. There are all sorts of different games and buy-ins, too. They might repeat certain structures in a given year -- I believe they had more than one $1,500 no limit Hold ’em event last year. Even so, every event is still going to be unique . . . different field sizes, levels of play, external circumstances . . . .”

“And they all award bracelets,” said Vera.

“Yes. Which is why some complain that a bracelet won in a ladies-only event shouldn’t be equated with a bracelet won in an open event.”

Vera bit her lip, then continued.

“Why equate those two bracelets if every event is unique, anyway?” she asked. “No, I don’t see any problem having a ladies event. But it also makes sense to think of that event as different -- as more marginal -- than other open events with bigger buy-ins.”

“So make it a preliminary event? Separate it out . . . ?”

“No point to that . . . .”

Vera went on to explain to me how at dressage competitions all different levels compete at once, though one’s scores are only compared with those in one’s own class.

It’s true that a lot of people get distracted by the significance of a WSOP bracelet when trying to talk about this issue. If one thinks about it at all clearly, one realizes that it makes no sense to worry about the relative “value” of a WSOP bracelet being affected by the existence of a ladies only event. No one (in his or her right mind) is ever going to suggest seriously that the bracelet Erik Seidel won in Event No. 54 this year -- the $5,000 Deuce-to-Seven w/Rebuys event -- is utterly equivalent in status to that won by Sally Anne Boyer in Event No. 17, the $1,000 Ladies NLH event. Nor is it equivalent to the bracelet Phil Hellmuth won in Event No. 15, the $1,500 NLH event. Nor to the bracelet Seidel himself won two years ago for the $2,000 NLH event, nor the one he won four years ago in the $1,500 pot limit Omaha event. And so forth.

Vera used the word “marginal” when referring to the ladies event. I’ve heard others speak of it in those terms as well. It makes sense to consider events that exclude participants because of their sex or age as “marginal,” I think. However, a serious problem arises when people mistakenly transfer the idea to the participants themselves -- as if they are somehow identifying themselves as “marginal” for entering such an event . . . .

“Besides, it costs money to play poker,” said Vera, interrupting my train of thought.

“Yeah . . . and . . . ?”

“And women -- on average -- tend to earn less than men.”

“You’re talking about how women get paid less for doing the same jobs that men do?”

“Well, yes, sometimes. But that’s not what I mean. I’m just referring to women in general and the jobs women usually take. Or don’t take -- if they stay at home to raise the kids. Generally speaking, women earn less than men. And any sport -- or employment or anything -- that requires start-up money is automatically going to favor those who have more money.”

We talked a bit more about poker’s history and what I characterized as a kind of “legacy of prejudice” against women in poker that one sometimes sees evidence of today. I mentioned Doyle Brunson’s comments in the original Super/System where -- writing back in 1978, mind you -- he said he didn’t “like to see women at a Poker table” and he’d “never met a woman who was really a top player.” (We all know Brunson has revised his opinion since then.)

I also summarized David Spanier’s comments about women players in Total Poker (published in 1977) -- where he suggests women are, in a sense, wired differently from men in that they haven’t the same urge to compete as men do. A provocative idea, actually. But Spanier continues. “The fundamental reason, I think,” writes Spanier, “why girls don’t play poker, or don’t play it very well, is that there is something unsexing about gambling games. To win, a woman has in some direct way to deny her femininity, to be hard, cunning, and aggressive; whereas for a man, poker reinforces his masculinity: he feels tougher and more sure of himself after winning.”

I went on to say that Brunson and Spanier were reflecting assumptions shared by many when they said those things. And how some of those ideas about women poker players -- along with some other, less thoughtful and/or less generous attitudes -- continue to exist today. Then I explained how because of this legacy, some believe ladies only tournaments provide a kind of relaxed, less threatening way for women to get some experience. To wade into the tourney ocean, so to speak, without having to mix it up with those sharks swimming out beyond the breakers . . . .

“I see,” Vera said. “Well, that would be another reason to keep them, then.”

She went on to talk about the dressage scene. One often finds more women than men competing at the shows where Vera rides. When we were in Vegas in April for the Rolex FEI World Cup Dressage Grand Prix finals -- the cream of the crop -- only three or four of the 12 riders in the final (that I attended) were men, I believe. Dressage is a sport with a different legacy than that of poker, to be sure.

* * * * *

Vera’s point about mistakenly equating WSOP bracelets was one I had considered before. Her reference to women’s income (relative to men’s) -- and how women often (still) are expected to stay at home with the children -- I hadn’t really thought about in this context. Such factors probably do need to be contemplated before people claim without hesitation that women all have exactly the same opportunities as men when it comes to competing in high stakes, tourney poker.

Of course there are certain players -- men and women -- who have managed by dint of their skill to overcome those financial obstacles to becoming regular participants in WSOP events. For the great majority, however, getting access to the money -- and the time -- to play and compete ain’t as simple a matter as some make it out to be.

Regarding women novelists -- who also over the years have faced obstacles largely unknown to men -- Virginia Woolf once argued that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write.” Whether you are a man or a woman, you have to have money to play poker. And the time (and a place) to play . . . .

Does the woman poker player really need a “tourney of her own” at the WSOP? I suppose that would be up to her to decide. As for the rest of us on the rail pondering the question, seems like there are a number of relevant factors a lot of us aren’t really considering when we debate the issue.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post. I've been planning to write something on this issue for some time...I've been inspired.

8/24/2007 9:24 AM  

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