Monday, September 03, 2007

Women's Poker Night (ed. Maryann Morrison)

'Women's Poker Night' (ed. Maryann Morrison)Mentioned a few posts back how I’d finally spotted a copy of Women’s Poker Night at the bookstore. This collection of essays by women poker players/writers was published back in February of this year. I probably first became aware of the book sometime during the spring when they started running that ad for it over on Pokerati. Since then, various cybertwists and turns have afforded me opportunities to interact with a few of the book’s contributors, thus making me even more curious to pick up a copy. Finished it a couple of days ago and thought I’d share a few thoughts here.

Contributors to Women’s Poker Night range from successful, well-established pros to online amateurs, which means the book covers a pretty wide range of different poker-related experiences. Accounts of WSOP Main Event final tables and online freerolls exist side-by-side here, making the book unique for reasons other than the fact that all of the writers are women.

My guess is the book’s editor, Maryann Morrison (publisher of Woman Poker Player magazine) probably did not dictate too heavily to her authors what they were to write about, and rather simply asked each to write about her own personal experiences with poker without any sort of “agenda” in mind. I say that because only some of the entries deal specifically with gender-related issues -- indeed, some don’t really address the “men-vs.-women thang” at all. (At least not directly.)

I personally like such an approach, insofar as it allows each author to share her perspective without necessarily having to abide by some overarching “thesis” or argument regarding women and poker. The fact is, not everyone here perfectly agrees (for instance) about the relative significance of being a man or a woman at the poker table.

As I read through these women telling their various stories, I kept thinking of a favorite book of mine from childhood, a book called Baseball When the Grass Was Real (edited by Donald Honig). Might seem like a weird connection, but let me explain. That book collects first-person accounts of various baseball players who played during the 20s, 30s, and 40s, folks like Wes Ferrell, Pete Reiser, Johnny Mize, Lefty Grove, and “Cool Papa” Bell. My grandfather -- who actually saw some of those guys play at Wrigley Field in Chicago where he lived during those years -- gave the book to me when I was a little leaguer, and I read it over and over again. Sort of like oral histories, full of interesting anecdotes and with no single “argument” being advanced other than to say (implicitly) it is worth our time to remember how things used to be.

Women’s Poker Night is bookended by contributions from two WSOP bracelet winners -- Barbara Enright and Cyndy Violette. The book opens with Enright describing her experiences winning three WSOP bracelets and being the only woman ever to make a WSOP Main Event final table (in 1995). Enright is witty and engaging, and (perhaps surprisingly) seems mostly to forgo discussing issues she surely faced being a female pro “back in the day.” Meanwhile, Violette’s entry -- which closes the collection -- finds her telling of having endured some not-so-great relationships with men before finally coming to an understanding of the importance of controlling and shaping one’s own life.

In between come contributions that roughly fall (with some overlap) into four different categories: (1) direct explorations of differences between men and women poker players; (2) “how I found poker” narratives by amateur players; (3) reflections by journalists covering poker; and (4) authors of poker books detailing particularly memorable poker experiences.

Of the essays that directly consider gender issues, most emphasize how -- for a variety of reasons -- men tend to be more competitive than women, a characteristic that definitely comes in handy at the poker table. In her entry about becoming a poker writer, Raparata Mazzola relates how pro Kristy Gazes insists women poker players need to gain “the ability to pull the trigger,” since “there’s a killer instinct women don’t naturally have.” Other contributors -- such as Barbara Connors, Jo Ransom, Michele Lewis, and Morrison -- also stress differences between men and women, though not all are satisfied with calling those differences “natural.” Connors, for instance, speaks of how nurture -- e.g., the games boys and girls play -- have “the effect of reinforcing differences in gender behavior right from the get-go.” Meanwhile, in her “Life Lessons from the Poker Table,” Amy Zupko often stresses how men and women are more similar than different.

Several entries are written by women who first began playing poker online before graduating to live play. Some of these personal narratives stress how the Women’s Poker Club, an online forum that sometimes hosts meetings at casinos for members, played a pivotal role in helping these women make the jump from the virtual felt to brick-and-mortar games. Not all of these talk about the significance of being a woman player, although some do consider how the ability to play online is an especially valuable resource for some women players.

Entries by Amy Calistri and Jennifer Leo stand next to Mazzola’s as interesting chronicles of the lives of poker journalists. And there are (as far as I can tell) three contributions here by women with other poker titles to their credit. Cat Hulbert, author of Outplaying the Boys, offers what I would consider the most literary of the entries in which she splits the essay between her own perspective and that of her male friend, Eli. Toby Leah Bochan, author of The Badass Girl’s Guide to Poker, delivers a compelling, well-managed narrative of a tournament experience. And Kathleen Watterson tells about collaborating with Lou Krieger on Poker for Dummies and Internet Poker: How to Play and Beat Online Games. I like Watterson’s advice to would-be poker writers -- to stop procrastinating and “simply to start writing” -- worthwhile to all writers, men and women.

Watterson also points out how everyone has “a unique playing history and unique poker experiences people will find interesting if you write well.” In a way, what she says functions as an endorsement for the book as a whole. Women’s Poker Night is certainly a worthwhile read for anyone interested in thoughtful discussions of issues concerning women and poker. But the book is also good for anyone who just likes to read interesting, well-presented narratives of other poker players’ experiences.

Which I imagine should include just about anyone reading this here blog, at least.



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