Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Poker and Stereotyping

Women and MenEarlier this week I had an opportunity to attend a talk by Gloria Steinem, the feminist and political activist whose name is synonymous with the women’s liberation movement of the ’60s and ’70s.

Younger folks don’t necessarily recognize Steinem’s name or her once iconic cultural status the way those of us of a certain age do. Ask those who were around a few decades back, and we’ll instantly associate Steinem with women’s lib, Ms. Magazine (which she founded in the early ’70s), N.O.W. (the National Organization of Women), her support of “reproductive freedom,” and the (ultimately unsuccessful) fight for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.

The talk was thought-provoking. Actually Steinem herself was suffering from laryngitis and so a younger woman delivered the speech while Steinem (now in her 70s) sat next to the podium. There were a few observations made in the lecture regarding cultural attitudes toward the older generation -- thus did those points about ageism sound a little funny being delivered by a woman in her 20s. Steinem did step up to the mic for the Q&A afterwards, though, and gamely answered questions for at least half an hour despite her ailment. In both the lecture and her answers to questions, Steinem was highly engaging, witty, smart, and even occasionally inspiring.

Steinem is a controversial figure, of course, who has been and who continues to be opposed by many for her views. Not being fully acquainted with all of her writings or positions, I’m not ready to endorse her without qualification, although I will say I respond well to her general message to avoid prejudging people on the basis of categories like sex, race, class, age, or faith.

Listening to Steinem got me thinking a bit about that piece I wrote recently for Woman Poker Player. I mentioned last week how I’d written half of a “He Said/She Said” column with Jennifer Newell in which we discussed the issue of women and online poker site sponsorships. I believe the plan is to write more of those columns going forward. Here are links to those again -- He Said: Women and Sponsorships / She Said: Women and Sponsorships.

Writing that caused me to think more specifically about stereotyping in poker -- both in terms of the way men and women poker players are differently treated and judged in the media (and thus in the sometimes mysterious world of online site sponsorships) as well as how a person’s sex potentially is given a certain significance at the poker table. Indeed, while many of us instinctively resist stereotyping others -- or at least try not to and/or are aware that it is wrong to do so -- at the poker table such stereotyping is not only understood as acceptable but some would argue essential.

Those who play a lot of live poker develop certain ideas about, say, women players, or those of a certain race or ethnicity, or older people, and so forth. Such ideas are difficult to resist, and in some cases prove useful when up against a new opponent for whom one has little or no information about his or her playing style.

'Play Poker, Quit Work and Sleep Till Noon!' by John Fox (1977)When this topic comes up, I can’t help but think about a book like Play Poker, Quit Work and Sleep Till Noon! by John Fox, originally published in 1977, in which Fox includes a chapter early on about game selection. (Click here for more about this historically significant poker book.) Amid his advice about picking tables at which to play, Fox unashamedly delivers his “general rules for identifying weak players,” many of which involve stereotyping.

In the list of “desirable opponents” that comes at the end of the chapter, Fox includes some benign-sounding categories like “drinkers,” “nervous opponents,” and “players who expose cards.” However, many of his categories directly evoke -- in a decidedly pre-PC way -- the categories of sex, race, class, age, and even faith as useful indicators. Thus does his list include “rich people,” “young players,” “people displaying religious symbols,” and “ghetto residents.” And women? Important enough to list twice, with both “beautiful women” and “women in general” being desirable opponents for Fox.

Times change, and the significance of these categories evolve. Seems to me, though, that while we might think differently today about categories like sex, race, class, age, or faith, thereby assigning each different meanings to them than we might have back in the ’70s or earlier, we humans still nevertheless find it hard to resist prejudging others, with our prejudgments often affected by whatever ideas we possess about these categories.

Away from the poker table, many of us make a conscious effort to resist such stereotyping. However, at the poker table -- where we meet strangers in order to compete with them -- it’s a different story.

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Blogger Unknown said...

I remember in "Hunting Fish," which is one of my favorite books, by the way, when Jay talks about playing Asians at the poker table and making a specific call against one player. I remember him saying that as tasteless as the stereotype was, it was usually true, and he did make the correct call. I hate stereotypes as well, but they can be ONE useful tool at the poker table.

3/03/2010 2:47 PM  
Blogger bellatrix78 said...

You can do simple Bayesian analysis to get those reads. Better to find a starting point and then modify your read in poker than get into the game with a completely blank slate. See examples below. Yes it racist/sexist, but as long as you are willing to change your judgment based on the play, it is an aide, like a starting point (thank god I'm posting under an alias here ;-) )

You sit down at a table, you are completely readless. Look how your perceptions can change based on statistical trends you have of the population.

Example 1:
Somebody open raises 3 times from middle position.
A male asian player open raises 3 times from middle position.

Example 2:
Somebody openlimps from early position and bets once on the flop a A26r flop in a 4 way pot.
An older white woman openlimps from early position and bets once on the flop in a A26r flop in a 4way pot.

Again, based on pure statistics alone both hand examples don't mean a thing. But if you add in the initial conditions that asians generally are Loose aggressive and that women tend to be very passive, you can modify (confirm or deny) your read based on that via Bayes Theorem.

It is extremely important in Heads-up situations for example, where one single hand will form you read for a long time and is in no way statistically significant, but a very important starting point. Hence the stereotype might be completely off, but a starting point.

Yeah, so sorry to say. I use them... And I'm a woman, :)

3/03/2010 3:02 PM  
Anonymous Danny said...

Great post. I find that many women who like games just aren't into poker. Not that they aren't good at it or wouldn't be good at it. Just their choice.

3/04/2010 11:53 AM  

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