June 12, 2010

The WSOP Ladies Event—A Modest Proposal

The poker world is all abuzz with news that a dozen or so men, including well-known player Shaun Deeb**, entered the WSOP Ladies Event (a $1,000 NLHE tournament).  Harrah's markets the tournament as a ladies-only event, and the tournament usually gets a large field of women poker players who wouldn't, for one reason or another, enter a similarly priced open event.*  However, anti-discrimination laws require Harrah's to permit men to enter the event as well, though Harrah's has been taking a particularly aggressive approach to intimidating men who try to enter the tournament, including frisking them before allowing them to play, and insinuating that those who do play may find themselves banned from future WSOP events (this threat is likely more bark than bite; banning someone because they refused to abide by a discriminatory policy is probably just as actionable as straightforward discrimination).

To call the Ladies Event controversial is like calling the current Gulf of Mexico oil spill a minor problem.  Several poker bloggers have already weighed in with thoughtful posts, including F-Train, Dr. Pauly, and the Poker Grump (if you aren't already following these three blogs, you aren't keeping up with your required reading for crAAKKer 101).  For a great woman's perspective, check out Change100's post on PokerNews.  Frankly, it seems pretty clear that the "gentlemen" who entered the event are classic d-bags, whatever their purported motivation; F-Train covers this nicely, though I'm not sure what category applies to the yahoo who used a tampon as a card protector (at least until he received a well-deserved penalty).  But, the d-bags have good company with Harrah's and their WSOP staff who are overreacting, trying to swat the d-bag dung beetles with a small thermonuclear device.  Of course, let's not forget the women themselves, who are split into two camps, one side deploring the negative messages ladies-only tourneys send, while the other side finds the tournaments a valuable method for introducing women to poker tournaments without the added pressure of playing with men, many of who—shock!—tend to be d-bags at the poker table.

Clearly there is plenty of unhappiness to go around.  Men are unhappy they can't play the Ladies Event, at least without Harrah's hassling them.  Harrah's is unhappy that men are ruining the fun of their Ladies Event, so they are forced to get medieval on the spoilsports.  Women are unhappy that men are ruining their day in the sun by playing in their event, unless, of course, they are unhappy that men aren't allowed to play in their event.

Now, I've already shared my thoughts on women in poker, so there is no point in jumping into the current debate, which frankly has become a little gay.  Instead, I would like to offer a pragmatic solution to the current dilemma, a way I think the Ladies Event can be tweaked to make everyone involved happy again.  My modest proposalmake the Ladies Event open only to women and gay men

Yes, you read that correctly.  Every player entering the Ladies Event would have to certify they are either a woman or a gay man. This simple rules change would have several beneficial effects:

  • Most d-bag straight guys would refuse to do anything that might suggest they are gay.  So, this rule would prevent most of the d-bag demographic from being Ladies Event party-crashers.  I suppose it's always possible a straight guy would swallow ... his pride ... and fake being a gay man to enter the tournament, but I say, if a guy is willing to play gay to play cards, that's good enough for me. Anyway, think of the fun internet coverage that would follow the fake gay d-bag for the rest of his life.
  • Women poker players who participate in the tournament because it is less intimidating would find their gay male competitors equally unskilled, at least if you believe the jokes and coffeehousing at the poker tables.  Also, women who are playing for the social aspect of the game would find the gay men a welcome source of witty repartee, as well as tips on fashion and interior decorating, à la Sex & the City and Will & Grace.
  • Women poker players who detest "ladies-only" tournaments could go back to playing in open events filled with scores of men-only tables, secure in the knowledge that the women playing in the Ladies Event were saved from the horrors of playing cards at single-gender tables.
  • Harrah's would avoid those nasty discrimination lawsuits, and would save money by not needing extra security guards to feel up, errr, frisk, men entering the tournament.  As a bonus, it would open up a potentially lucrative new gay market for the WSOP.  There could be a special sponsorship by Smirnoff Ice.  Plus, just think of ESPN cutting to celebrity coverage of Clay Aiken or Ricky Martin knocking out Chuck Liddell or beating Tom Dwan (OK, maybe this idea isn't all that groundbreaking).
Now, I grant you my idea seems drastic.  What's next, gays in the military?  But I assure you, no other alternative will satisfy all of the people who seem to get their panties, boxers, thongs, or briefs into a bundle every year when the Ladies Event rolls around.  Let's put the Ladies Event controversy to bed once and for all.  Bring on the gays!

* It is easy to understand why men are so anxious to play in the WSOP Ladies Event.  After all, there are merely another 50 or so open WSOP events, including six $1K NLHE tourneys (same as the Ladies Event), and numerous $1,500 NLHE tourneys.  So, tournament selection for men is unfairly limited.

** ADDENDUM (12 June 2010):  Shaun Deeb posted a video statement about his reasons for playing in the Ladies Event.  Apparently, his prior protests about the Ladies Event—which presumably included writing editorials for CardPlayer, Bluff, and a number of online poker sites, as well as organizing a petition drive requesting that the WSOP player committee recommend disbanding the Ladies Event—fell on deaf ears, so he was forced to resort to guerilla tactics and infiltrate the Ladies Event in drag so that his strong feminist rights protests would finally have an audience.  Oh wait, he apparently just jumped straight to the drag show.  Well, no better way to show you support women than to dress like one and crash their tournament.

Actually, Deeb admitted prior to the Ladies Event that he was playing the event and in drag because he lost a prop bet.  Wow, playing with women, dressed as a woman, is such an insult it is the losing side of a bet.  I think that bet reflects Deeb's true motives for playing the event, as well as his true attitude about women in poker.  It is only after getting negative feedback for his actions that Deeb suddenly transformed into a social crusader.  However, I'm willing to believe that Deeb is a good person at heart who, after entering the Ladies Event, may have experienced an epiphany about the issue of women in poker, and that his expressed desire to work for gender equality going forward is sincere.

ADDENDUM (13 JUNE 2010):  Daniel Negreanu has posted his thoughts on the controversy over at CardPlayer.com.  Here's a tease for his position:

Why be a party pooper? Are there not more important causes to fight than this one? Leave the ladies event be. It DOES bring more women into poker, and the absurd notion that if it didn't exist more women would play in open events is a bunch of bologna.

Why should 1000 women be deprived of having a good experience at the WSOP because Shaun Deeb and Annie Duke don't like it?

ADDENDUM (14 JUNE 2010):  For some balance in the debate over the propriety of holding a WSOP Ladies Event, let me recommend excellent and thoughtful posts by Annie Duke, Jennifer Newell, and the Black Widow of Poker (BWoP).  I linked to Ms. Newell's earlier posts on the topic in the main article, but her current post really is a must-read.  I thought Ms. Duke's post was an eloquent statement of why she is opposed to the Ladies Event, though I disagree with her contention that Shaun Deeb was striking a blow for gender equality, or that men entering the tournament was an acceptable method for protesting the event.  BWoP's post was perhaps my favorite take on the issue, offering pragmatic alternatives to the Ladies Event (I particularly liked the idea of women poker players designating one open event for women to play en masse).

For what it's worth, in the grand scheme of women in poker issues, if the Ladies Event is good enough for Linda Johnson (who has done as much as anyone for poker in general and women in poker in particular as anyone the past 30 years), then I'm going to keep my mouth shut and let the women who choose to play enjoy the event, while respecting the objections of other women who dislike and boycott the event.  Frankly, the event will likely be dropped as obsolete once a critical mass of women are playing poker, which may be sooner than many people expect, given the success in the past few years of many younger women players who cut their teeth online.  If 15-20% of players in open WSOP tournaments are women, the entire concept of a Ladies Event will begin to look silly to most people.

ADDENDUM (15 JUNE 2010):  I swear, this is the last update.  Kristy Arnett of Poker News posted an interesting note taking the view that the Ladies Event is perfectly OK.  Adam Goulding over at BlackBeltPoker.com had a lengthy post sort of agreeing with those who feel that the Ladies Event should probably go, but also agreeing that the men who entered were out of line.  Michele Lewis wrote a nice article over on Pokerati.com, advocating a more middle of the road approach, agreeing that the tourney is unfair, but recognizing that some women want the tourney, and pointing out that there was rudeness by the men and some of the women in the event.  So, we now have knowledgeable and respectable folks of both genders taking all sides of the debate.  Fair enough, let's agree to disagree, do a group hug, sing some kumbayah, and get back to taking each others money.  crAAKKer is officially done with this debate ... until next year.


  1. LOL As much as I like your proposal, I don't see the need for a ladies only event at all. These women can post the big buyin but are intimidated by playing against men? Honey, they shouldn't be playing poker at all then. If you play poker, the majority of the players you are up against are men. Get used to it or do something else. Its a big part of the game.

  2. Josie has already said it all.

  3. @ Josie: The total number of women who enter open WSOP events is probably under 200 (though many of this group will enter multiple events). The Ladies Event typically gets about 1,000 entries (just over 800 this year, with an all-time high of over 1,200). Clearly there is a demand for a ladies-only tournament. Most serious women players have no need for a ladies-only event, but it appears to fill a need for some women.

  4. Just a correction to my comment above. Another source I just read stated that there were 1,054 entries in the Ladies Event this year, which is fairly consistent with attendance since 2003.

  5. Brilliant proposal. What makes it brilliant is that it might actually work.

    Would a change of decor (something very pink and lavendar - sue me) or venue also have the potential to accomplish the same thing? Say, if HET held an event up the street ten minutes away at the Blue Moon Resort? Assuming those folks would be okay with hosting something that was not within that establishment's self-described "all male" marketing focus.

  6. @ Local Rock: I like where your head's at. The color scheme would need to reflect the "in" colors each year, but pastels and glitter could be utilized. Also, if Harrah's wants to keep the event "in family", Krave bar at P-Ho has a reputation as the on-Strip gay club. Lots of potential here ...

  7. yeah... you really can't discriminate based on sexual orientation either. The only real way to fix it is to offer an equal "men's tournament" starting on the same day and award a bracelet for it. That will piss off Annie Duke even more, but she's already shown she has lost any and all perspective on what it means to be a woman in poker. Annie Duke will always look out for what is best for Annie Duke. I'm only interested in what is good for poker.