Trisha’s Take: How to desegregate the World Series of Poker

Shaun Deeb says: "I support women poker players. Poker is a gender-neutral game. I am here to promote abolishment of gender-specific or segregationist events at the WSOP."

Back when Secretary of Geek Affairs Wil Wheaton was writing a lot about poker in his blog, I took it upon myself to learn more about the modern game and why Wheaton liked it. My Internet meanderings eventually lead me to the Tiltboys, a group of friends and poker players in the California Bay Area who had been regaling the online poker community for years with their outrageous exploits, prop bets, and antics which surrounded their weekly home game.

Eventually, they gathered these writings into a book called Tales from the Tiltboys, the cover of which features former “Celebrity Poker Showdown” commentator Phil Gordon in drag. The reason why he was in drag was that back in 2006, he and and four of the other Tiltboys crashed a Bay101 ladies only tournament (please excuse the bright pink background); the reason written by Bruce “Bruscilla” Hayek is here:

If you’re not a ba-poker [Bay Area Poker] list regular, then you may have missed a recent debate about Bay101’s “Ladies Only” poker tournaments. A prolonged discussion ensued, with many complaints about reverse discrimination, and post after post enumerating the many reasons that women don’t need an exclusive poker tournament.

Very few dissenting opinions surfaced, with one notable exception: a post that lucidly and succinctly proposed that this was a “solution in search of a problem.” I was at a party on Sunday with several Tiltboys, discussing why Clifford Matthew’s posting was one of the more sensible ones we’d seen.

I then turned to Rafe [Furst] and mentioned that the current discussion kind of made pointless a previous discussion we’d had. (We had talked earlier about accepting a proposed challenge on the list to show up for the tournament in drag.) Rafe agreed with me, but we both regretted having to pass up on some good fun for reasons of principle, so we resolved the dilemma the way our religion dictates: a rock-scissors-paper match. We loaded the dice in fun’s favor by me taking the side of principle and Rafe taking the side of fun, and I somehow got skunked 3-0.

In short, “they did it for the lulz,” and according to Hayek’s account, only a few of the women there complained.

Fast-forward to the 2010 World Series of Poker where professional Shaun Deeb (that’s him in the picture above) and 11 other men who also wanted “lulz”—or legitimately wanted to bring attention to the fact that they feel that the inclusion of the “Ladies Event” is sexist—entered and played in the tournament which took place on Day 15 of the series. The poker blogosphere erupted with commentary about the proceedings, but I think the most interesting comment is from Linda Geenan, a former dealer and current grandmother, who was got her pocket aces cracked by American Pie starlet Shannon Elizabeth on the first day of the event:

My view on women in poker and Ladies only events are neither pro nor con. I have no huge push to segregate the poker field into categories but I also am not adverse to it. The Seniors Event and the Ladies Event, are categories that are not open to all players, it’s just the way it is, live with it kids. When you look at the realistic side of life and what it costs just to make a daily living, the $50K Poker Players Championship is in a category that very few of us will ever find ourselves standing at the cashier cage signing up for the event. It is what it is. If I had an extra 50K, I have too many other things going on in life to invest it in a grueling battle of wits, cards, poker skill, and physical exhaustion, to try to win the event or even finish in the money so I’m not bust.

As a former writer and editor for Sequential, I’m very familiar with the arguments for and against single-gender only events, publications, and websites because ever since the Golden Age of comics began in the late 1930s, the world of both the comics themselves and the companies who published them have been the domain of mostly men. As a female geek, I know well what it’s like to be the only woman in a comics shop or one of the few women at an anime or comics convention.

And I will say to the people who run online poker sites and poker bloggers now what the women who write for Sequential Tart as well as female creators/editors like Johanna Draper Carlson, Lea Hernandez, and Gail Simone have been saying for years:

If you ask women what you can do to make them feel welcome at your table and then actually listen to what they say and follow up on that advice, your female audience will grow.

This means doing things like featuring women in your advertising as more than just armchair candy. It means refraining from calling women “spank-worthy” in the same blogpost where you provide links to other commentary about the 2010 Ladies Event. It means boosting the visibility of female pros who run good, giving us role models to follow and emulate.

It means continuing to dissuade men from entering into the Ladies’ Event until the amount of women who are playing in the donkaments and other lower entry fee games increases. It may mean creating a Newbie Event to parallel the Ladies’ Event or the Senior’s Event and restricting it to players who have never cashed in any major tourney in order to serve as that “free hit” that gets newer female players coming back for more.

It means doing these things to convert women like me, the casual home game player who runs well at her table into a casino-visiting player or an online player.

And that’s how I think the desegregation of the WSOP should start.

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