Since "Black Friday" when online poker sites were shut down, where women could not longer hone their skills in anonymity online, it's being felt in the game of hold em. Only 3% of the players at the last World Series of poker were women, which is not unlike it was several years ago. Women and poker are not growing in leaps and bounds like they should, especially with many high profile women players. Playing live is not a pleasant experience for many.
- Now that online poker is outlawed in the U.S., there is a fear that the growth and acceptance of American women players will stall without a convenient, non-gender-biased place for them to nurture their games. Selbst is also concerned, explaining, "A lot of women feel that it's still an intimidating and unfriendly environment at the [live] poker table, and I can't say that I don't agree in a lot of circumstances."
- Many women players, including me, do in fact share Selbst's concern. A couple of weeks ago, I was playing Pot Limit Omaha at a Southern California casino, and a male player at the table sneezed grossness all over me. When he didn't apologize I said, "You realize that sprayed all over me, right?" He sneered back, "That's what she said." After that, I did my best to empty his pockets. By the end of the night, he left exasperated, saying, "I quit. I can't beat this game—no, I just can't beat her." I'm a poker veteran—and this wasn't the first sexist comment directed at me at a casino—but if it had been my first experience at a live table, I don't think I would have known how to respond. And wanting to avoid more abuse, I doubt I would have ever come back to that casino.
- Selbst's success at poker may be genetic. Her mother—who died in 2005,
just before Selbst became a poker superstar—was an MIT graduate who
paid her way through college by playing poker, and her parents met
during a bridge game. Growing up, Selbst's mom acted as her poker
mentor, and the family encouraged competiveness by playing games like
cribbage and Mastermind.
Perhaps unfairly (see Susan Rice or Serena Williams),
overt competitiveness and confidence is still perceived differently
between the genders. Selbst's sometimes-abrasive public demeanor has
made her a polarizing figure. A recent televised Selbst outburst ignited
a harsh backlash
on TwoplusTwo.com, poker's biggest online forum. But her intellect
(she's a former Fulbright scholar and recent Yale Law School Graduate)
and impressive results have earned her an undeniable level of respect
and celebrity that is practically unequalled by any other woman in the
history of poker.
I would not know either way, other than anecdotally, but I expect it would be more welcoming for her in racing.
The NHC has plenty of women attendees who like handicapping. Go on twitter and watch a few women handicap and I don't know anyone - male or female - who treat them with disrespect like an Amarillo Slim, or the dude in the story above treated his female poker foes. And of course, you can play racing online.
Maybe that's why 20% or so of online ADW clients are women, while six times fewer are at the WSOP. Handicapping is welcoming, pari-mutuel, and a divine pursuit among all of us. We're taking each others money, but not like it's being done at an ascerbic poker table.