Why Aren't There More Women Playing Professional Poker?
Another World Series Main Event final table goes by, and not a woman in sight.
As the World Series of Poker (WSOP) closes for another year, and millions of dollars are fed to men who have spent a fortnight of their lives playing cards, we were left with another final table about as diverse as a Father John Misty concert. In the end, Qui Nguyen, a Vietnamese man, won the coveted bracelet and over $8 million. And yet again, there was one demographic missing from the final table of the biggest poker tournament in the world: women.
The only woman to have ever made it to the final table – or the "November Nine" – at the $10,000-entry Main Event was Barbara Enright in 1995. French player Gaelle Baumann came close in 2012, but finished in 10th place, narrowly missing a shot at glory. Thing is, it's a sport, if you can call it that, that really shouldn't be dominated by one gender – it's just a bunch of people, seated, being strategic with cards.
Kara Scott is a poker player, but primarily a broadcaster who hosts interviews with the winners and losers at the WSOP. I spoke to her to try to figure out why this card game doesn't seem to attract as many women as men, and what can be done to encourage greater inclusivity.
VICE: One thing that puts me off the game is when you go to the casinos there'll be guys who try to bully other guys at the table, and kind of act like they're the big dogs, and it'll piss you off and make you want to leave. Do you see that as a problem?
Kara Scott: People definitely have different styles, and you can't police their styles, and I know that, but I find it off-putting sometimes when I'm playing against players who use a lot of body language or verbal cues to show you they don't think much of you. And I think that makes them not just bad for poker, but not great for them either. If they're sitting at those games and they're making money but they're chasing away the players who are coming to have fun – who they're taking the money from – then they're actually doing themselves a disservice as well as, you know, not being very nice about it.
Poker does not need to chase away new players, or players who are recreational. I have been an advocate for recreational players for a really long time, because I don't play professionally. I play with the professionals but I make my living as a broadcaster, and I'm very clear about the difference. So, sometimes, I'm very much the fish in the game, and I get that, and when I'm playing against really great players they do not make me feel like the fish in the game, because they know better. Like, I've put my money in and I might as well enjoy myself, even if I'm going to lose it to them.
It's my entertainment money, let's say. If I'm playing with a certain amount of money that I might put into certain other kinds of entertainment, like expensive meals, they're not gonna make me feel like I've wasted my money because they know better. Maybe they just have better manners, too.
Do you feel like when you sit down at a table there's a certain level of presumption about you and your ability to play?
Oh yeah, of course. Poker is a part of the world, and the world is the way the world is, so absolutely. I'm protected in a big way by my position in the industry because I've been here for so long. We're a very young industry and I've been in it for over a decade, so I'm now kind of one of the old timers. I also have a great position at the World Series of Poker (WSOP), and that protects me from a lot of things. But yeah, for sure, it does happen. It's not a great feeling when it's happened, and you do learn how to deal with that because it happens in the wider world, like I said, but it's a more targeted thing when you're sitting at a table and you don't want to stand up and walk away from a cash game if it's going well, and you're not going to throw away your buy-in because someone's being off with you – so you just have to sit there and take it, or figure out a way to deal with it.
One thing I like about football is how, when it comes down to it, it's a pretty ridiculous spectacle. Do you ever think that about poker, a game that takes itself very seriously?
I think the cameras do that to people. We're all very media savvy now. We know what it means to do certain things on camera – we know what it means to have camera time – so it does make people a bit more serious, or it makes some of them louder, you know? They know that they're going to be seen on television – it's gonna be on YouTube – and it makes it more important not to screw up. It's going to be there forever. I played a hand badly in the Irish Open seven years ago and people still bring it up to me, and are like, "You totally can't play." And I'm like, "Dude, it was seven years ago – come on!" Sometimes the money is very serious, too. I'm not surprised that people are quiet.
Do you think there are any advantages to being a woman playing poker?
Women in poker are in the minority, so we're more visible, which is good and bad. I'd prefer if it was more evenly split gender-wise, but being a woman in poker means that you're more likely to get PR offers because you are more visible – same as being a sportsperson, or an actor.
What do you think turns women off the game?
It's a good question. Man, it's such a great game – it really is. I wish someone would do real research into it so we could stop speculating. We need to find why women are turned off it. It's important. Partly it's a marketing issue. When you market something so hard towards one gender, or one demographic, it can feel kind of exclusionary. When you look at poker marketing and the only images of women are not of players, then all you really see are models working at the games rather than playing the games. When people talk about women in poker they're imagining all the 20-something attractive pros whose faces they've seen, and they're not imagining the vast amounts of middle-aged and retirement-aged women who play. These are the women who are playing, and we don't see them in the marketing and we don't see them in the media as much, and I think we should. There's something very cool about it.
Is that maybe also something to do with the stereotypical delineation between men and women playing cards informally, i.e. men have their "boys nights" and play poker, whereas women get together and play bridge?
Well, some of those [bridge games] are ridiculously cutthroat! They might just be doing it in different settings because traditionally that's what was allowable. There's a lot of things about the world that put things in different categories and make it seem like it's there for a reason – gender separates things because that's what gender does – whereas, really, maybe it's history; maybe it's the way we look at the world, look at gender. There's nothing innately masculine or feminine about poker, it's a great game.