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Getting women into poker

REBECCA McAdam Willetts hosts a discussion at Resorts World on North American Poker Tour opening day to address ways to bring more women into poker. The PokerStars Women in Poker Panel, included four prominent poker playing women — Jennifer Shahade, Maria Konnikova, Alex O’Brien and Erin Lydon. | Photograph COURTESY OF POKERNEWS

There’s no secret that, in terms of quantity, men dominate poker. At the World Series of Poker, for example, women represent less than 8 percent of most fields, including the Main Event.

The WSOP is one benchmark for determining poker’s popularity. Each year, between 6,000 and 8,000 players register for the $10,000 Main Event, considered poker’s world championship event. On average, women represent only about 4 percent of the field, just a few hundred players.

Outside of the annual Ladies Event, women make up anywhere from 4 percent to 8 percent in most bracelet events, and that’s fairly close to what you’ll find in a majority of poker tournaments just about anywhere in the world. As for cash games, there appears to be a slightly higher female turnout, but not that much.

Poker Hall of Famer Daniel Negreanu recently gave his two cents on why women are underrepresented in poker. In doing so, however, he was heavily criticized implying that one gender is more predisposed to enjoy the game. However, many others agreed with the GGPoker ambassador, creating an interesting and much-needed debate on an important topic.

The five most common reasons, he said, why not many women are into poker are the gender pay gap, raising children, antiquated cultural norms, unpleasant experiences and biological differences.

Negreanu said that for 26 years as a poker pro, he has heard the same “getting women into poker is an untapped market” discussions. Tapping efforts, he added have yet to increase participation past roughly 5 percent of the fields.

“It was the same in 1996 as it is today,” he explained.

PokerStars, the world’s leading online poker site, is committed to doing its part in helping increase female participation.

Rebecca McAdam Willetts hosted a discussion at Resorts World on North American Poker Tour opening day to address ways to bring more women into poker. She explained a five-year plan the poker site has in place to grow the game among women, which includes a partnership with Lydon’s Poker Power women in poker organization.

The PokerStars Women in Poker Panel included McAdam and four prominent poker playing women — Jennifer Shahade, Maria Konnikova, Alex O’Brien and Erin Lydon. For 45 minutes, the panel took an in-depth and honest look at what can be done to fix one of the game’s biggest issues.

McAdam Willetts, who is responsible for consumer relations for PokerStars, got the conversation started and introduced the panel.

Shahade, a skilled chess and poker player who represents PokerStars as one of its most prominent ambassadors, was first up to share some insight. She praised Poker Power because “they’ve created an amazing curriculum where they take people from scratch to knowing the rules of poker and feeling comfortable to sit down at a table.”


Teaching from scratch

Shahade argues that teaching women the game “from scratch” will help bring more women into the game, which makes perfect sense.

The chess star addressed another issue in convincing more women to play poker, and that is money. As she explained, “women have less money and less time, and everybody struggles with loss aversion when it comes to poker tournaments.”

And that is where she opined that “playing online is crucial.” On sites such as PokerStars, there are free home games, play money games, and inexpensive tournaments and micro-stakes cash games for beginners to get their feet wet without risking much money.

Konnikova, a New York Times bestseller, discovered poker during Covid-19 as part of a project she was working on. She had no understanding of the game at the time, but the new PokerStars ambassador, who credits her poker education to nine-time WSOP bracelet winner Erik Seidel, had a meteoric rise up the poker ranks.


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