It's Ladies' Night!

At the end of my last blog post, I confided that my poker obsession compelled me to indoctrinate more women by starting a Ladies' Poker League.

After some thought on the subject, it occurred to me that an eventual end goal for the League should be to train and enter a small army of women into the male-dominated WSOP, if for no other reason than to see the surprise on their faces. While this was a fine idea in principle, the simple logistics of making it happen were another matter altogether.

There were many things to consider, least of all how a gal like me was going to get my hands on the equipment needed. I was apprehensive about asking for help and could already imagine my partner snorting with laughter at the words, "Darling, I've decided to host a Ladies' Poker Night" coming from my mouth! However, I need not have worried; the guys in my local poker community were only too willing to lend a hand.

My first challenge was finding the venue. While I was happy to host it at my home, cramming any more than five people around my tiny dining table would prove difficult; besides, a home game was too small for the world domination I dreamed of. Salvation came in the form of a local wine bar manager, Bruce. A regular on the poker circuit, Bruce was very interested in the idea of introducing more women to the game. After I explained my evil plan, he agreed to let us host Ladies' Poker Night in the function area of his premise for free, so long as no money was gambled. As the event was more about getting women interested than winning money, this caused no problem.

When I mustered the courage to explain to my boyfriend what I wanted to do, he was so enthused by the idea that he came home one day with a professional set of poker chips, including stacks of cards. Word was spreading about my Ladies' Poker League, and I also managed to bag some felt from a random guy at a cash came. Felt was something I hadn't even considered but knew it would give the venue that extra professional feel.

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As I am still a learner, I wanted the event to be tailored to beginners. I wanted to create an environment where a learner would feel comfortable enough to ask questions about the game. Where I live is home to a few online gaming companies and am lucky in the sense that that I have made friends with some industry professionals, including an ex-professional female poker player. They, too, were excited by my plan and agreed to attend the event to give a quick teaching session. I had bagged some tutors and was delighted. So far, the event was coming together without a huge amount of effort. All these resources had been under my nose the whole time and seeing them come together so easily made me realise that a ladies' poker community had always been lurking just beneath the surface.

Now, all I needed were the interested people. This proved to be more challenging than I thought. My suggestion to female friends that they should start playing poker inspired a variety of comments, usually along the lines of, "I can't play poker, and I don't want to lose money," and, "Isn't it boring anyway?" My ambition to make poker much more accessible to women was already being thwarted by that pesky "it's a man's game" image. However, I was not deterred. I have realised that it really takes one game of poker to get people hooked, and so I set about enticing people into play. My responses were simple and undeniable. If you can't play, we will teach you. We will play for chips, so you don't have to worry about losing money, and, if you think it's boring, at least try it out first! So, in the end, most people came for the social side.

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I was starting to lose faith in my plan, so decided I needed a guinea pig to practice on. My sister proved to be that victim. She pulled a face when I first asked her if she'd like to play. "Maybe another time," she said. Eventually, one quiet evening, I talked her into a practice session. We played with a pack of cheap cards which were lying around the flat and the scattered chips of a long abandoned Texas Hold'em poker set. I taught her the basics as I knew them, and she caught on pretty quick. I could see excitement in her face when she won a hand and judged by the wide eyes with which she viewed her chip pile that she was hooked. She ended the evening by asking, "So, when is Ladies' Poker Night?" It was then I knew I had my first convert.

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So, the first night of our Ladies' Poker League arrived. I surveyed the felt covered tables, each seat with its own stack of chips. The effect was transformative, and I waited with that nervous feeling in my stomach for the guests to arrive. They did not disappoint. The first night, we reached maximum capacity of 19 people, spread over three tables, each with its own teacher. Throughout the night, I took the time to walk between the tables to see how people were getting on. I saw repeated in their expressions the excitement I had seen in my sister's face. People who had no previous poker experience were so transfixed that the event overran! We also raised curiosity from the bar staff and local customers, whose quiet night was disturbed by yelps and gasps of excitement from my rowdy, and, by now, slightly tipsy poker ladies. At the end of the night, all I could hear was excited chatter and comments such as, "If that was real money, I'd be rich by now." Many were keen to play again. As that was the whole point, I called the night a success and went home with a contented grin!

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The beauty of a women's-only poker night is that women are afforded the opportunity to learn how to play poker without any of the perceived male intimidation. By not gambling, it provides novices with the freedom to experiment with their playing style. I was also quite overwhelmed by the level of support I received from the local poker community. Admittedly, they may have had ulterior motives, such as more fish, as they say, but hopefully, I will deliver some sharks.

During this whole experience, I never once received any negativity or resistance, and I am left with the lasting impression that an influx of women players would undoubtedly challenge the current dynamic of poker. Besides, the pure value of turning up at a poker tournament with 20 women in tow would be worth the effort alone!

Ann-Marie McCarthy
@PokerStars in PS Women