Listening and learning lessons from the ladies

On the break at a small ladies tournament at an unnamed casino, I put on my "please don't talk to me" short-stack face and devoured many varieties of macaroons while eavesdropping on my fellow competitors. "The people in this tournament," a woman in her 20s in ripped jeans said, "have no idea about re-shove spots." I've noticed that, during women's events, many of the more experienced players huddle and joke about the poor play of other women. I sometimes succumb to it. Creating a bridge between a "WAG" or "grandma" and an ambitious player who takes poker seriously is a sort of exceptionalism that allows women in male-dominated fields to feel even better about their play.

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Photo courtesy of PokerNews

You can't get a large sample quickly in live poker tournaments, so verbalizing your edge between breaks can help make sense of your vocation. There are so many more women who take poker seriously these days that, as more women in the tournament mock other women, the overall level of ladies events is surely rising. I used to look forward to women's tournaments because they were far softer than other events. I now look forward to them mostly for other reasons. Though avoiding friends when I have fewer than 20 big blinds and creeping around with desserts I didn't share was not one of my finest moments.

Drawing nearly 1,000 women, the WSOP Ladies Championship is still filled with lots of value, as well as fun.

Early on at this year's WSOP, I moved to a tough table with a couple pros I recognized and PokerNews hostess Kristy Arnett. The player to my right made a few comments about how men's and women's brains are different, and how she didn't think women should be in combat. I rolled my eyes and asked her to elaborate, in no poker voice at all. She said, "I'm a mathematician, you know", which, to me, had no bearing on the absurdity of her previous statements. So I naturally pulled out my phone to compose a snarky post between hands.

Just before pressing the "tweet" button, she engaged me again: "You know, my daughter was one of the first women in combat in Afghanistan." She told me about how every day, she woke up and checked Facebook (where her daughter posted updates each morning) with fearful tears in her eyes. Then she clarified her thoughts about cultural differences between genders and why she thinks fewer women play poker.

Later, she made a tight fold to Kristy with top pair and asked me what I thought about it. I told her I'd tell her later, but again, my voice betrayed my true thoughts. Crippled after that hand, she busted soon after.

At dinner, I told my brother that I learned an important lesson about prioritizing real human interaction from the close Twitter call. He sarcastically pointed out, "Oh wow, you realized you shouldn't be a jerk?"

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Kristen Bicknell at WSOP, photo courtesy of PokerNews

A women's tournament is not just an opportunity to compare yourself favorably to your opposition, no matter how fun that can be! As this year's champion Kristen Bicknell said in her interview with Jen Newell, "In the past, I've come into the Ladies Championship with a bad attitude, sort of that I'm more experienced than everybody." But this year, "I wasn't going to do that again. I decided to play pretty solid, pick my spots well when I do bluff, and not feel like I have to win every hand."

Along the way, this attitude may allow you to win chips, friends, and maybe even a macaroon or two.

Jennifer Shahade is a regular contributor to PokerStars Women. Her latest article was about Open Face Chinese at the WSOP.

Jennifer Shahade
@PokerStars in PS Women