Texas Hold'em: It's a Man's Game! Or is it?

For a variety of different reasons, Texas Hold'em poker has been in my peripheral lately.

I have, on many occasions, found myself glued to the TV during the World Series of Poker, watching great poker players such as Daniel Negreanu and Chris Moneymaker locked in a battle of wills. Over the years, it has grabbed my attention, and I have gleamed bits of information about the rules and what constitutes a good hand, but it was when writing an article on the subject of adrenaline that the game really captured my imagination.

My boyfriend suggested it, and if it's adrenaline you're looking for, I guess nothing quite beats the rush of playing Texas Hold'em poker. That heart-pounding excitement of going "all in" and the pant-squirming anxiety of waiting for your bluff to be called can be addictive. So, with a little coaching, I decided to enter a poker tournament at my local casino. It is true that poker is a male-dominated sport, and participating in a tournament of 50 people when only four of them were women, I was never more aware of that fact. I am sure my experience of being a female poker player is not unique, but instantly my heart was is in my throat. I was new, and a girl. I was being watched, weighed and measured. I felt sure the other players could smell the fear seeping through my pores. So, I attempted to fly under the radar, bet conservatively and not draw attention to myself.

Fortunately, I found myself sitting next to one of the few other women in the tournament, and she took me under her wing. With some guidance from her and the dealer and a lot of luck, I muddled through. I even won a couple of hands and gained some much needed confidence, but it was definitely harder than I thought it would be. Between each hand, I'd take a sip of my drink to distract myself from the growing anxiety but found my hand would shake, giving away my nerves, although I'm sure this wasn't new information. I realised you have to have huge balls to make it in this game, and I found myself wanting.

Sitting at a table full of men, I found I was afraid of making a fool of myself, of being dismissed as that silly little girl who tried to play poker. I have done a lot of scary things in my life - skydiving, sailing a catamaran with no training, I've even had some close calls in a war-torn Kashmir - but I can honestly say I have never felt quite the same level of terror as I did sitting at the table. I was in way over my head, and the sharks were circling.

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The fight or flight instinct kicked in, and I wanted to get the hell out of there. I was short-stacking so made the decision to go all in on the next hand, regardless of my cards. I was dealt a two and an ace of clubs. If I got lucky on the flop I could get a flush - this was my chance. The dealer asked for my bet, so I said those famous words, "I am all in," and pushed my pitiful stack into the centre of the table. All eyes were on me, and it felt good! The guy sitting opposite was staring at me, trying to figure out if I was bluffing. I grinned back; I couldn't help it... The terror was gone, and I felt invincible.

After what felt like a lifetime, my opponent called revealing a pair of queens. The cards were dealt, and while I caught two clubs on the flop, there was also a queen; my cards were losing. I clamped my hand against my mouth vainly attempting to suppress my emotions and waited for the turn. It drew a blank, and I held my breath in expectation. The final card was dealt; it was a club, and I made my flush. Unfortunately, it was the queen of clubs, and my flush was defeated by four of a kind. I watched in disbelief as the chips were collected. I felt the looks of pity from the other players, and I am not ashamed to admit, I wanted to cry. I stood from the table and began the walk of shame, wearing that horrible fixed smile of a loser.

That night I made my way home with the adrenaline still coursing through my veins. I was left feeling gutted and wired all at the same time. Despite my crushing defeat, I knew one thing for sure: I wanted to do it again!

While the low of losing is devastating, the rush from winning a hand is euphoric, and I realised that I was hooked. I also couldn't help but wonder why more women do not play. Perhaps it's the intimidation factor; I have to admit I was petrified, but ultimately, I did get a lot of support from the other players and the dealer. Maybe it is the fear of losing money, but when I weigh it up, I have spent £40 on a few hours on entertainment and made new friends. Really, it's no more expensive than a lot of other pastimes. So, is it the perception that Texas Hold'em is a man's game? These days poker is no longer confined to a world of tough cowboys and has become much more accessible.

So, why aren't more women playing poker? Whatever the reason, I know it's a question I want to answer, and I sense that this is the beginning of journey for me.

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After my first tournament, I learned two things. Firstly, I want the chips to be moving in my direction! I need to feel that sense of victory and am willing to work toward it. Secondly, I want my female friends to get involved. From my perspective, if you take egos out of the equation, poker is really just about hanging out and having fun. I think everyone should play poker once in their life, just to see what they are made of. If women have the opportunity to play poker without any of the above-mentioned pressures, it could debunk the myths which surround the game.

I believe a Ladies' Poker League is the key to showing that poker is not just a man's game, and I have decided to set one up in my hometown. I find it ironic that something I tried out for an article has become such a central part of my life, but I guess that's just testament to the appeal of poker.

Ann-Marie McCarthy
@PokerStars in PS Women