Ask the Pros (Ep. 4): Dealing with sexism at the table
Although we would like to think that things have changed in men's attitudes toward women and that women are now respected as equals, the poker room can, on occasion, be one of the last bastions of male chauvinism. As the world leader in online gaming, PokerStars has done much to eliminate this bias and has given women outstanding opportunities. However, there are still some men who feel threatened by women at the table and do their best to keep them out of the game. Macho behavior and sexist remarks are still much too common and cause women to hesitate when they consider getting involved in the game.
This month's question for the pros highlighted this point and elicited honest and provocative answers from some of the game's most successful female pros. The answers below from Team PokerStars Pros Liv Boeree, Victoria Coren, Fatima Moreira de Melo, Vivian Im, Celina Lin, Leo Margets, and Natalie Hof show that sexism is still alive and well in the game and that even players of their level still have to contend with the issues.
Q. Jan Davies: I prefer to be treated as a person rather than "a woman" in many aspects of my life, i.e., riding my motorbike, playing poker, pool, at work, etc. Do any of you feel the same and tire of the "can't get beaten by a woman" attitude?
Leo Margets: I have encountered some people who treat me different for being a woman but those cases are fortunately rare. At the end of the day, I think a big part of that "woman attitude" relies on us and how we want to present ourselves, be it in the poker world or anywhere. I always like to be treated like any other person, so I act like that.
Sure, you will still find some Neanderthal that sees you and plays with you differently for being a woman. When that happens, you can turn it into a positive thing for you and take advantage from knowing how someone perceives you.
Vivian Im: I've met those types of players sometimes, especially in countries where they tend to think of losing to women as shameful. I see the guys try big bluffs on female players, fail, and leave the table.
Fatima Moreira de Melo: When I started, I wanted to prove a point that women COULD play aggressively, but now I like to take advantage of the image that men usually have of female players. They think I'm tight, great! I'll pick my spots to bluff when it really matters. Or I'll keep bluffs in their range when I know I have the best hand and they want to push me off a hand.
Liv Boeree: Absolutely. I often feel a lot of pressure to be more womanly or conform to society's expectation of how "a woman" should behave. The older I've gotten, the less I care about that. I try to play the most profitably, going after the weakest opponents at the table, irrespective of gender. If my opponents aren't doing that, well then, that's great, because they are playing on misinformation. Someone else's error in poker can always be your gain if you figure out how to do it.
Victoria Coren: Not in poker, no. The more assumptions and prejudices people have about me, the more I can exploit those to outwit them in pots.
Natalie Hof: I totally feel the same. Actually, I would prefer to be a man at the poker table. It's more difficult to get respect when you are a woman, like in other sports or jobs. But actually I think that's a big problem in our society.
Celina Lin: Yes and no. A woman IS a type of person. In fact, I think it's the BETTER of the two person types! I don't worry about changing the attitudes of others because I'm proud to be a woman. I've played against gentlemen and against straight-up jerks. I enjoy winning anytime, but I LOVE beating the jerk who thinks I know so little about poker. I think it's about perspective. I could get all angry and emotional and "not this again" when I play the jerk. Me? No way. I'm licking my lips at the chance to crush that chauvinist pig!
Judging from these remarks it seems that women still have some sexism to overcome at the table.
Thanks to our pros and their candid answers, they now have some new perspectives on how to deal with it.
For more strategy and tips from the pros, see the first three installments of our series.