Tuesday, July 26, 2005

My thoughts on women in poker

All right, after a heated (mostly on my part because this is one of my hot buttons) discussion with AL on IM today, plus a link from the poker blogfather, I figure I might as well clarify my unorthodox view of women in poker, and the women tournaments.

First, a little primer of where I stand here.

Then, I need to state for the record, that I absolutely LOVE being a girl at the poker tables. I love that my skills are underestimated, leading everyone to overestimate my hand when I lead the betting into the pot. I adore being soft-played by the guys who don't want to take my money. I snicker to myself when I am given bets back on the river by men. I am thrilled when LawyerMark comes by my table and asks the boys, "Why does the GIRL have all the chips? Did you guys get beat by a GIRL? Man, that must SUCK!" He, of course, knows I am amused and pleased when he does this, which is why this goes on in the first place. I am also very keen on the idea that I get lessons from better players, because I am an intelligent, funny and generally nice GIRL.

I have also come to just recently realize that I am a much better player than most of the guys that sit at my table; there are few players that I think are better than I am that I play against with regularity. I play in the 2nd biggest limit in the casino on a regular basis (enough that everyone there knows me by name), and I've even sat in the larger limit game and held my own (except in the PLO portion, but we won't go into that).

So, when I say I'm a good female player, I think I've got enough evidence to back this statement up.

Now, to the point of my post - my thoughts on women in poker: While I think women have a distinct advantage in being able to read people, their patience, and the fact that ego is not a huge factor in a woman's play, I think they have a huge disadvantage due to a lack of natural aggression, in general. And from here on out, I'm going to drop the in general part, because obviously there are women who are aggressive, but I think we can all agree that in general, women are less aggressive, even when their reads are right.

Speaking as a woman who gets repeatedly told that I am "the most aggressive female they have ever met" or that I scare the crap out of them when I play them because of moves I've made, I can tell you that aggression does NOT come naturally, even to me. I cannot tell you the number of times that I've known I have a better hand, or that the other guy has utter crap, and have not come out with both guns firing - and I'm an aggressive female! I remember the times I had to suck it up and be aggressive and trust my instincts and come out with the guns firing, not the times I folded like a little girl. For those of you who watched the recent Rio WSoP event - we saw Jen Harman have a fantanstic read on her opponents, to the point where she said "I know you both have horrible hands", and then proceeds to fold a very decent 4 handed set of holecards, because she couldn't pull the trigger either. Chip Jett even says this about his wife, Karina, saying that Her tournament weakness is the same as that of most female players - the inability or fear of exploiting certain recurring tournament scenarios (also known as "not being able to pull the trigger"). Even dugglebogey mentions that Maudie played more weak/tight than he would like to see, and she should be more aggressive with her draws.

This isn't unusual for almost all the women I play with in the casino; in fact, there's only one other female I know that's got an aggressive streak like I do, and it pays off for her as well. This isn't saying that non-aggressive females are bad players: they can be winning players just as well as aggressive males. However, you're not going to be great if you're not aggressive (which is, as Felicia keeps telling me, my monster problem with limit O8, but that's another story for another time), and this aggressiveness is just not a natural personality trait for women. Sure, it can be learned: I've had to learn it, but learning and executing are two separate matters which are not necessarily related.

The other factor that cannot be ignored is intimidation. Women are intimidated (in general) by the thought of going to a casino, by the aggressive males at the table, and by the table stakes as well. I have several woman friends who play poker in our home games and could absolutely hold their own at the casino, but have expressed their trepidation at playing for money with strange men, and won't come play even if I offer to stake them in the game. I can't count the number of women who have come up to me at the boats and have told me how great it is that "I hold my own with the men", and that "I'm their hero" for playing at the high stakes with the men. While I'm flattered at the compliment, it also saddens me a little, because this compliment is given because they are too intimidated to play at those stakes themselves; even the other aggressive female won't step up in stakes to play "my" game, nor will some of the other decent women players, because of both the stakes, and the indimidation factor of the men playing at that game.

I don't think I can truly blame them, either; heck, it took me the better part of two years to sit down and play live poker in the casino myself because it was unnerving! And it still happens: the boys tried for months, literally, to get me to play in their game, and I refused, because - I admit it - I was intimidated, by the stakes, by the players, by the moves, by being out of my element. In fact, I could say that until my recent realization that I can take most of the boys down in a game, I've been trying to overcome my intimidation as I'm playing. Truth be told, if a couple of guys hadn't taken me under their wing and given me some crucial insight into the game of No-Limit, and especially high-stakes NL, I'd most likely be back in the safe waters of $10/$20 limit (need I say that there's nothing wrong with limit players?). But they convinced me to play the bigger game, and now I'm eyeing the Crazy Monkey Game with some trepidation, a large dose of intimidation, and yes, interest. The boys are already working their wiles on me to move up in stakes, and I'm sure I'll take the plunge sooner or later. Most likely, later.

Some of this could be the environment, and some may be culture, and some may be biological. I can say that the boys at the table take women as easy marks, in general, but they're quick learners - if you can play, they'll give you respect. And they'll also still be boys and you'll have to put up with the potty jokes at the table, which can also be somewhat intimidating, too if you're not used to it.

I'm not surprised at all at some of the recent reports that online poker is skyrocketing in popularity with females, because it's quite difficult to be put off your game because a computer screen looks at you funny: the great thing about online poker is you can turn the inane potty talk off with a click of the mouse, which is much more difficult to do in person. This is also why I'm all for women tournaments - it allows the women a bit more comfortable place to play their game, and not have to hear about how the blonde chick in the mini-skirt is so hot. I can tell you I won't play in any of them, because I'll be honest: my game really sucks against girls, and is much better suited to being the girl amongst the men.

That's why I stand by my opinion that out of 100 males, x will become good/great poker players, and out of 100 females, y will become great poker players, and x > y for quite some time.

Which, you know, is okay in my book: more men for me!