Why Would I Attend a Ladies-Only Academy?

by , Jan 29, 2008 | 5:12 pm

Sure, I’m a lady. (Shut up, Dan.) But I’ve written numerous articles about my anti-ladies-only tournament stance…

When All In Magazine asked if I wanted the assignment to cover the WSOP Ladies Academy in Vegas this past weekend, it required some consideration. I firmly object to women being separated in the poker community, but I noticed that Annie Duke was the primary instructor for the class. Knowing that we shared the same view about ladies-only tournaments, I decided to accept the assignment and investigate. The comped room at Caesars had something little to do with my decision.

Alex Outhred Instructing Students

Alex Outhred Instructing Students

Glad I did it.

The two-day course was extremely informative, as Annie covered everything from bluffing to betting amounts to detailed strategy for pre-flop and post-flop play. Joe Navarro spent a few hours discussing tells, which even drew some Vegas pros like Tom McEvoy and JJ Liu to sit in. Alex Outhred also helped with the lectures and the live table demonstrations. There were about 75 ladies enrolled in the $1700 course, and everyone seemed glad to have been there.

The lingering question: Why was it for women only?

My impression was that many of the women felt less intimidated without men in the room. They were open to ask questions without fear of judgment by the opposite sex. For others, it was a chance for groups of friends to attend together or simply meet other female poker players and discuss similar experiences.

Annie explained that she teaches the ladies-only classes because she wants to give women the tools of the game in a comfortable environment, and she hopes those skills will then be used to “kick the boys’ asses.” She only hopes that they will do so in a co-ed environment.

Her objections to the ladies-only tournaments are based on the fact that poker is purely a game of skill, with some luck thrown in, and that skill is not based on gender – or size, race, ethnicity, or physical ability for that matter. In a game where everyone is equal when they sit down at the table, she sees no reason for women to be segregated into smaller buy-in, less meaningful tournaments that don’t get televised and aren’t respected by most members of the poker community.

In a freeroll tournament that was held after the first day of class, the five top finishers received a $1000 buy-in to the WSOP Ladies Championship at the 2008 WSOP. However, the $1000 credit could be used toward the buy-in to any other bracelet event this summer, per Annie’s request. And though all five women claimed they planned to use their prize to play in the ladies tournament, Annie pleaded with them not to. She insisted that the Ladies Championship bracelet is viewed with much less respect by many people, and winning a regular event has so much more prestige and validity. Though the winners may not change their minds, Annie certainly had the students considering what she said.

Personally, I agree 100% with Annie. And I respect her for taking such a hard line on the subject, despite the criticism she has received from some women in poker. Even in our class, only about 50% of the room agreed with her, but she stood her ground.

All in all, it was a good experience. I learned a great deal from the coursework, which may result in a little less donkeyness (not a real word) in my play from here on out. And I realized that a ladies-only class is not objectionable as long as the attendees take those skills and play in more cash games and bigger buy-in tournaments. With the ratio of women in $10k buy-in tournaments remaining at only 3% to 5%, it would be nice to finally see that number rise.


  • While the stance on ladies-only tourneys is debatable (I did play once as the token gentile in a Jews-only tourney), it’s hard to find fault with the concept of single-sex education. A lot of great (non-poker) schools for both genders have found success in that. And isn’t it supposed to be all about choice for the penis-less you ladies? It’s not like you are forbidden from attending regular WSOP Academies.

    The fact that 75 women ponied up $1,700 to attend a ladies-only academy speaks volumes.

    So Jen, did you get pictures of the lingerie pillow-fight that must’ve broken out at the final table?

  • All I can say about the pillow fight at the final table was that there was lots of giggling and spanking. No pictures were allowed.

  • Uncle Ray

    So I guess I can’t depend on you guys for support of a Senior Tour. Considering the ages of some of the regular tournament players, I’m probably too young for a Senior Tour anyway.

    And pillow fight pictures aren’t necessary, but at least play-by-play would be nice.

  • treveaux

    Should there be Ladies only tournaments?

    Okay, there is one flaw in the system though. Women learning their skills in a predominantly female environment make men seem a little more intimidating to them, if you ask me. That’s why a large portion of them would then proceed to prefer participating in a women’s only tournament!

    What happens, is these ladies go out there in the poker scene, bearing the mentality “men are the challenge” in turn adding to the whole “females are inferior players” paradigm shift.

    Woman poker players ought to start seeing woman poker players as the challenge! They should ideally feel the same intimidation learning poker in a room full of broads, as they would if there were men in the room!

  • 85nutz

    Will there ever be a mens only event? Was their ever a time when women were not allowed to play in the WSOP? I think the answer to both is no so why is there a ladies only event? Also, if a woman were to challage for the most bracelts ever won but one or two of hers were from the ladies only events should they count? Just to prove I’m not trying to be sexist I feel the same way about the seniors event. If Doyle wins the seniors only event, should it count as part of his 11 putting him in a tie with Hellmuth? I personally don’t think it should. I’m okay with the WSOP hosting these events but I think they should be special non-bracelet events.

  • she teaches the ladies-only classes because she wants to give women the tools of the game in a comfortable environment, and she hopes those skills will then be used to “kick the boys’ asses.”

    Someone run that through the Gender Inverter macro. I don’t think Hellmuth, or even Dan, could get away with saying it.

  • BJ Nemeth

    Women have never been “segregated” into Ladies-only events — that would clearly be wrong.

    Other than that phrase, I agree with everything that Jen and Annie say about poker being a truly equal endeavor — poker uses nothing but mental power, regardless of chromosomes, skin color, physical conditioning, etc. The only physical factor in a major poker tournament is the stamina to stay awake and focused for long hours.

    Poker can be played by anyone who can “see” the cards and their opponents’ bets (either with their own eyes or some other aid) and indicate their own betting in some fashion. Eyeblinks could even be used for a quadriplegic.

    But I disagree strongly with Jen on one issue. I support the Ladies event at the WSOP.

    The numbers alone tell the story. You can look down on the event as “training wheels” if you’d like, but there is a *huge* market of women who feel comfortable playing that event more than the others, and it’s not just the price tag. The Ladies event allows a lot of women to get their start with low expectations (everyone knows it’s the biggest crapshoot at the Series) and no intimidation factor. Along the way, they have some fun and get first-hand experience with the game that we all love. They can then move on to bigger events if they’d like.

    The Ladies event isn’t for everyone. Annie Duke and Jennifer Harman don’t want to weaken any of the comparisons between themselves and the best men in the game. I fully support their decisions to not play.

    Until the numbers for the Ladies event start to match the number of women in the other events, I think there is a need for it. In most high-stakes tournaments, women represent at most 3.5% of the field. (Those aren’t easy numbers to come by, but every time I’ve been able to verify the gender numbers in tournaments I’ve covered from 2004-2008, the percentage of women has always been between 2.5-3.5%.) So even if the Main Event drew 10,000 entrants, and those numbers held up, that’s just 350 women. In a 3,000-player $1,500 event, that’s just over 100 women. And these numbers are all optimistically weighted on the high side.

    Compare those numbers to the 2007 WSOP Ladies Event, which had 1,286 entrants.

    At the end of the day, the Ladies event is about *inclusiveness*, not exclusiveness. It brings more women to poker, which I think is a Good Thing for Everyone.

    One last thing. The fact that the Seniors and Ladies event offers “real” bracelets is a purely financial move (first by Binion’s, then by Harrah’s) — if they weren’t labeled as “bracelet events,” the number of entrants would drop. Should those bracelets count the same as a $1,500 hold’em event? What about $50,000 H.O.R.S.E.? What about a WSOP Europe bracelet? Yes, there will be debate from time to time, but healthy debate on topics like this is good for all sports.

  • BJ, you and I should have a lengthy discussion at Commerce about this!

    If we should allow ladies-only tournaments so women are more comfortable in poker, then we should do something to address the fact that there aren’t many African-Americans who play the game. Maybe some low buy-in tournaments for blacks only? Maybe the 2008 WSOP African-American Championship?

    Maybe black people would feel more comfortable in such an environment and more would be encouraged to play in the bigger events.

    Why not? Because it’s called discrimination! It would separate one race into separate “exclusive” tournaments.

    I’ll stop… except to say that I, too, enjoy the debate and hope more people will weigh in.

  • I so wish we had a black blogger here at Pokerati. If you have the right combination of writing skills, poker knowledge, and melanin, please inquire within.

    We might also have room for someone non-dark if you happen to be an Albino Poker Champion.

  • 85nutz

    Hey I may not be black or a champion yet but I will be one day!! Wait, I’m not Albino either, but I will be a champion, you wait and see, then you’ll be asking yourself… Why didn’t we get that 85nutz guy to be an official blogger………..

  • 85nutz

    watch out ‘Uncle Tom Schneider’ here i come!!!

  • Uncle Tom … that’s funny.

  • You were in town and didn’t call; where is the blogger loyalty, where are the drunken tables at MGM. OK, nevermind but would could compare notes, I did the WPT cash bootcamp in December with Mike Matusow.

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  • Jim Pickard

    My question is: should there be a “Ladies” Event at the World Series of Poker?

    The Ladies Event was added to the WSOP in 1977 and has run ever since. However, only recently has it been modified to match the Main Event’s No Limit Hold’em structure. For most of its history, it was a 7 Card Stud tournament. This year’s Ladies Event is number 17 and has the lowest buy-in ($1000) of any Event at WSOP 2009 (other than the $500 employee event). With Annie Duke as one of the event’s most outspoken opponents, most high level pros do not play it.

    Playing devil’s advocate, a lot of women do feel more comfortable in a female only tournament format. This is especially true, we might imagine, for a first-time WSOP player. This is part of the reason that Duke plans to conduct her third WSOP Ladies Only Academy to prepare for the Ladies NLH Event for 2009. Past Academy attendees have had tremendous success: winning and final tabling the Ladies’ bracelet and other big tourneys. Furthermore, attendance of the Ladies Event has grown with the poker boom; the crowds are about twelve times the size of those in 2002, a rate of growth even bigger than the Main Event’s explosion in popularity (The rates of growth are closer when accounting for the UIGEA and its impediments to the Main Event). However, the proportion of female who choose to play the Main Event has decreased slightly over the last four years and remains at an estimated 3-5%. With the increased numbers attending the Ladies Events, this low female turnout for the Main Event is strange.

    Even though I support eradicating the Ladies only WSOP Event, it does appear to have a market and could even contribute to attracting more female players to poker in the future. Like Annie Duke, I would strongly encourage any woman considering the Ladies Event to play a WSOP Event open to both genders instead. I don’t need my poker experience to know that women are capable of dominating a card table; but it has definitely proved it.

  • daveS

    i love how annie duke is one of the ladies events most outspoken opponent but will take any ladies $1700 to help them prepare for such an event.

  • pokerfan

    Were I:
    a) female
    b) in spite of a) above, a decent poker player

    then why wouldn’t I want to play in a generally soft, women-only event. I would likely be very high EV+ in such an event, and if you’re playing for $$ (like true professionals are – it’s their living after all) you would be costing yourself $$ if you DIDN’T play.

    (ok, and I’m kidding about the “in spite of”…but how many hackles rose while reading that?!? LOL)