BJ’s Guide to the History of Women in Poker

by , Nov 2, 2009 | 4:31 pm

So many jokes to be made about BJ’s Guide to Women in Anything … but regardless, he hooked his pal @MariaHo up with a little cheat sheet to help her prep for her appearance on CNN (“Breaking into the Boys’ Club”). Click below to read it all — a glimpse at what kinda study goes into appearing on TV news as “yourself”, and a pretty good breakdown of a minority’s influence on the game.

(BTW, semi-related but kinda an aside … Kathy Liebert, arguably the most successful on-the-tables female in history … is currently in strong chip position at a final table (5 remaining at time of press) in a $2,500 Foxwoods event. While reading the BJ guide, you can follow her ride as we are on Twitter here.)

BJ’s Guide to the History of Women in Poker

By BJ Nemeth


1.  In major tournament fields (WSOP, WPT, etc.) women usually comprise about 3% of the field. There are no official stats kept.

2.  The 2006 WSOP Main Event had the largest field in live tournament history with 8,773 players. It is estimated that only about 300 of them were women.

3.  This year there were 6,494 players, with an estimate of about 200 women in the field.

4.  Since 2006, the WSOP Ladies events have attracted between 1,060 and 1,286 women. A comparable $1,000 WSOP event attracted a field of 6,012, and only about 200 of them were women. Conclusion? Five to six times as many women will show up for a ladies event than will show up for a mixed event.

5.  In Jim McManus’s new book, “Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker,” he estimates that women make up nearly one-third of online poker players. Again, there are no official stats kept, but this shows that women are a much larger part of the game when they don’t have to sit down with men.

6.  Only one woman — Jennifer Harman — regularly plays in the biggest cash games in the world, playing against the likes of Doyle Brunson, Daniel Negreanu, and Phil Ivey. Harman not only plays with the big boys, but according to Doyle, she is a long-term winner in the game.


1.  The WSOP Main Event has been held every year since 1970, though there were no women at all in the earliest years. The first woman to ever cash in the WSOP Main Event was Wendeen Eolis in 1986. She finished 25th against a field of 141 players. (Side note: They paid 36 that year, and Eolis only cashed for $10,000, earning back her entry fee.)

2.  Only one woman has ever made the final table of the Main Event — Barbara Enright in 1995. She finished 5th in a field of 273 players, earning $114,180.

3.  Annie Duke came close to a final table, bubbling in 10th place ($52,160) in a field of 512 players in 2000 — while she was 8 months pregnant.

4.  The highest a woman has ever finished in the WSOP Main Event compared to the field size is Tiffany Michelle’s 17th-place finish ($334,534) in 2008 against a field of 6,844. Tiffany outlasted 99.75% of the field that year. (Annie Duke and Barbara Enright both outlasted about 98.1% of their fields.)

5.  Annette Obrestad won the WSOP Europe the day before her 19th birthday, earning $2 million against a field of 362 players. It is the biggest victory in history for a woman. This is completely separate from the WSOP Main Event, but worth noting.


1.  The first woman to win an open WSOP bracelet was Vera Richmond in 1982, when there were 14 events. Richmond outlasted about 80 players to win a bracelet in $1,000 Ace-to-Five Draw, earning $38,500.

2.  Another woman wouldn’t win a WSOP bracelet until 1996, when Barbara Enright (who final tabled the Main Event a year earlier) outlasted 180 players to win a bracelet in $2,500 Pot-Limit Hold’em, earning $180,000.

3.  Only 12 women have ever won WSOP bracelets in open events. (That number grows to 14 if you count the Seniors-only event and the casino employees-only event, both of which are still predominantly male.)

4.  The best year for women was 2004, when three women won WSOP bracelets — Annie Duke, Kathy Liebert, and Cyndy Violette.

5.  Since 2004: No women won bracelets in 2005, 2006, or 2009. Katja Thater won a Razz bracelet in 2007, and Vanessa Selbst won a Pot-Limit Omaha bracelet in 2008.


1.  Jennifer Harman is widely regarded as the best female cash game player in history, and she is a regular player (and a regular winner) in the “Big Game” at Bellagio. Harman is also the only woman to have ever won two WSOP bracelets in open events.

2.  Kathy Liebert is the winningest female tournament poker player in history, with more than $5.5 million in earnings. Liebert was also the first women to earn $1 million in a single tournament, by winning the 2002 Party Poker Million cruise.

3.  Van Nguyen (wife of Men “The Master” Nguyen”) won the 2008 WPT Celebrity Invitational, earning $125,500. While it’s a mixed event, it is invitation only and the field includes a much-higher-than-normal percentage of female players.

4.  No woman has ever won a regular, open WPT tournament, though two have finished second (J.J. Liu and Kathy Liebert).

5.  Two women have won EPT events. Vicky Coren won EPT London ($941,000) in 2006, and Sandra Naujoks won EPT Germany ($1.16 million) in 2009. Both did it in their home countries.

6.  Annette “Annette15” Obrestad won the WSOP Europe the day before her 19th birthday, earning $2 million against a field of 362 players. It is the biggest victory in history for a woman.

7.  As mentioned earlier, 12 women have won WSOP bracelets in open events: Vera Richmond (1982), Barbara Enright (1996), Linda Johnson (1997), Maria Stern (1997), Jennifer Harman (2000, 2002), Jerri Thomas (2000), Nani Dollison (2001), Annie Duke (2004), Kathy Liebert (2004), Cyndy Violette (2004), Katja Thater (2007), and Vanessa Selbst (2008).

8.  Two more women won WSOP bracelets in mixed events that were predominantly male: Sandy Stupak (1984, Casino Employees event) and Clare Miller (2006, Seniors event).


1.  We only have data on tournaments (not cash games), but only two women are among the Top 100 of the all-time money list — Kathy Liebert (38th, $5.5 million) and Annie Duke (81st, $3.7 million). Daniel Negreanu is #1 on that list with $12.4 million, closely followed by Jamie Gold, Phil Ivey, and Phil Hellmuth.

2.  Three more women are in the Top 200 of the all-time money list:  Annette Obrestad (133rd, $2.76 million), Vanessa Rousso (176th, $2.38 million), and Jennifer Harman (177th, $2.37 million). That’s just five women among the Top 200 tournament players of all time, based on earnings.

14 Comments to “BJ’s Guide to the History of Women in Poker”

  1. TheWookieWay

    In a recent post by Daniel Negreanu, he listed some ROI figures for top tournament players, and I’m wondering where he got his figures, and where you got yours? I’d like to do a little research myself.

  2. BJ Nemeth

    Keep in mind that these aren’t “Talking Points” like political talking heads are often given before an appearance, and I didn’t coach Maria on what she should say.

    Maria knew what the topic was going to be, and she wanted to make sure she had a clear understanding of the background and the facts ahead of time — even if they were never mentioned on the program.

    Keep in mind that this list wasn’t originally written for general consumption. It’s just a list of items in broad categories that Maria could browse and scroll through whenever she had some downtime before her appearance. If I were writing this as an article or a blog post for Pokerati, it would be considerably different than what you see here.

    NOTE: I simplified the stats as much as possible to make it easier to remember and easier to repeat, so the original version didn’t include exact numbers for prizes and field sizes like this version does. (I tried to correct those items with exact numbers before passing this along to Dan.)

    One thing I forgot to update was the first item, where it’s estimated that 3% of major tournament fields are female. Whenever I’ve seen an actual count (some of which I’ve done myself), the percentage has almost always been between 2.5% and 3.5%.

  3. danm

    Lol, BJ, you diss my handling of your data! Hey, I ain’t yo beyotch!

  4. Kevin Mathers

    Daniel’s information came from the World Poker Tour website. will lead you in the right direction.

  5. BJ Nemeth

    @TheWookieWay — There are some slight differences between the major online databases (Hendon Mob, Card Player, Poker Pages), but I always go with the Hendon Mob. There’s is the easiest to use and, in my experience, tends to be the most accurate and comprehensive.

    For Daniel Negreanu’s post, he got his data from the WPT’s own website, He compiled all the players with 30+ tournaments from the “WPT Tournaments Played” leaderboard, and then divided their total WPT earnings by the number of tournaments they entered.

    Some of my data also came from World Series emails sent out by Nolan Dalla. Nolan routinely includes interesting facts with his end-of-event emails that are sent out to the media. (Some of which were reprinted here at Pokerati, if I remember correctly.)

  6. BJ Nemeth

    No worries, Dan. I just didn’t want anyone to think that I was acting as the Cyrano to Maria’s de Bergerac, and putting words into her mouth on TV.

    (No, I never read the book, or the play, or whatever it was. I didn’t even see Steve Martin in “Roxanne.” Anyone got a problem with that?)

  7. Kevin Mathers

    How long was the piece on AC: 360? There’s a 3 minute clip online, Maria was the last 20 seconds. Also the preview on CNN’s site named three out of four people, guess which one wasn’t mentioned?

  8. BJ Nemeth

    On the actual show, the conversation was broken down into two segments. The entire duration was approximately 10-11 minutes, with the first two minutes devoted to a standard news-montage introduction of the topic. The rest was devoted to the guests.

    As you’d expect, Maria didn’t get quite as much face time as the women who do this kind of thing professionally (Suze Orman & Dee Dee Myers), or the one who was sitting in the studio with Anderson Cooper (the neurologist). It’s also worth noting that Dee Dee Myers and the neurologist have both recently written books on this topic. Anderson Cooper is recorded from either New York or Washington, D.C., and Maria seemed to be the only one via satellite from LA — and the only one with the awkward few-second delay from cross-country satellite linkups.

    Having said all that, I think Maria did a fine job. She was strong and assertive, and I think represented female poker players well within the context of the discussion. (And as I expected, my list of background facts provided nothing but peace of mind for Maria as she was preparing for the show.)

  9. DanM

    I agree. I think Maria did great. There aren’t too many other poker players out there who can say they’ve been taken seriously with such a high-powered, all-respected panel before.

    I am kinda laughing on the inside at the overall irrelevance (to this topic) of BJ’s Guide to Women in Poker, though. But hey, now it’s knowledge she can take with her for future appearances. I’m sure one item will come up some day.

  10. Maria Ho

    BIg thanks again to BJ in getting me some of those stats for the show.

    And also Kevin, I wasn’t mentioned in the article because contractually by CBS, I was not allowed to do AC 360 unless CNN agreed not to publicize my appearance on their show since it was the day after Tiffany and I’s elimination for The Amazing Race and we aren’t allowed to do other press normally outside of for the show this week but they made an exception since this was CNN. But thank you for pointing that out.


  11. Kevin Mathers

    Well that does make sense. Thanks for the response Maria.

  12. BJ Nemeth

    Anyone who missed the original 10-minute segment that aired Monday night can find most of it embedded in CNN’s podcast version of the show. The segment with Maria begins at the 7:33 mark, and lasts about 8 minutes. (The podcast runs shorter than the televised episode, so it’s been edited down slightly.)

    Here’s the direct link to watch it on the web:

    And if you want to access the podcast in iTunes, this link will open up iTunes and take you to Anderson Cooper’s page — you want to choose the episode dated 11/02/09:

  13. DanM

    Bj, we’ve already posted the video! I’m on bberry, so I don’t have the easy link paste available, but it should be pretty much at the top of the site right now!

  14. BJ Nemeth

    The video posted here (and at Wicked Chops) is a 3-minute highlight. The video I linked to is a 27-minute version of Anderson Cooper’s show, which includes eight minutes from Maria’s segment (starting at the 7:33 mark). To really follow the panel discussion, people should view the longer version.

    The original segment that ran on TV was about 10 minutes long, but I haven’t been able to find it online anywhere — 8 minutes is as close as I could get.