There’s No Crying in Poker!

by , Jul 6, 2011 | 4:13 pm

That’s what I thought after playing in and being a witness to the 2011 World Series of Poker Ladies’ Event — the line from the 1992 film, A League of Their Own, where Jimmy Dugan (played by Tom Hanks) famously said, “THERE’S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL!“. Don’t people know, “There’s no crying in Poker!”

The tournament brought plenty of controversy as it always does, summed up into two divisions: (1) whether or not men should be allowed to enter the “ladies-only” tournament, and (2) should there even be “exclusive” tournaments within the WSOP schedule of events.

While there are great arguments as to why ladies poker tournaments should remain exclusive and equally compelling arguments why exclusivity is an exercise in discrimination, sometimes the best explanation as to why things are the way there are is simply: TRADITION!

Don’t get me wrong, this is my fourth re-write of this opinion editorial. Why? Because my gender, my ethnicity and my profession leave me little other choice but to appreciate all the perspectives on the issues of exclusivity (and some pretty good insight into oppressive traditions). That being said, my strongest statement on the matter is that I don’t have an opinion one way or the other … to me it’s just poker, and the event is a ladies’ poker tournament whether there are 9 men or 500 men. Regardless of who my opponents are, the game of poker is ever-changing and I must always adjust my play accordingly. While I see both points, I believe polarizing the issues surrounding the WSOP Ladies Event to left and right is the ultimate FAIL. The conservatives and liberals have completely missed the role of tradition in the spirit of the WSOP.

Moreover, the back-and-forth bickering continues to compound the problem rather that solve it. Haven’t we all learned by now that players change their hair color for attention, wear ridiculous hats for photo ops and make complete asses of themselves for five seconds of fame on ESPN? Perhaps if, last year, Shaun Deeb had been left to make a comical buffon out of himself instead of being catapulted to the center of a political firestorm, there would have been no need for this article. However, already we can see … even though the overall field size in the WSOP Ladies event stayed virtually the same, the number of men that entered this year increased compared to last by nearly 45 percent — from 9 to 13 … and that was without a player like Deeb leading the charge.

It is a well known fact that both the Seniors’ and Ladies’ events are simply targeted toward specific groups of poker players based on age and/or gender for little reason other than to draw a larger crowd to the halls of the Rio. As such, neither event can actually deny a person their right to play solely on the basis of age, gender, race, ability, or sexual orientation; to do so would be discrimination and subject to a cause of action. In particular, it is the Ladies Event that gets tongues wagging long before the first card is dealt.

When it comes to ladies only poker tournaments, everybody has an opinion. Even WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel went on record this year, stating that he had no respect for any man who would play in an event that has such special meaning to the female participants. Following the very public debate from 2010 and Effel’s statement, members of the poker community rekindled the discussion related to ladies’ poker tournaments in their blogs, in social media groups and in poker forums.

Some believe that, in this day and age, there should be no special WSOP bracelets for women (nor employees or seniors, for that matter). The arguments range from legitimate legal perspectives to, “Ah, hell …  just let the li’l ladies have their fun.” (Southern twang added.) In addition to the political debates, the table talk in the Rio Pavilion Room was split between male players calling men who registered for a ladies event “Tools” or “Douche Bags” and the female players swearing they hate playing in all ladies tournaments because such events are nothing but “Donkaments.”

Oddly enough, for all that has been said, few seemed to address tradition, as if it even mattered.

The Ladies’ Event is nearly as old as the WSOP itself. Started back in 1977, some say the WSOP Ladies’ Event was created by male poker players so that their wives and/or female companions would have something to do so as to not bother the Good ol’ Boys who who were playing big-boy games for “real” money. The buy-in for the first WSOP Ladies Event was just $100, and most of the ladies were staked by the men they were with. Perhaps it didn’t start out as a noble cause, but because the women in poker believed in themselves and had enough foresight to see that the sport of poker transcended gender, the WSOP Ladies’ Event became something of its own.

The WSOP Ladies’ Event has since become a WSOP tradition as (1) a “female-only” No-Limit Hold’em championship and, quite frankly, (2) a proposition opportunity for the men that back them. But before all the ladies get their panties in a bunch over the term “proposition,” allow me to clarify: I mean prop-bets. For a male professional poker player, putting his wife, girlfriend, and/or courtesan into the WSOP Ladies Event could translate into a rewarding investment. Not only will it increase his chances of getting good action at home, but also many men enter into side-bets as to whose “filly” will last the longest. That’s right ladies, it may be a women’s poker tournament, but it is still a classic sword fight behind the scenes. I know first hand what it is like to have a boyfriend stake me in the WSOP Ladies Events and I can tell you that the build up begins at the felt, months before the WSOP schedule is ever even announced.

As the fields have gotten deeper and more women are paying their own way, the history behind the women’s event has gotten lost in the shuffle. Equal rights, discrimination, favoritism … whatever. The WSOP Ladies’ Event has and always will be a major part of the World Series of Poker experience for both men and women, and in the grand scheme of worldwide traditions, I would be hard pressed to participate in any discussion that women getting together every year to play a poker tournament is a tradition that needs to be hotly debated.

The recent controversy brought on by men registering for the WSOP Ladies’ Event is more the result of people saying that men can’t participate than it is some political statement for equal rights. Raise your hand if you loose sleep at night over this issue.

Setting aside the already spoken political correctness and affirmative action arguments, some WSOP Ladies Event supporters and “douchebag” critics (certain WSOP officials included) miss the point that they might be making matters worse by being aggressive proponents of exclusion and attempting to shame those who cross gender lines. Let’s face it, it is human nature to revolt against restriction. By way of its title, the WSOP Ladies’ event will always be a ladies-preferred tournament and it is unlikely that an increased number of male entries (be it in protest or not) will force the hand of Caesars Entertainment to remove the tradition from the WSOP schedule.

While I can’t specifically explain why men enter ladies events, I can imagine any number of reasons why they would participate. Perhaps the poor sap lost a prop-bet and was forced to wear a dress and a padded bra, perhaps he thinks $1K is good R.O.I. for a chance to stare down at some of the best cleavage in the industry, or maybe he has had a hard time getting dates at the hooker bar and sees the event as an opportunity for fresh flesh, “Nice hand, errr … can I get your room phone number?” Whatever the reason, if a man wants to surround himself with a bunch of poker playing ladies, then let him do so. It doesn’t necessarily make him a d-bag and it certainly should never give rise to such angry jeers and harassment … because that’s what it is.

I don’t really know how the cheering when a man was knocked out during during Day 1 of the WSOP Ladies’ Event turned into angry jeering every time Jonathan Epstein pulled in a pot on Day 2, but it was down-right disturbing. From my vantage point atop Media Row, I watched incredulous as spectators lined the ropes of the Amazon Blue section, at times five to six men deep – whistling, hooting and hollering whenever Epstein lost a pot, and booing, hissing and chanting whenever he drug in so much as a single chip. For a short moment, last year’s WSOP Champion Jonathan Duhamel lead the anti-rail. When an Epstein supporter made eye-contact with a Floorperson and gestured for a bit of control, the Epstein-friendly found himself ejected from the Amazon room while the anti-rail ordered another round of Long Island Iced-teas.

Hey! Don’t get me wrong…as with any sport, spectators have the right obligation to vocalize support for their team and disdain for the opposition; but not to the point where it obliterates the spirit of the game. There is a clear a difference between yelling “Hey, batter – batter – what?” from 200 feet up in a grandstand and a drunken mob chanting “Douche – Douche – Douche” one foot away from seat 3 and a very pregnant Katrina Jett.

It’s far too early to say how the anti-rail will affect the rules of future WSOP events, but if there isn’t one already, the WSOP Ladies Event Day 2 anti-rail shenanigans may very well result in a Hevad Kahan type spectator rule for the 2012 WSOP. Well played! (Sarcasm, intended) Case in point? On Day 3, I watched a player at one of the WSOP Ladies’ Event near-final tables get a an immediate warning for showboating after a knockout, yet it took several levels and complaints from players and media before anything was done a about the Day 2 near riotous behavior. While some may see the WSOP Ladies’ Event as a league of its own, it certainly is not one where the players and spectators should be allowed to play in with a different set of rules.

Again, I did not write this article on the heals of the WSOP Ladies Event to make some political statement. Truth be told, I’m delighted that female poker leagues like the Ladies International Poker Series (LiPS) and the High-Heals Poker Tour have united women poker players and promote solidarity. I’m thrilled that women get together and form life long friendships and/or create business alliances by attending poker tournaments organized by these poker leagues and leagues like them – even though I myself, am not a member and rarely (if ever) attend.

I believe in the tradition of the WSOP Ladies Event regardless of whether or not it is politically correct. I will return every year to play it, but I will never support hatred, harassment or bullying for any reason – especially on the grounds of gender, race, age , disability or sexual orientation. What the Ladies Event doesn’t need is more tough guys.

2 Comments to “There’s No Crying in Poker!”

  1. LuckyDog Russ

    Probably the best-written piece I’ve ever read on this topic, even though I firmly believe it’s in the best interest of poker — especially in the growth of poker — for the WSOP (and everyone else) to do everything possible to attract more women into the game, not bully them away. Nice work! 

  2. Scott Diamond

    Hopefully this article gets in a BIG poker magazine!!