There is no doubt that poker is a male dominated game and industry. All one has to do is to look on any poker table they are playing on to see how they far outnumber female players. But beyond that the industry itself in terms of room managers, tournament directors and the like it is immediately evident that women do not play a significant role in the game. One area in which this issue has come under scrutiny as of late is that of celebrity ambassadors for the game hired and sponsored by various online sights. Not only does the number of male sponsored players far outnumber their female counterparts, but it seems obvious that these sites are predominantly going after a male audience and clientele. This has upset a great number of female players as of late and the issue begs the question that we shall explore in this article. Just who's responsibility is it to grow the female player base and their presence in the poker industry?
When I first started to play poker back in 2003 there were a handful of female poker players that were prominent in the game, both due to their play and also for their roles in the industry. Players such as Kathy Liebert and Barbara Enright were respected veterans in the game and other such as Annie Duke, Jennifer Harmon and Clonie Gowan were also public figures due to their roles and stakes in Full Tilt and Absolute Poker respectively. But as the game grew during the poker boom a new generation of players would be ushered in as well such as Vanessa Rousso, Liv Boree, Mario Ho and Annette Obrestad. The accomplishments of these players cannot be denied as all one has to do is to look up their tournament finishes on the Hendon Mob page and as the game grew during the height of the boom, so did the profiles of such female players. While they still did not come close to matching the number of male players in the game, prominent female players were fixtures on television broadcasts such as the Big Game and Poker After Dark.
But poker would not remain as popular as it once was and with the waning of the poker boom, the popularity of many of the aforementioned female players decreased as well. Some of this had to do with certain players naturally leaving the game and moving onto other ventures. But the effect of the boom's decline saw a parallel in the male players as well. As the direction of the game moved more towards online play, figures of the old school simply could not keep up and were not producing the same results of years past. This was the case with female players as well but as with their male counterparts, a new generation of grinders would step into the forefront to replace the old guard. But with this change I have noticed a trend that I did not see before in the early and middle years of the boom. While I will not list them all here, of the female ambassadors that represent various sites at the moment it seems as if they all fit a type, namely that they all seem to be of a certain age range and look. I am of course speaking in generalities as matters such as attractiveness are subjective, but it is difficult not to notice when advertising and marketing trends follow that of other brands and industries. Females are often used in such endeavors along the lines of the old adage that "sex sells" and I think this can also apply to the poker industry as of late.
The photo above represents the first couple of lines of results when I google "female ambassadors in poker." I do not think it is out of line to observe and notice that all of the photos tend to follow a certain trend or set of characteristics. Now it could be that all of the current top female players happen to be of such traits, but I am probably far too cynical to reach that conclusion. All of this begs the question just who these companies are trying to attract. While the flaunting of these players for the public may have the residual effect of attracting other female players, I think the intent is clear that they are trying to gain mainly a male audience. Such a mindset can be seen in the recent decision by the GG Network to hire Dan Bilzerian as one of their ambassadors, a player of questionable poker credentials but one who has a huge social media following among males due to his depiction of the poker lifestyle filled with beautiful and half naked women in most of his posts. This of course upset a great number of female players but so far GG has stayed the course and has not reversed themselves but have rather defended their hire in most instances. While some may question the ethical nature of hiring Bilzerian, I think it is clear that such was a "business" decision. I think it unlikely that GG was unaware that this would upset most, if not all, of the female player base. But they obviously did not think that they stood to lose more than what they would gain with the addition of Bilzerian to their lineup of ambassadors.
Does this then speak to the notion that the influence and presence of female players has decreased in the game of poker? I think it does in that there has been a great dilution of known talent in the game over the years as we have moved past the peak of the boom and the game has shifted more online. In the beginning years of the popularity of the game there were players that even almost every casual player could recognize; Helmuth, Ivey, Negreanu and the like. This effect bore the same results for female players as well in the names I listed above. But many of these figures have long since gone, along with the female players, and what remains is a sea of unrecognizable names. As poker is broadcast less on television and reaches less eyes, both male and female, such has had a detrimental affect on the growth of the female playing base and with other recent events such as covid the situation has only grown worse. This problem is only exacerbated by the fact of where poker is still growing as a game around the world. For example I live in a third world Asian country in which the game of poker is still growing in popularity. But the game and industry is almost completely dominated by males and females from staff to players themselves are often still referred to by derogatory terms such as "honey."
Given all this what relief, if any, are female players to find in an environment that is growing increasingly hostile. Some may think that things will take their natural course and if the presence of women continue to drop then so be it. And while that may very well happen, I personally feel that would be a shame. We are currently existing in a game that is in dire need of new players and fresh blood and a boom among the female playing population would greatly help. There was great interest in the World Series of Poker Main Event in 2012 when both Gaelle Baumann and Elisabeth Hille finished 10th and 11th respectively. Any new infusion of players would greatly help the game grow at this moment and an injection of female players would accomplish such just the same. Does the future of this game hinge on a female player winning the main event? It most likely does not but I can certainly see it helping as such an event would result in increased media coverage that the game desperately needs. But their run was nearly a decade ago and as I mentioned less female eyes are on the game than ever before.
It seems both illogical and unproductive that female players would find fault with a game is completely male dominated, than turn to that very industry for help and relief. In the end it would seem that female players would need to depend on themselves to raise their own profile both in the game and industry of poker. But such presents a difficult situation and decision for women in general as it pertains to the gender as a whole and not just poker. Male players are created naturally from nearly every walk of life as there is no concerted effort on the part of our gender to reach out to young men and "make" new players. But this is exactly what women would have to do to encourage the young people of their gender to enter the field as both players and industry professionals from a young age. As poker is a difficult game in both aspects of playing and management, this would mean tapping the best and brightest of their gender to enter such roles. But do females in general really want to recruit those who might otherwise become doctors, lawyers, politicians or even better to instead become poker players? But then again rarely are answers in these types of situations gained by concerted efforts and coordinated strategies. Instead they are the result of cosmic accidents in which all the stars align in the perfect way in order for something great to occur. After all, the poker boom was not created or manufactured but rather happened because a man with the perfect name won the main event on a $40 satellite.
I previously wrote of how poker is growing here in Cambodia and how women are often treated here. I would be a complete hypocrite if I did not mention at this point that I often partake in such activities and behavior. I often refer to females in this country, both on and off the felt, by such terms and use the notion of female sexuality in the marketing of my own online poker agency. Once again the latter is a "business" decision and is employed due to the fact that it has proven to work in attracting the group that most dominate this game, namely male players. I do often worry about offending female players and perhaps losing out on that opportunity, but obviously I have concluded that I have more to gain than lose by employing such tactics. In the end this game is completely driven by money and profit and it is the humble opinion of this writer that women would gain more by approaching this issue in a similar manner instead of couching it in moralistic terms. In the end they must basically force the industry's hand by making their cause more profitable and appealing to them financially instead of grounds that are based on what is right and ethical.
Rounders is an iconic film for all poker players and besides the ending scene, perhaps the most memorable lines come from the opening monologue of the main character. As the movie opens Mike McDermott, masterfully played by Matt Damon, gives us a brief introduction into the world of underground poker clubs in New York. In it he calls no limit holdem the Cadillac of poker and that the swings are so wild that even the pros can't handle it. He goes on to quote Doyle Brunson who called it the only pure game left. This was of course set in a world before the poker boom, when poker was just starting to become popular with the masses. One could catch broadcasts of the World Series of Poker on television but there were not any hole card cams as of yet and the prize at the main event was still $1 million. Nothing to scoff at of course but the number pales in comparison to what the purse would become over the years after Chris Moneymaker's historic win in 2003. I was a no limit holdem player for 15 years and I cannot help but to think of this scene nearly every single time I log in to play poker online. And the reason for this is not because I still play holdem and the words are echoed in the sessions that I play, but rather for the exact opposite reason. I have not played holdem in 2+ years, having chosen PLO6 as my main game. And as I play what I consider to be the craziest game in poker, I cannot help but think that the nature of holdem has changed forever and that 6-card is now the true Cadillac of poker
I remember playing a session about a year ago in a $0.30-$0.60 PLO6 game in which I had 4 tables open and played for about 8 hours. I would go on to lose $1,500 that day, an astonishing feat I thought at the time. I am not sure what I was thinking right after the session as both my mind at the time and my memory are very hazy. But what I do remember is that I did not want to give up and figured that if I was already down this much, I did not have much more to lose and should just keep going. So I went downstairs on the very next day to the pub that resided beneath my apartment building and did the exact same as the previous day; opened up 4 tables of $0.30-$0.60 PLO6 and grinded for 8 hours. I went on to win $1,800 that day netting a profit over 2 days of +$300. It was not a bad result over 2 days considering the stakes I was playing. The decision to keep playing after my horrendous day was perhaps one of the best in my life and maybe I would not be where I am today had I thought otherwise. I remember something an omaha player told me several years earlier, namely that I would never make a good player in this game because I had no "gamble." While he did not intend to use that word literally as poker is a game of math and probabilities, his point nonetheless resonated with me many years later. There is no great reward without great risk in poker and nothing exemplifies that more than omaha games. Whenever holdem players tell me stories of bad beats, down swings and how bad they have been running I always tell them this story.
The swings are so wild in PLO6 that even omaha pros cannot handle it, let alone holdem grinders. The day that I described is an extreme example of course and that does not occur every day. But the types of players that make up the ecology of this particular game allow for such crazy action. On most nights every table I am sitting on will have at least 2 players with a VP$IP of 60% or higher. One simply cannot find this sort of action in a holdem game. And the reason these types of players love to sit in these games is precisely what we just spoke of, namely gamble. Those who lose and can afford to do so love to gamble and they are going to play in a game that affords them that opportunity. All such notions have now left holdem as players hardly ever get it in without a iron clad lockdown on the hand. I always say jokingly, although it is not too far from the truth, that in holdem every big pot is a cooler. No one is getting it in unless it's flush over flush, aces vs kings or full house beaten by a higher full house. Conversely in omaha players are forced to get their money in when often times the outcome is still very much uncertain. Flopped top set of aces? Well that hardly matters to the guy holding a full wrap with a flush draw and a backdoor in his hand that crushes yours. So gamblers are not entirely wrong to prefer this game as the equities run so much closer that they feel like that they have a fighting chance. Of course they will still lose in the long term, but they will stick around much longer to find that out than they would in a holdem game. Players cannot continue to expect losing players to join them in a game where they stand virtually no chance of winning. At some point we do have to meet them half way and give up some equity in order to enjoy their continuing presence on the felt.
As an agent of online poker apps, I am not trying to completely dump on the game of no limit holdem. I still have several clubs with good games that I can recommend to players with a clear conscious. But I will admit that is getting harder to do and I can see a day when it might be near impossible to find great games in holdem as we have been accustomed to up to this point. And it is becoming apparent that players are noticing this trend as well as I have observed a migration of sorts in this past year. More grinders are having a tougher time maintaining their win rates in holdem and are seeking out greener pastures in omaha games. Even recreational players are curious as they seek out games that are more entertaining than their current holdem tables. Among those in my agency, omaha players have always received the most rakeback. But for the first time ever clubs as a whole that focus more on omaha games are generating more rake than holdem clubs. And while some may think that regulars seeking out this game may cause them to get worse, there is a learning curve involved as converts from holdem rarely jump right in and start crushing. And as mentioned previously, more and more recreational players are seeking this game out as well.
There are signs of this shift in the media as well in this time of the corona pandemic. As more of us stay inside the consumption of poker media has shifted towards online platforms and one of the more popular events this past year was the Galfond challenge in which the Blue Fire founder took on all comers in this PLO challenge. I anticipate that more streamers on platforms such as Twitch will become increasingly popular this year and that we will begin to see even those that stream omaha sessions. I have personally attempted to grow a Twitch channel in this past year during which I play PLO6. While the stream has been inconsistent due to my commitments to family and the online agency, watching any particular episode bares out the fact that it does not take long for action to take place in these games. It has been entertaining for me to do and hopefully for others to watch, and I would encourage other players of such games to join in a similar effort as I am willing to believe that viewers might enjoy watching players lose or win 3,000 big blinds!
Although I personally play PLO6, what I am writing about can really apply to any omaha game or any game that is not holdem. Players should want to be wherever fish are and if a losing player wants to punt in a game that others are not familiar with then they should learn fast. Don't forget that even Mike in the aforementioned movie Rounders played Seven Card Stud. I once sat in a holdem game in which the fish on the table all wanted to play omaha. But most of the holdem players refused and basically chased all the fish away after 15 minutes as they were bored out of their minds. Theoretically it is true that these holdem players would have a bigger edge over these fish had the game remained the same. But such an edge is meaningless if the players all leave and there is no one to play against. In this particular room that I was playing in, there was a both a $2-$5 omaha game and a smaller holdem game. And whereas there was very little action in the holdem game and everyone was very quiet, the omaha game would be filled daily with players who were screaming at the top of their lungs as thousands of dollars passed from one player to the next every few minutes. It boggled my mind at the time that the players on the holdem game never thought to themselves that this is a game they should pick up. If they cannot have the biggest edge possible, they rather have no edge at all. I certainly hope that such thinking does not spread, especially to those who are reading this article.
Life in the Third World
Just a collection of random and not so random thoughts from my daily life here in Cambodia.