Undercover ‘Black Widow’ Plays Both Sides of Poker Table: CardsChat Interview

5 min read

According to “Black Widow Poker” author “Sia Layta,” this is a man’s world. At least, when it comes to poker, anyway.

Black Widow Poker
Who has a greater edge at the tables? That’s what “Black Widow Poker” author “Sia Layta” was determined to find out. (Image: Mohr Publicity)

The #MeToo movement may purport to have fueled some major change when it comes to global gender equality, but it’s business as usual in the world of poker.

“Gender bias is an unfortunate reality women deal with in poker every single day,” laments the author, a mystery professional who goes by the somewhat improbable pseudonym of Sia Layta. “The ways that gender bias manifest at the table could literally fill a book, and that’s why I’ve written one about the experience.”

Fooling Friends and Foes

Layta holds tight to her secrecy, revealing nothing about her real identity other than that she is an experienced, Las Vegas-based poker professional. Why the big mystery? Because she’s spent most of the last year deep in a covert operation, playing poker disguised as a man. Her motivation for the ruse was simple: she wanted to find out once and for all whether there was any truth to a sneaking suspicion she’d had for years.

“I believed that I should be winning more tournaments. I was playing good poker, but for some reason I was not able to make the plays I knew were optimal, successfully, as a woman. I wanted to find out what it would be like to play the same type of poker as a man. Would I be able to protect my pocket aces now?”

So began Layta’s secret mission to see if life as a male poker player really was any different. It started at Cinema Secrets in Los Angeles, where a professional makeup artist outfitted her with a bearded disguise to camouflage her feminine features. From there, it was a 30-minute daily routine to make her look like a “mountain man” in order to compete in dozens of poker tournaments from her new, male-centric perspective.

Her guise was good enough that she claims friends and familiar players had no idea who they were sitting across from. The book details her comical encounters and experiences, as she learns what life is like from a macho perspective.

Shaking Up the Moneymaker

While she says it was a daily pain to don the disguise — not to mention a burden physically at the table — it didn’t take her long to find out that her suspicions about male vs. female play were warranted.

“My raises are respected as a man. There is no time spent flirting or peacocking at me. I’ve also learned that I will cash in a much larger percentage of tournaments as a man than as a woman. I cash three times more often playing as a man. Having seen the poker world through the eyes of a man and through the eyes of a woman, there is no doubt that I would rather play as a man. It is just simply more profitable.”

She plans on putting her theory to a more stringent test at the World Series of Poker this summer. Her identity will remain shrouded for now, but the hope is that a big run will provide the perfect opportunity to finally come out to the poker world.

“In my dreams, it would end with my winning a bracelet, and pulling off my beard publicly (in front of a huge stack of cash) to reveal I’m really a woman.”

Gender Benders

“Black Widow Poker” isn’t just about Layta’s experiences playing as a man, however. It also offers advice on how women can exploit gender bias at the poker table with specific moves and strategies. But the book is for guys, too, and there are lessons to be learned on both sides.

“I hope men take a look at how they’re responding to women at the poker table. On some primal level, they don’t believe it’s safe to let a woman beat them. It’s as if losing to a woman would have life-altering ramifications and destroy their manhood. I’d like to see that change.”

Is that change ever coming, though? The author, at least, is optimistic that a day will come when a big raise coming from a woman means the same thing it does coming from a man.

“Gender bias is a problem in life, so it will be a problem in poker … until it is not. Eventually, the social perception of women will evolve. Once there is a social agreement that women are equal to men, then we’ll see a change in the way [men] respond to women at the poker table.”

Ultimately, all she really desires is the same thing that almost every other player wants to see these days: people having more fun at the poker table.

“The object of the game is to have fun. Seeing women and men have fun at the poker table together is a beautiful thing.”

It’s a lot to hope that poker — or the world at large — will change, but hope springs eternal. Meanwhile, don’t assume anything when you call that big, burly guy across the felt from you: it might not be a guy at all.

“Black Widow Poker” should be available at major online retailers after April 19th.

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