My stomach was too knotted up to eat. I was suddenly hyper aware of how shallow my breathing was. How am I supposed to count these real life chip stacks? The dealer’s eyes were begging me to make a decision, ma’am. The Frappuccino made my hands shake even more. After folding, the lady to my left tossed me some of her chips. Puzzled, I took them and said “Thanks!”. She giggled. “I just gave you change for one of your big chips. Those aren’t free!” Still slightly confused, I watched her reach for one of my big chips. I finally understood that exchange a little later.
This was my first live poker experience in a casino. A $230 Ladies Event at the MGM Grand poker room in Las Vegas. Besides the adrenaline coursing through me, that lady making change for me is the only thing I remember. I was grateful for her help. The rest is a blurry mess of nerves. Before entering that event, I debated for a week about whether or not I was ready. I had only played poker for a few months and all of my experience was online. I finally decided that making mistakes in a Ladies Event would be much less intimidating than an open event. Who knows if that’s true? But that was my perception. It’s not that I was intimidated by men; I just thought a ladies’ event would have more beginners like me. That tournament was my gateway into being confident enough to play with anyone.
To me, the reason why ladies’ events exist is simple enough: to help more women feel comfortable giving poker a try. Are they the end all be all solution to attracting new female players though? Some women feel more comfortable around men and just need guidance about how to play live. I think any event that encourages beginners to give poker a try helps the industry thrive. If male poker beginners could play a rookies-only event as their first casino poker experience, I think many would choose to do so. (I don’t mean it as an insult when comparing ladies events to rookies-only events. While they aren’t strictly for rookies, they naturally filter for players who have much less experience. You’d be hard pressed to name 800 female poker pros- the amount of women the WSOP Ladies’ Event typically attracts. So it’s a safe bet that the majority of them are playing recreationally.) Personally, I think rookies-only events (based on limited Hendon Mob results) are the best solution for attracting newcomers of any gender to poker. I would have jumped at the opportunity to play in an event catering specifically to newbies when I was first making the leap to live poker. I imagine the dealers and floor staff would approach players more sympathetically, with an openness to help teach the intricacies of live poker rules. Players wouldn’t feel embarrassed about asking ‘basic’ questions. They could play against people at a similar skill level while they get the hang of it. There are plenty of benefits with no downside.
Twelve years after that first MGM tournament, I still enter ladies’ events with excitement at meeting new female players who have worked up the courage to play a live poker tournament. For me, it was the perfect entry point into the game. As a professional now, I thoroughly enjoy the camaraderie surrounding the ladies event. Perhaps, as an industry, though, we should stop waiting for more ladies events to be what attracts women to poker. It’s time to focus on what would bring any beginner to the table -with all of their nervousness and adrenaline- and see if women naturally enjoy being part of that too.