The “Ladies” Event at the World Series of Poker

Many people know about the World Series of Poker from the television coverage on ESPN. Mostly they just show the “Main Event” on TV.

Ladies PokerHoa Nguyen from

The main event has a $10,000 buy-in and lasts for two weeks. Leading up to the main event, there are dozens of other tournaments, some of which are going on right now.

Last year my wife Jeannette played in the ladies event at the World Series of Poker. As I wandered around the poker room, I noticed a few of the contestants sported very un-ladylike goatees. On closer inspection, they were definitely men.

I asked around, and it turns out that the casino technically cannot exclude men from participating in the ladies event if they want to. Every year a few men enter.

Unless there is a case of mistaken identity, it looks like a man is threatening to win the ladies event at this year’s World Series of Poker. After one day of play, the starting field of over 1,000 has been whittled down to just 61 remaining players. Here are the chip leaders so far:

Shavonne Mitchell, 94,000
Alice Talbot, 92,700
Roslyn Quarto, 86,100
Olga Varkonyi, 83,800
Christine Priday, 82,900
Lisa Ahumada, 74,100
Hoa Nguyen, 71,800

When I click on Hoa Nguyen’s link, he doesn’t look much like a lady.

If you want to follow Hoa’s progress, live updates of chip counts are available online.

So here is my question. Which is more embarrassing, (a) the World Series of Poker running a ladies tournament and having a man win it, or (b) actually being the man who wins the event?

[Addendum: Reliable sources have confirmed that the Hoa Nguyen playing in the ladies event is a woman, so it is indeed a case of mistaken identity. I don’t think you can say the same for this lady, or our friends Rafe Furst and Phil Gordon.]

Shirley Williams

For all you complaining about the ladies event being the only even for $1,000 entry, that is not true. The seniors tournament is the same buy in. If men are allowed to play in the ladies events why aren't people under allowed to play in the seniors?


"So here is my question. Which is more embarrassing, (a) the World Series of Poker running a ladies tournament and having a man win it, or (b) actually being the man who wins the event..." or c) being the economist who implies that a woman is a man?


I know nothing about poker, so I'm sure this bleg will be answered quickly:
Are there women playing in the "men's" (10k buy-in) event? I would assume if a woman was really good; she'd want to play for the bigger stakes.




Ah crap, here comes a crappy movie with Rob Schneider playing a broke dolt who finds a loophole in the WSOP ladies tournament rules and enters hoping to win enough money to save his home from being foreclosed by the evil bank. Zaniness ensues!


I'm probably inviting a whole firestorm of comments with this, but is it absolutely true that there is NO difference in male vs. female abilities at poker? There is, arguably, a difference at how the genders do at pure mathematical/analytical problems. Now this might be purely a nurture thing (i.e. girls historically subject to subtle societal pressures telling them that math is for boys), but some studies have hinted that there's a nature element to it, too. Larry Summers got in a lot of trouble when he was Harvard president for discussing this but doesn't mean he is wrong. I'm not saying he was right either, only that the jury is still out.

Of course, poker is not purely about math. It also requires highly tuned emotional intelligence, being able to bluff and being able to find tells in your opponents. And that, arguably, is something women excel at even more than men do. I don't think anyone could attribute that solely to nature or solely to nurture, either.

In some ways, this is all moot. A women's championship makes sense purely because of the history of the sport: poker was historically a men's game so as of right now there are way more male players than female, so of course the competition is harder. To use an analogy from the opposite gender: men should theoretically be able to do synchronized swimming just as well as women do, but I can guarantee you the competition is a lot stiffer in women's synchronized swimming championships just because there are so few (any?) male synchronized swimmers out there. If synchronized swimming were to suddenly explode in popularity, as poker has, in 20 -30 years the sexes would be equal ... but we're not there yet in either activity.


Carl Bunch

True story:

In 1997 I attempted to try out for the WNBA. I'm a male, 6-1, 185, and a good basketball player. I would dominate in the WNBA. The WNBA minimum was about $40k/yr, which was good money to me. At the time the only requirements to tryout were minimum age, no college eligibility left, and something about foreign players, NOTHING ABOUT BEING A WOMAN (they've sinced require that you be a woman, thanks to me).

The tryouts were invitation only, you had to send in a resume and videotape. I sent mine in and got a call from their player personnel director asking if this was a joke. I replied that I was serious and was more than good enough to play in the WNBA. She said there was no way I would play in the WNBA and I said that she discriminating against me based on my gender and she said the WNBA lawyer would contact me. Their lawyer contacts me and cites some law that says they can discriminate against me. I look up the law, it doesn't really seem like it applies to the situation, but I never found a lawyer to take the case on contingency, so I dropped it.

Still have the rejection letter on WNBA stationary.



Women need not be poorer poker players than men for a given player (male or female) to see an advantage in the LWSOP over the WSOP. I believe a simple reduction in the number of tournament participants would suffice to increase a players odds.

And ladies do enter the main tournament and find success. See Annie Duke.



(b) actually being the man who wins the event?


Dr. Pauly

Maybe there should be an open event for trannies and other confused folks.


Let's face it,
POker is 95% luck and 5% skill.
For me, When I win, it's SKILL!
When I lose, it's its bad luck!
Like the song "The Gambler" says "the best you can hope for is to die in your sleep".

What do these gamblers do when they lose all their money?
Do they pay taxes?


I think the embarrassing thing is having a Ladies event in the first place. There's no inherent disadvantage to women in poker like they're would be in a physical sport, so having a special ladies event is just sexist, IMO. Same with the rank of 'Woman's Grandmaster' in Chess - completely unnecessary in this day and age.

C'mon, NYT, we know you're just a blog, but it wouldn't take much digging to realize that there can be both men and women named Hoa ... and there were so many other related storylines on this exact issue already out there. We're telling Bill O'Reilly!


I would go with B, but not because the women's division is less competitive. I'm just picturing the conversation:

"Nice trophy! Your wife must be really good."
"It's mine."
"But it says 'ladies division'.."
"I know."
"Hoa, is there something you're not telling me?"


The Hoa Nguyen above isn't the same one who is playing in the Ladies Event. The Hoa playing is a female. They just linked to the wrong player profile.

However, the dude/girl/trannie/something seen here - - played in the Ladies event.


I will just point this out with no commentary at all. Among my group of friends the guys have poker night, the women have Bunko night. Bunko a game played for money but its completely by chance- there is no strategy at all. Several of the women have expressed interest in playing poker for money but Bunko remains the choice of the women.


A. B isn't embarrassing, you just won a million dollars or so.

Actually what's embarrassing is being sexist enough to have a "ladies world series of poker", not even looking at who's winning it. It's not like women can't play in the regular "world series of poker".


this post doesn't exhaust the possibilities- the contestant could be a 'tranny' (tranny tourney would sound the coolest), in which case there is less embarassment here than in the men's (with the sexist presumption that men would poke fun more than women), so B is inappropriate- the contestant could also be a cross-dresser (chin is too low to verify), and B doesn't hold as above- or, contestant could have had a gender change surgery, in which case he is still legally female and the post is null and void- and I think Bellingham has framed his point incorrectly- women clearly have an advantage at some physical feats (eg cold water swimming, deep sea diving)- so your point about chess is misguided- why not argue that men are better at generic competition- then you can make the pseudo-evolutionary point that men have an advantage due to higher testosterone levels


Ah, gender discrimination against men. One of the few biases that's still completely, unblinkingly accepted in American society. The presence of a "ladies game" insults both genders if you ask me. If anything, given the research I've seen about women's comparatively better abilities to read social cues, one would think men should be given their own game to avoid their natural disadvantage.


A is more embarrassing.
Maybe they should have a men's tournament and a women's tournament (each run exactly the same, same buy-in, rules, etc) separate from the main event. That would encourage both women interested in playing poker who would be intimidated by men and men who would be intimidated by women, and then the main event for those who just want to compete against the best.