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 worldseriesofpoker.com.

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.]


DJH

This makes me wonder about why are they even having separate-gender events?

If it's because there are significantly fewer women involved in poker and they want to increase appeal to women, then the reason for the segregated events may be to bring in female participants, since their events will involve a smaller pool of participants, and thus offer a larger chance of winning to each woman in it.

But a follow-up question remains: If they go to the trouble of having segregated events, why would they bother, if they cannot (or will not) actually enforce the separation? Seems kind of stupid and wasteful to have and market a "women's event," if men are free to participate.

David

I assume Hoa is playing because he believes the women are easy money.
Leaving aside the reasons for this. It should be relatively trivial to find out if he is right. In the regular main event, what percentage of players are women and what percentage at the final table are.
A ratio over 1 (barring other factors) means he is facing softer competition for the final table than at the main event, assuming statistical signicance.

GreatEscape

@24 Testosterone does matter in poker - it makes people more aggressive, and aggression is very important in no-limit hold'em. More and larger raises = more bluffs and pot steals etc. Women however are supposedly more intuitive and better at reading people. So mixed gender poker, to oversimplify, might boil down to aggressive men trying to bully people vs. women trapping them easily by reading when they are bluffing. It's unclear whether trapping statistically wins and men don't want to be embarrassed by losing to women, or whether aggression usually wins so women need their own tournament in order to have a real chance at winning. Maybe if somebody ran a mixed-gender tourney and insisted on 50% women at signup, we'd have a pretty good social experiment after a couple of decades.

Darshanand

My vote is in for A. Poker isn't a game where men have any kind of advantage over women. Big muscles and testosterone don't do much in a card game.

JAK

What surprises me is that most people are assuming that Hoa joined the Women's tournament assuming it will be easier to win. While it may be true, it could also be false.

Ultimately, I would assume we should all accept that everyone should be free to choose what they do. So it should not be embarrassing for men to win women's tournament or vice-versa.

oddTodd

It is unfortunate, Dr. Levitt, that you insinuate that women are worse poker players than men, and that Mr. Nguyen has anything to be ashamed of if he fairly defeats over 1,000 experienced poker players in this tournament that is open to all. I am disappointed in you.

Alex

Winning tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars by understanding the rules and the law better than other people do is nothing to be embarrassed about.

Breaking down condescending and exclusionary protections for a groups of people that are not based upon relevant differences between groups is nothing to be embarrassed about.

Hoping to treat women as though they are feeble minded compared to win, and being unable to do so because it is illegal, and then getting a lot of publicity for it? That is embarrassing.

Jennifer

Why is winning a "ladies event" embarrassing? I can't even believe this is a legitimate conversation. Why do they hold a "ladies event" anyway? Why not just have two (or more) levels of competition and any gender can participate?

Throughout the recent Democratic primary, many people (men and women alike, but more often men) claimed that sexism doesn't exist. The comments on this post, not to mention the post itself, prove otherwise.

Bellingman

Pool/billiards/snooker are games where women theoretically should also have an equal chance of success competing with men, but in practice they do not.

Chess is perhaps the perfect test of this, because there is no physical component whatsoever--it is entirely mental. Yet even in chess, men have a clear advantage overall.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that men's brains must have an evolved advantage for games such as these.

Neil

Neither.

B is only embarassing based on the premise that women are weaker poker players. As others have said, there is no reason to believe this. Also, who's going to be embarassed coming home with a quarter million.

A, I would think, is embarassing in the sense of the sheer existance of a 'ladies event.' But having a man win it...maybe that's just progress.

Carl

More embarrassing is (c) the World Series of Poker running a ladies' tournament.

Yes, the goal is to attract more women to play and to watch the game. But if the organizers want to tell women that they can compete at the highest level, a segregated competition sends the opposite message. Far better to just point the camera at successful women playing alongside men in the other games.

Dan V

He's a genius. The overlay on that tournament for any good player is ridiculous.

-d

Andy

I don't see a problem with the way it's structured now. The "women's" tournament obviously encourages mostly women, which might be good for encouraging them to play poker, but it also allows anyone, which means it is fair.

Paluka

This isn't about a difference in skills. This is about the fact that when they started running this event years ago, there were very few women players. It is both a promotion to try to bring new women into the game, and I believe the women in the poker community enjoy having a time where they can play poker all day and not be only female at a table for 8 hours at a time. This has nothign to do with skill. Casinos are in the business of entertaining people, and year after year the women have shown it is fun for them to have a day to play against just other women.

I think it is embarassing for a man to win the Women's Event because it is simply rude to play in my opinion.

GeneralDisarray

I've got a better reason for a man to enter the ladies tournament: The buy-in for the Ladies tournament is $1000 - the smallest at the WSOP.

I'd love to play in the greatest poker tournament in the world one day. Unfortunately $1500 for the NL Hold Em games is a lot, but $1000 is much more reasonable.

Maybe I should swallow some pride, save $500, and join Hoa next year.

dd

Would you similarly imply to your readers that it would be embarrassing for a woman to win a men's tournament?

You might imply that it would be embarrassing to the men in that case. Odd the way that works. How embarrassing for men to have to participate with women.

Brock

The women's tournament was created to get more women to play poker since poker was and is heavily male dominated. Theory was that it is less intimidating for women to play if they werent surrounded by guys for a whole tournament. If you've ever met most the guys at a poker tournament, you can probably see the appeal of an all woman tournament for women, especially those who don't have much experience playing in tournaments. If you get more women playing, then more people are playing in the world series, then the casino makes more money.

Barb

If they are going to have different competitions for the different genders WHY then do they allow Men into the ladies competition? Do they allow Women into the Men's? Just curious...

That being said.... B. He can't win against men, so thought his odds might be better against women? huh? Ridiculous to even start with.

gabber

For sure B, a man entering and winning a ladies anything is just ridiculous.

william Rolston

Maybe they should have weight classes next.