The general consensus I got from the people I talked to was that many women simply feel intimidated by these big live events. It's more than just an intimidation caused by playing against a field dominated by men, although this feeling is certainly common among the woman players, it's an intimidation that stems primarily from the big buy-ins and massive fields that have become so common at the WSOP in the last few years.
An event like this, with a buy-in of only $1,000, gives many women who would not otherwise enter a World Series tournament a chance to get a taste of what it's like. Add to that the fact it's an event exclusive to women, and it becomes irresistible. With an atmosphere akin to a girl's night out or an established women's home game, there's definitely a feeling of camaraderie here that's not present in any of the other events.
Kathy Liebert, one of poker's leading ladies, agreed that this event is much more inviting and draws in players who probably wouldn't play in the bigger WSOP tournaments. Kathy feels optimistic about the future of women in poker saying that the field here today is filled with many strong players. This is high praise indeed coming from a woman who holds her own against any man in the game.
I also had a chance to speak to Jennifer Tilly, and who better to get the low-down from than the person who won the bracelet in this event at last year's World Series? Jennifer and I spoke in between hands and she told me how she feels about women in poker and the way this event is unfolding.
Tilly also agrees that the Ladies event is a great way for more women to become comfortable playing in larger live tournaments. She related the fact that she was seeing her boyfriend Phil Laak for more than five months before she got up the courage to play live tourneys.
She said she's seen many of the competitors from last year playing bigger events this year, and with the field having more than doubled, it paints an encouraging picture for the role women will play in years to come.
On the subject of the differences between men and women in terms of their playing styles, Tilly asserted that men are generally more aggressive and women are more intuitive. This may be true but it didn't stop her from turning around from our conversation, and after taking a quick look at her hole cards, nonchalantly pushing her considerable chip stack all-in. Aggression worked for her on this occasion, with the table folding around to her raise, but I still wouldn't doubt the power of a women's intuition.
Even with the role this event plays as a stepping stone for women to gain access to the WSOP aside, the bottom line is that poker is a game that doesn't discriminate. Age, gender and race have little bearing on how well a player performs, and in this world that's a hard thing to come by. I predict that although the field will always be weighted to the side of the men, we'll see a dramatic increase in the numbers of women playing and winning the WSOP tournaments of the future.