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Hall of Fame women talk poker
Until last year, no woman had ever been inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame. Barbara Enright became the first to break through the barrier in 2007, making her mark in several chapters of poker history.
In addition to being the first woman to final-table the WSOP main event, she was also the first woman to win two WSOP bracelets, the first woman to win three WSOP bracelets and the first woman to win an open-field WSOP event.
In 2000, she was named Best All-Around player for her performance during the Legends of Poker festival at the Bicycle Casino in Los Angeles, an accomplishment that she lists as the greatest of her career.
Despite her accomplishments within the game, Enright's Poker Hall of Fame induction itself had more parallels with history: she was overshadowed by her male fellow inductee, Phil Hellmuth, who had recently won his record-setting 11th WSOP bracelet.
Lupe Soto, founder of the LIPS Tour of women's poker tournaments, decided it was time to give pioneering women in poker like Enright the recognition they deserved. Almost one year later Soto's idea came to fruition as the Women in Poker Hall of Fame, which inducted its first class this past Saturday.
Along with Enright, three other women were inducted: Susie Isaacs, Linda Johnson and Marsha Waggoner. Ask any one of the ladies about their fellow inductees, and you'll get a version of the same response Enright gives.
"They're all recognized women in poker history. They deserve it."
The road to acceptance
In their lifetimes, the inaugural members of the WiPHOF have seen a change in how women are treated in and around the game. Waggoner says that when she began playing 32 years ago, women were seen "as kind of a joke in poker." Only when she started taking her male opponents' chips did she get their respect.
She says those problems have mostly disappeared in today's game and that women are now an accepted part of poker.
Isaacs came along later in the game, but things hadn't changed much. "I wouldn't go near those nasty poker rooms where the men looked at you like they could eat you alive," she says.
Since that day and age, female faces have become commonplace in poker rooms everywhere. And more than ever before, women are enjoying success at the highest levels of poker.
The four women, all of whom consider the others friends, were finally given the spotlight thanks to selection criteria that differ significantly from the Poker Hall of Fame. That list has four criteria for induction including playing at high stakes against top competition, gaining the respect of one's peers and standing the test of time - all holdovers from a time when poker wasn't the business it has grown to be.
"They didn't go into the management side of poker and look at accomplishments as far as achievements done for the industry," says Johnson, whose industry accomplishments include helping to develop the World Poker Tour, co-founding the Tournament Directors Association, serving on the board of the Poker Players Alliance and serving as a WPT Boot Camp instructor.
The WiPHOF criteria, by contrast, consider contributions to the world of poker from the industry side as well as at the table. Johnson says that looking at achievements in poker away from the felt will open up the door for more women to be recognized for their roles in the growth of the game.
According to Isaacs, the timing of such acknowledgments couldn't be any better.
"I personally don't have 50 years to wait for everything to catch up. If we're going to recognize (female) industry leaders, it needs to be now."
Supporting women in poker
The criterion for induction into the WiPHOF that differs most greatly from those of the Poker Hall of Fame is support for women's poker tournaments. While such tournaments have no shortage of critics, all four inductees see a place in poker for these events.
Enright, who serves as editor of Woman Poker Player magazine, says that women's tournaments have always been traditional at the WSOP. "Women are having fun, let them be," she says. "Live and let live, that's always been my theory."
For Isaacs, the former back-to-back winner of the WSOP ladies' event, support for women's tournaments runs even deeper. When she first began playing she had disposable income and poker was a social outlet.
After a divorce in 1990 she became a serious student of the game in order to improve enough to keep playing, and at that point women's tournaments gave her a comfortable environment in which to ply her new trade. She says that her eventual success made her want to give back to the game by helping other women learn to play.
"Women in tournaments is going to be nothing but good for the poker world," says Isaacs. "How could anyone be against that?"