Ladies get a leg-up on poker

Annie Duke
Annie Duke doles out advice during the WSOP Academy.

It's not just men who've taken up the poker pennant and run with it during the poker boom these past few years. Women are also getting in the game and the World Series of Poker Academy is helping them become winning players.

This weekend marked the first ever Ladies Only World Series of Poker Academy as women spent two days getting more information and tips about their game to prepare them for future tournaments, including the WSOP Ladies Event beginning today at the Rio in Las Vegas.

This inaugural event saw approximately 100 women, including yours truly, registered and eager to learn from instructors Annie Duke, Karina Jett and Andy Outhred.

Thankfully the class was filled with a diverse range of women of all ages, from all over and of all poker playing ability so I wasn't the only complete amateur there.

While there were a few of us on the low end of the knowledge measuring stick, many women there already had pretty good game, but we'd all come for one thing: to smooth out our games and get any extra edge possible.

I don't think anyone walked away disappointed after two days of instruction. The seminar covers everything from pre-flop and post-flop strategies to pot-odds, tells and tournament strategy. Even if you've already got game, you're going to learn something from this class.

As an amateur, the academy helped clarify some of the things I know I should be paying attention to in my game, but never really understood how to really apply them. I talked to a few seasoned players as well, and for many, they said the academy helped reinforce what they already were doing correctly.

Unfortunately for you, I'm not going to give up much of the information taught at the academy. There's too much to cover it all, but a few choice tidbits, or teasers if you will, could pop up.

Basically everything taught at the academy was meant to help players learn to make positive equity decisions in every step of No-Limit Hold'em.

"Poker is a game of decision making in conditions of uncertainty," Duke said.

There is never a good time to make a negative equity decision, so everything you do at the poker table should be intended to help make that decision making process easier for you and harder for your opponent.

That applies to pre-flop moves, post-flop betting strategies and even figuring your pot odds.

Former FBI agent Joe Navarro also helped the women work on a part of their game many might not have thought about - body language.

Poker is a game of reading people just as much as reading your cards, and if you know what you're looking for, people can be an open book no matter how stone-faced they sit at the table.

Navarro pulled several class members aside during practice play and the tournament after the first day of class to talk to them about what they're giving away with their body language.

"He talked to me about my arms on the table," said Vera Dormady, of Florida, whose husband paid for the trip to the academy in Las Vegas as a birthday gift.

Specifically, Navarro talked to her about not leaving her hands resting on the poker table because hands can give away a lot at the poker table. While she was trying to just look and feel as relaxed as possible, she was leaving herself open to being read.

Her other problem was that because of her slim body type, the veins in her neck can be a giveaway at the poker table as well.

She probably won't be too excited that other people know this now, but you can bet when you see her at the poker table next time, she'll be keeping her chin a little lower and folding her arms to keep her hands from view as well.

It was a little intimidating to have a former FBI agent giving us the eagle eye during play, but that's also something live poker players need to get used to. They may be doing it more discretely, but every player at your table is checking you out just as thoroughly.

The live-hand portion of the class is probably the biggest gem you're going to find at the academy. Players get to sit down with one of the pro instructors as a dealer and play a few hands so they can analyze their play.

There has been nothing better for helping me see where I'm making bad decisions and what I'm doing wrong.

For example, in one of the hands I got involved in, I was on the button. The first mistake I made was not paying attention well enough to realize someone had raised in early position. In my own defense, it was loud and the lady next to me wouldn't stop talking to me.

But I digress.

I had meant to just raise, thinking nobody was in yet, and instead had to re-raise in late position with A-7 suited in diamonds. Just for the record, even without the seminar I know better than to do that.

So we saw a flop that came with two more diamonds for me but didn't pair me up in any way. I check, she makes a pot-size bet. I was already planning to get out of the hand since I shouldn't have played it in the first place, so I laid it down.

After it was all done, we both flipped our cards up (my opponent had pocket 10s) and Jett talked us through our mistakes and what we should have done.

She explained the correct play, given my initial mistake of not paying attention, and told us what bets would have been appropriate after the flop and what would have happened if my opponents betting had given me the correct odds to see the turn and river.

Having that step-by-step explanation through every stage of a hand was a great supplement to all the lectures we heard through the entire two-day course.

After the first day, Katherine Bickel from Texas was already saying, "This will definitely help me with my game back home."

Of course, the whole purpose of having a female-only academy is to give women pointers on how to play the men. That was probably the most entertaining portion of the class as Duke took us through how to play the "flirting guy," the "angry guy" and the "disrespectful guy."

You have to give Duke credit. She may come across as abrasive sometimes, but she knows her stuff, and she gets it across to her audience in a way that keeps us having fun and learning at the same time.

So what was the biggest lesson we all needed to learn? Weakness has no place at the poker table if you want to win.

"I think they know what they're supposed to do, but not pulling the trigger and doing it is the biggest mistake," Jett said during an interview with on Friday.

If you need something to tell you when to the pull that trigger, this class will do it. If you need an example of a woman being able to be aggressive and successful, Jett and Duke aren't afraid to use their killer cards and situations at the table.

That's all it will take for women to get better playing against the men and eventually dominate the game. As Duke said, women have all the tools to be better players, we just need to get in there and do it.

"I really want women to play this game," she said. "That's why I took three days off from the World Series to be here."

So, ladies, it's time to stop tiptoeing around and get in the game. Learn all you can at things like the WSOP Academy and then take it to the felt and start putting it into practice, even if it's at an all-women event to start with.

Eventually you'll be able to take that next step into the regular tournaments and start taking down the men with confidence.

If you're interested in attending a World Series of Poker Academy to hone your game, get more information at

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