Thanks to a growing group of strong, successful women in poker, Esther Taylor is hopeful for greater gender equality in the game's future.
Taylor has played poker for more than a decade and for the last two years she was the only female to enter the WSOP's $50,000 buy-in Poker Players Championship.
Only one woman has ever cashed in that event: Melissa Burr in 2014.
Taylor, who goes by “E-Tay,” is sponsored by Parx Casino in Philadelphia and plays big buy-in mixed games where the swings can be anywhere from $5,000 to $30,000 in a single session.
She learned to play mixed games online before Black Friday shut down online poker in the United States and now makes a living playing cash games and tournaments all over the country.
Nine Cashes, Two Final Tables in 2017
"A lot of women approach me because you don't see a lot of women in the fields in these mixed-game events," said Taylor.
"So I know there's a lot of desire among women to learn mixed games but it's a lot harder these days without being able to play online.”
Taylor said she logged hundreds of thousands of hands of all different variations of poker back when you could play a mixed-game tournament on the internet every hour for just dollars.
Another benefit of cutting her teeth online was not having to deal with the added challenge of being a woman in a largely male-dominated game.
By the time she started playing live she already had experience and the confidence that comes with it.
“After that I kind of just had to earn respect like everyone does. I don't think it matters if you're a man or a woman,” she said.
“If there's a new face in the field of the $50k, whoever it is, you're going to have to prove yourself."
So far at the 2017 World Series of Poker she's cashed in nine different tournaments including two final tables.
“Look at All These Strong, Confident Women”
Taylor points at a group of women including Maria Ho, Cate Hall, Liv Boeree and many more as the biggest reason she's optimistic about women becoming better represented and facing less obstacles in poker.
In recent years poker has seen a surge in women winning major tournaments and Taylor thinks the trend will continue.
"As a woman at the table we can't control how someone's going to treat us but we can control how we react and how strong we can be no matter how we're treated,” she said.
“In that sense I'm hopeful because there are so many strong female poker players who are already established.
“Am I hopeful that men are going to stop mistreating women in general? No. It just seems like human nature in some people. I think it's the reality of the world and society.
“But if you look at all these strong, independent, confident women who are leading the pack for women in poker, that's what makes me confident.
“Around 2006 when I started there were very few women. It was Jen Harman and Annie Duke. But now it's different. I could name 20 women right now who are super confident and really good at the game.
“These women are loud and confident about what they believe in and how women should be treated and that makes me optimistic.”
Same Game, Bigger Stakes
Taylor explained that even though a $50,000 buy-in is more than she's used to, she's comfortable with the games and the players she's up against in the PPC.
She plays with many of the same people on a regular basis in mixed-game tournaments around the country but usually with buy-ins of $3,000 to $10,000.
"I think if everyone in the tournament actually stepped back and realized we're playing a game where every single person put in $50,000, it's a pretty incredible experience and opportunity," said Taylor.
"I've seen this tournament being played for years and 10 years ago I never would have imagined I'd be playing in it."
First place in this year's PPC is almost $1.4 million.
If You Can Compete, You Get Respect
Taylor says that at the high stakes compared to low stakes she thinks it matters less whether you're a man or a woman. It's more important to be able to survive in a such a highly competitive and volatile game.
"If you can compete and handle these games and these stakes I think you're going to get the respect of your peers whether you're a man or a woman," said Brady.
"I've been around long enough and played with a lot of the same people for around 10 years now so I think that garners you some level of respect. Everyone pretty much treats me like one of the guys now.
"It's a boy's club but you don't necessarily have to be a boy to be in it.”