Melanie Weisner: “Ultimately, It’s a Question of Respect”

It’s been a while since Melanie Weisner – the second-last woman standing in this year's WSOP Main Event – traveled to Europe for a poker tournament.

Her life is now centered around her chosen home in Los Angeles but she’s come to London this week to play and be an ambassador for 888poker.

Despite her impressive success on the poker circuit Weisner isn't just a poker player, though. She’s also a musical singer and a director – and, so it seems, a bit of a foodie.

Weisner: It's a Question of Respect

PL: According to your Twitter feed you’re looking for a star or two here in London.

Melanie Weisner: Yes, Michelin stars! I’m obsessed with food.

I paired a lot of my poker travels with going to the best restaurants in the world. I lived in London briefly and I’ve been fortunate enough to go to some amazing places here. 

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PL: You wouldn’t have a food blog or something.

MW: You know, I don’t, but I’ve been whining about this for such a long time and I promise I’m going to do it this year. Keep an eye out for it.

PL: Has your focus in life shifted since you moved to Los Angeles in 2014?

MW: I’d say poker is still my profession. The beautiful thing about poker is it allows you to spend time on other passions and I’m taking full advantage of that.

So now there’s a multitude if things going on in my life. I grew up in an artistic family and there’s always been that creative side in me. In my case directing is the outlet for it.

PL: What’s your current artistic project?

MW: At the moment I’m directing a play for a company called Pop-up Theater LA. It’s called Becky Shaw and it was written by Pulitzer nominated playwright Gina Gionfriddo.

It’s a great piece of art and it’s a real pleasure to work with it.

PL: Do you act at the table?

MW: Yes. I definitely use my psychological skills. I think these are very important for live poker.

I think it’s not only necessary to read other people but also to portray whatever you want to portray to manipulate other people to do what you want them to do.

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PL: We heard you reciting Goethe’s Erl King the other night – in German! Where do the language skills come from?

MW: I took up German in middle school.

You had the choice between different languages but German was the one where you could win an oversized Toblerone (laughs). So I chose that.

Memorizing the Erl King was part of a project and it kind of stuck with me.

PL: Is German also part of your ancestry?

MW: My ancestry is half Polish, a quarter Russian and a quarter Austrian so there is some German language involved.

Many people think Weisner is a German but it’s technically Austrian.

PL: You were the second-last woman standing in this year’s WSOP. Do you appreciate this “title” or is this a category that shouldn’t even exist?

MW: I’d say it’s neither. The truth is that poker is a male dominated sport and females represent a very small percentage of the field.

I think it’s nice to have that category because you are representing women as a whole when you’re playing and you might entice more smart women to enter the game, so it would have been kind of nice to be the last woman in the field.

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As a professional, and I’ve been playing professionally since I was 20, it’s more about capitalizing on the opportunity as a whole.

To be deep in the Main Event, to have a stack I can work with and to go as far as I can get as a player and play in a way that’s representative of my abilities – and I think I did that.

It’s nice to represent women in poker but you could also say you’re just representing one of several small subsets in the poker world.

Of course there is also that typical feminine pressure, the disproportionate attention you get when you’re one out of two female players left. (Ed. note: the other player being Gaelle Bauman who finished 102nd; Weisner finished 127th)

But it’s obvious that the eyes are on you in a situation like this, and I know the year when Gaelle just missed the final table everyone was pretty excited because it would have been such a cool thing to have a woman in the final.

Something that never happened before except for Barbara Enright, but that was a long time ago when the fields were much smaller.

PL: So, you’d say that virtual title “Last Woman Standing” is more of an appreciation?

MW:  I understand both arguments. I understand it’s appreciative, but I also understand you can take it the wrong way and find it a little bit patronizing – like it’s “the not-last real person standing,” you know.

I don’t think it’s meant that way. I think it’s meant to celebrate a small minority in the field and encourage women to play. I don’t think it’s meant to say they’re second class.

You can have the same argument about Ladies events. I personally don’t like them, although the main reason is I get really tilted easily in those.

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I don’t know why that is. There’s something about that female-female dynamic that gets me.

PL: So you play better in a male-dominated environment?

MW: You know, I do. Maybe it’s because I was already an accomplished online player when I joined the live arena.

I didn’t have to face the same challenges women face when they start out playing live today.

I’d already been successful and I’ve acquired quite a thick skin. I did still feel pressure to establish myself in live poker and I understand why women don’t want to play poker as much as men do.

Ultimately, it’s a question of respect. If everyone treats everyone else like a human being there’s not much of an issue.

PL: Other groups are also treated stereotypically. The elderly guy is always seen as a nit, for example.

MW: Sure. And then you’ll have to ask yourself how politically correct you want to be. As a poker player it’s part of your job to stereotype, evaluate and make judgments on people.

Someone’s typical group tendency can give you valuable information and it’s not in your best interest to ignore that. Stereotypes exist, and a good player will take reputations into account and then mash them up with what they experience at the table.

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