“Oh my God, she’s so serious!” cried the woman with cropped gray hair who sat on my right in the 1 seat.
Just minutes ago she had given me her business card. She worked at the Ocean’s 11 Casino in San Diego County. We had chatted for a few minutes before the cards went in the air. And now, maybe four orbits into the tournament, I thought she was typical dead money like the rest of my table.
“This is serious.” I shot back. “This is the World Series of Poker. I don’t see how it gets more serious than this.”
She let out another chuckle. I continued to stare at the felt and shuffle my chips. The board read 3c-4c-6c-Ac-As and I was holding the 7h-7c. I had raised before the flop and an Asian woman with auburn highlights re-raised me from the small blind. I smelled an overpair or A-K, but the re-raise was so small, the decision to call was nothing more than a simple pot odds problem. I liked my overpair/gutshot straight flush draw on the flop and when she checked, I bet 300 into the 500 pot. She paused and called. I didn’t think she liked the clubs very much… overpair with no club? Overcards with a club? Something like Ad-Kc?
The turn made my flush…but not in a good way. I had a shitty small one-card flush, but if she had just paired her ace without a club, I was in good shape. She bet small, 500. I thought about just shoving here, but I felt that even a shove would not move this woman off her hand. She’d already doubled her stack by flopping trip jacks early and getting called the whole way by some clueless donkey with only A-Q high. Though this was the first big hand I’d been involved in, our 2,000 starting stacks didn’t exactly present me with a ton of fold equity at this juncture. So I called.
The river was the As and she immediately fired out 850. Which is when I went into the tank, replaying the hand. Analyzing her betting. Going back to the previous hand when she flopped the trip jacks…she had just fired into her opponent like a machine gun with the nuts…she looked too comfortable in her seat…and if I called the 800, what would I have left?
These were the sort of things going through my head when that woman decided to chime in about my apparently too-serious behavior. These are the sort of things that are supposed to go through a player’s head when making a decision. But I guess this was just some sort of Sunday leisure walk for her. A day out with the girls. Not the Ladies’ World Championship of no-limit hold’em or anything like that.
I took my time with my decision. It’s something I’ve been working on in my live game. I didn’t feel guilty about it in the least. And all told, I thought for maybe 2 minutes before folding the 7c face up. She tabled two red aces for quads.
I can dodge bullets, baby.
* * * * *
The World Series of Poker Ladies’ Event is billed as a World Championship, yet is treated by Harrah’s as well as the majority of the players themselves as a Sunday Brunch. A fashion show. A garden party. When WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack took the mic before play began, he praised everyone in the field for making this the largest ladies-only tournament in the history of poker. Then he introduced some woman from the reality show “The Swan” to call “shuffle up and deal.”
I’m sorry…the creator of a reality show in which “ugly ducklings” are made over with plastic surgery only to participate in some sort of freak-show beauty pageant where they are all judged on their new looks? That is what the brain trust at Harrah’s came up with to “throw out the first pitch” at the Ladies’ World Championship? I am insulted, offended, and outraged that such a person would be chosen to take on such a public duty at a tournament that is supposed to celebrate women in poker, not remind them that at the end of the day, it’s really just about how they look anyway.
Here’s what “The Swan” stands for in the words of it’s production company’s COO:
“We all know people who at some point in their lives get stuck in a bad spot. They have a goal and think ‘if only I could change what I don’t like about myself, I would be able to fulfill my dreams,’” explains Cecile Frot-Coutaz, COO of the FremantleMedia NA production company. “With The Swan, we’re offering the kind of dream makeover that’s normally available only to the rich and famous. This is a positive show where we want to see how these women can make their dreams come true once they have what they want. But it is also a competition, and the one who will have achieved the greatest transformation will be voted ‘The Swan.’”
Tell me something. Were Susie Isaacs, Barbara Enright, Jennifer Harman, Cyndy Violette or any of the great ladies of the game not available to call shuffle up and deal? No, I think they were all actually in the room. Moreover, have any of them made a public statement about how blatantly offensive, sexist, and detrimental to women in the game it is to include this reality show bullshit in what is supposed to be a World Championship bracelet event?
In case you hadn’t heard, the winner of the WSOP Ladies Event not only takes home $262,077 for first place, a Corum Watch, a gold and diamond WSOP bracelet, the title of Ladies’ World Champion, and a VIP package to a WNBA game– she gets a makeover.
From the official WSOP Press Release:
The Ladies Champion also will receive a VIP weekend at a Harrah’s-operated casino to attend “The New You” exclusive makeover and lifestyle event, created by “The Swan” creator Galan to teach participants about health, wellness and beauty from leading professionals in the field…The WSOP Ladies Champion also will fit in at “The New You,” a women’s brand that includes a television show in development with NBC.
‘The Ladies Champion is sure to be a strong competitor who knows how to take charge of situations,” said Galan. “She will be a great example of how women can improve their circumstances by taking a proactive approach to challenges.’”
I absolutely boil when I read those words. The Ladies’ Event Champion is being whored out to NBC for a reality show. Health, wellness, and beauty? A fucking makeover? How about we send Greg Raymer instead and finally have him shake the socks and sandals look? How about we get Dutch Boyd to shower and take that filthy bandana off his head? How about we give two-time bracelet winner Barry Greenstein a weekend package so he can learn to conceal those under-eye circles with the right product? Or give Tomer Benvenisti some tips on nutrition?
Not to mention that before she gets her makeover, the Ladies’ World Champion will… yeah… have already WON the event and ACHIEVED her goal. And lipstick, hair dye and liposuction had nothing to do with it.
This is some kind of a sick joke, right? Oh wait, it’s not.
The WSOP Ladies Event reminded me just how much women are still thought of and treated as second-class citizens in the poker world. Reality show B.S. aside, calling this event a “World Championship” is a total misnomer when half the field is made up of players wives and girlfriends, models and porn stars bought in by corporations to promote their products or web sites, and totally clueless amateurs who have never played a tournament before.
Dead money like that is enticing to the skilled players who do enter this event. However, the structure takes that advantage right back from them. 2005 Ladies’ champion Jennifer Tilly said it herself in an on-camera interview with PokerNews: “I think 2000 chips when the blinds are 25 and 50 it’s just, it’s more like a charity tournament, there’s just not enough play in it.”
Not enough play, and not enough pay either. 1,286 players entered the Ladies’ Event and 99 would be paid, representing only 7.7% of the field. Every other tournament at the 2007 WSOP has paid at least 9% of the field, some of the higher buy-in events as much as 13%. Why is that, exactly? I’ve been searching for an answer to that question for two days now. When I asked WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla about it, he referred me to the payout office. When I talked to a guy at the front desk in the payout office, he referred me to his boss. And his boss referred me to tournament director Jimmy Sommerfeld. Jimmy Sommerfeld was running five bracelet events so you know, he has tons of free time to talk to me.
In the early early morning hours of yesterday, just as the $2,500 H.O.R.S.E. event got heads-up, I asked one of the floor guys if he knew what was up with the Ladies’ Event payout. He and my colleague B.J. Nemeth concurred that a mathematical formula based on the amount of the buy-in was to blame for the steep payouts.
“Though, that $1,500 event Hellmuth won had 2,628 players and payed 270″ he said, his tired eyes deep in thought. “7-something percent does seem weird to me.”
So, the $1,000 buy-in is to blame for the crappy structure and the gyp on the payouts. This is probably true– I don’t think there’s any horrible conspiracy behind it. All WSOP events get twice the buy-in amount in starting chips (doubled from last year) and all the NLHE events have essentially the same blind structure. Though I’m definitely curious to see if the $1K S.H.O.E. event and the $1K Seniors Event later in the Series end up paying less than 8% of the field.
Here’s what I propose. Instead of marginalizing the Ladies Event by keeping the buy-in low and offering makeovers to accompany the cash and bracelet, I implore the powers that be at Harrah’s to make this a true World Championship event. Start by raising the buy-in. Make it a $2,500 event. That’s going to be less dead money, but a much greater chance for the skilled women of the game to engage in world-class competition. We deserve that much. And Harrah’s will get more juice per player with an increased buy-in anyway, so there’s no crying over lost dollars. Not to mention that some of the top female pros might be enticed to play the event with a higher buy-in. I mean, there was a $1K Ladies Event held at the L.A. Poker Classic in February and there’s another $1K on the Legends of Poker schedule in August. And that’s just in L.A. I don’t know how many others there are in other cities.
I also encourage every other woman player out there who is as offended as I am by the “Swan”/”The New You” reality show bullshit to make your voices heard. Write about it on your blogs. Write to Harrah’s. Talk about it with other female players. Post about it on the forums, like EPT Champion Vicky Coren did on the Hendon Mob website:
“What a thoughtful extra gift for the little ladies! Who ever said that female-only tournaments weren’t serious? I only wish I’d known. Thinking there was just a title and a few hundred thousand dollars at stake, I didn’t make the effort to fly out in time; nobody mentioned we could also win a lesson in putting on lipstick… “
* * * * *
“I laid down a flush to quads” I said to Pauly as he passed my table, frowning at the 900 in chips I had remaining.
With the blinds up to 50-100, it was time to start shoving. I moved in with A-K, no callers. I moved in over the top of a weak-tight player’s pre-flop raise with Ah-Qh and got her to lay down. I open-pushed with 5-5 from the button, no callers. On the next hand I pushed again with K-Q. No callers.
“Jesus, she has no fear” the woman on my left muttered to another player. What fear is there to have when you’re left with nine big blinds?
After my push-fest I was back up to about 1700 when I picked up those deadly deadly pocket sevens again. I raised to 300 and the woman who made quads on me called from the button. The flop was Ts-5s-3d. I liked that flop for my sevens and I bet 500.
“How much do you have left?” she asked. I counted out the 900 I had behind. She thought for a few seconds and then just called. I immediately put her on A-K.
The turn was perhaps the worst card in the deck for me, the As. I checked and she immediately put me all in.
“This hand just won’t work for me today” I said as I mucked my cards. She showed Ac-Ks.
“Man, I play gooooot…” I said, as I put my iPod back on and jacked up the volume. “St. Stephen” by the Grateful Dead soothed my tilt.
My table broke shortly thereafter. I was moved to a different corner of the room and was seated with a Filipino girl I recognized from some Ladies tournaments at the Bicycle Casino as well as 2006 WSOP Seniors Event winner Clare Miller. She was wearing her bracelet and passed it around the table for the other ladies to look at.
I started pushing my short stack again with any playable hand and had chipped back up to 1,500 by the first break. On perhaps the third hand after the break with blinds up to 100-200, I moved all in from the cutoff with 3-3 and was called by the big blind with A-K. An ace on the flop and all but 275 of my stack vanished, having my opponent slightly covered. I moved it in on the very next hand with As-4s and got called by both blinds, who checked the rest of the hand down. The girl from the Bike in the small blind made two pair on the flop with her K-J and I was out, after only a little more than two hours of play.
Needless to say, I was very disappointed. I had every expectation that I would go deep in this one, but I don’t think I made bad decisions. Both of those big laydowns ended up being the right move, though I’m still falling asleep at night, even three days later, wondering if I should have pushed the flop or the turn in that first hand with the sevens.
My congratulations go out to Sally Ann Boyer who took down the tournament, the bracelet, and the $262,000. I hope she eschews the makeover, because she looks lovely as she is. Boyer’s story is a good one too– she’s only been playing for less than a year and recently attended the WSOP Ladies Poker Academy. She entered a ladies event at Binions shortly thereafter, won it, and used that money to buy into the WSOP. One of my favorite ladies to watch, German player Katja Thater, made the final table and finished fifth. Thater has incredible poise and focus at the table, and has a poker face I’d like to emulate– an Ivey-esque blank slate tempered with a touch of icy indifference.
For me, for now, it’s back to the jounalistic grind for the next five weeks. I get a rare day off tomorrow, and though I will spend it as far away as possible from the Rio, the possibilities of me sitting down at a poker table with two racks of gray stacked in 40-high towers… well… you know…