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Poker News | World Poker News

Duke Dishes on Ladies-Only Tournaments

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In January, I attended the World Series of Poker Ladies Academy on assignment for a magazine. Interestingly, Annie Duke was the primary instructor for the two-day course, despite her well-known stance against ladies-only tournaments. Not only did she address this topic quite candidly and brazenly during the course, but she allowed me the opportunity to chat with her further.

Upon the completion of the first day of class, the 75 attendees of the Academy were invited to participate in a freeroll tournament. All of the final table finishers received prizes, and the top five women received $1000 seats into the 2008 World Series of Poker Ladies Championship. However, it was noted that the vouchers could be used toward the buy-in of any of the 2008 WSOP tournaments.

At the beginning of the second day of the course, Annie set aside the first thirty minutes to discuss her feelings about ladies tournaments with the class and argue her case that the women with WSOP vouchers should strongly consider using those prizes towards larger, co-ed events.

Here were some of her thoughts:

There are a lot of people who say I don’t support women because I don’t support ladies-only tournaments. If I didn’t support women, I wouldn’t be here. Honestly, I don’t make enough money to make this worth my while, but it’s worth my while because this is what I want to do. I teach events like this where women can come in, no boys allowed, and get empowered by knowledge, then feel like you can go out and kick some boy butt. Knowledge is power.

Here’s the deal about poker. It has nothing to do with how big and strong you are. It’s not football, soccer, or tennis, where it makes sense to stick the women somewhere else. Women are smaller – 20% smaller and less strong on average than men – so it’s really not fair to put someone like Andy Roddick, who serves a 130-mile-an-hour shots across the court from a girl who’s going to run away. But poker is a battle of wits. I think I’m smarter than most of the boys I know. The only thing that matters in poker is your mind, so why is your mind different than a boy’s mind? Why are they sticking you in a separate event?

If you have any doubt about the way the people running the casinos view you ladies, I’m going to tell you the history of the ladies event at the World Series of Poker. When it started, it ran on Mother’s Day – on a Sunday – and the next day was the start of the main event. Most World Series events used to run in one day, so you’d start at noon and be done at six in the morning. What that meant was that because the main event started on Monday, they couldn’t run an event on Sunday because it would tire those people out and nobody would show up for the main event. But they didn’t want to lose the day for profit, so they put the ladies event there. Why? Because ladies don’t play in the main event. They did it so the wives and girlfriends of the people who were the real players would have something to do and give the men a day off.

Why did I start off NOT playing the ladies event? Not on a principled stance. I needed a day off because I was playing the main event on Monday. A couple of years into it, I really started to think about how insulting it was. The fact that you are continuing to play in the ladies events is supporting that tradition and the view that women are second-class citizens.

What if I set up a blacks-only tournament? Would you be okay with that? No, because it would be discriminatory. I would be saying that blacks are somehow different than whites in terms of the way they use their minds.

Jeffrey Pollack is the Commissioner of the World Series of Poker and one of my best friends. He heard me say that before and came up to me and said, “Blacks-only tournaments? Annie, did you really have to say that?” (Everyone laughs.)

With the whole boom of poker, the fact is that the number of women has not increased. When you look at the main event from 2002, before the poker boom, about three to five percent of the field was women, and it was the same percent last year. I get very upset by that. Take your $1000 prize and $500 out of your own pocket and go play a $1500 no-limit event against everybody. The prize pool will be much bigger. And if you win the damn thing, you’ll have a real bracelet.

Why would you want to win a bracelet that any professional player will tell you doesn’t count? It’s not a world championship if you’re not beating everybody in the world. Don’t insult yourselves by entering the ladies event.


When Annie began speaking, it seemed that approximately 50% of the room were supportive of her opinions, but when she was finished opining, more of the women seemed to understand her points. At least one of the women in possession of the $1000 WSOP voucher told Annie that she would use it for an open event instead of the ladies event as she was swayed by Annie’s plea.

Later, Annie and I chatted about various points pertaining to ladies-only events in the poker world.

First, I asked for her opinion about the newly-formed Women in Poker Hall of Fame.


I heard they’re not going to put me in there because of my stance on ladies events. First of all, I don’t think it’s appropriate for that to be a requirement, because it has nothing to do with my poker ability. Why is there even a hall of fame just for women? I guess Jennifer Harman won’t get in either because she doesn’t play in ladies events, so the two best women in poker won’t get in. Cyndy [Violette] has played ladies events and should be the first inductee. I’d just like to point that out. She’s been successful in this game for 25 years, she has a bracelet, and she took second in that event to Erik Seidel recently.

Second, we touched on the also newly-formed World Poker Tour Ladies League.

That made me so mad. One of the big issues I have, outside of the feminist issue of the whole idea of segregation and what it says about our intellect as women, is that I feel like it’s just a way for the casinos to make money. With all of them saying that they want to bring women into the game, that’s bullshit. They just want to bring women into the casinos and be able to take a nice fee from the tournament. They feel that women aren’t good players and wouldn’t have the bankroll to buy into a big tournament, and they’re treating it like a beginner tournament. It’s just so awful in every single way.

Lastly, we discussed the subject of being able to change the current trend of more and more ladies events and how strongly she feels.

I can’t get anybody to change. I think what needs to happen is for the men to sue. That would do it very quickly. It’s going to take a man to say that this is discriminatory. People keep saying that it’s tradition. “Why do you want to mess with tradition?” they say. I say that it’s against the law. You can’t have a closed event like that, and you’d win if you sued for discrimination. The other thing for me is that according to tradition, women and black people traditionally couldn’t vote, but someone changed that. Traditionally, women didn’t work or get paid equally, but that changed, too. It was tradition for women not to own property. There were a lot of traditions. So the idea that ladies tournaments are tradition, so we should keep doing it, is ridiculous. Tradition allows bad things to continue happening. The thing is that no one can give me a good justification for why the tournaments should continue.

The bottom line is this: I’m not arguing with a woman’s choice to play in the event. If the events exist, you have every right to play in them. That’s your business. I’m just hopefully giving you a point of view about how that reflects on you – in my opinion – and what kind of reinforcement that gives to the people running these events. If you hear that perspective and decide that you still like ladies events, okay.

Just please don’t criticize me for having my stance. I think I have a right to my opinion, and I support it well. I’m never going to back down on it. I’m never going to change the way I feel about it.


I appreciate the time Annie gave to the Academy and our interview.

*Photo courtesy of PokerNews*

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