WSOP: Poker would be strong by a woman in the November Nine | benefit poker news

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Tim Fiorvanti/ESPN
Melanie Weisner was the chip leader for parts of Day 4 of the 2016 WSOP Main Event, and a late surge helped her get back into the top 10. She is attempting to become the first woman in the modern era and only the second ever to make the Main Event final table.

During a specific segment of Day 4 of the 2016 World Series of Poker Main Event, two women held the two largest stacks in the room with fewer than 500 players remaining.

That was a big deal.

Maria Ho was the first to charge forward, while Melanie Weisner picked up a cloud of steam and charged right past her to secure a chip lead of her own. They held these positions for more than an hour and it caused quite a stir.

It’s a big deal because, frankly, there are few professions or businesses where the gender gap is more apparent than in the poker industry. For example, at the 2016 WSOP Main Event, women made up 3.978 percent of the entire field — just 268 of the 6,737 players who registered.

Entry numbers haven’t changed much in the last decade, and while that 3-4 percent rate also aligns well with women winning 2 out of 66 eligible bracelets (excluding the women’s championship), it’s the only serious impediment in the Modern times is the biggest stage poker has to offer: the final table of the WSOP Main Event.

Few women in the poker world are better placed to provide insight into the importance of a woman on the November Nine than Linda Johnson and Jan Fisher, who have played prominent and productive roles in the game and live on the poker scene for decades Women in the Poker Hall of Fame.

“I think the most important thing would be that it would get more women playing the main event and mixed events,” said Johnson, who is one of only three women in the Poker Hall of Fame, when asked about the opportunity that a woman reaches the final table.

“Women have been made to feel like an impossible task for so long to ask, ‘Why even enter?'” Fisher added. “There are so many breakthrough opportunities for a woman on the show, [but when it comes to the main event], it would be a big deal to make the November Nine – and as big as it would be for a woman to make the final table, it would be an exponentially bigger deal if a woman won. It would speak volumes for women around the world that we’ve come a long way baby.”

In the entire history of the tournament, Barbara Enright’s fifth-place finish is the only WSOP Main Event final table ever filled by a woman. Annie Duke placed 10th in 2000 (no less than eight months pregnant), and Elisabeth Hille and Gaelle Baumann placed famously 11th and 10th respectively to celebrate an appearance on the November Nine.

While the percentage of women remaining in the field when Weisner and Ho were leading was similar to the 3 to 4 percent range earlier in the tournament, it was the respective women and the number of chips they held that brought them in the kind of prominent position that the WSOP Main Event has rarely seen. Alongside Weisner and Ho, Jennifer Shahade held over a million chips, with the aforementioned Baumann, Jamie Kerstetter, Dee Friedman and Ana Marquez among a dozen or so women still in the running midway through the fourth day.

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Tim Fiorvanti/ESPN
Maria Ho was twice the last woman to stand in the WSOP Main Event and is hoping to make it a third time with her deep run.

“I think it sends a very important message to women who are playing football now,” Fisher said. “Let them know we can do it – that a woman can break through. Look at the women who won bracelets this year.”

It proves that there are quite a few women with the skill to compete on an even playing field with men under the biggest and brightest lights the game has to offer.

“I think it’s important to show that as a woman, you can have success,” Johnson said. “This is far from the first money for Maria or for Melanie or for Dee [Friedman], by the way – she’s been in this field for 20 years now. It makes it clear that this is a long-term thing, that poker is really a game of skill. Seeing successful players will certainly help broaden the field in the future.”

In terms of simple numbers, there is no bigger potential growth market than women in poker, as evidenced by their tiny participation compared to men.

Mike Sexton, one of poker’s greatest ambassadors, took it a step further after learning that Weisner and Ho were leading the Main Event in chips.

So what is keeping the vast majority of women from playing poker seriously? It begins with stereotypes that date back to the earliest days of poker, when the game was played in dark back rooms among a gathering of “good ol’ boys” who drank and smoked. Women were seen as inferior, both in terms of the game and in society at large.

Even as women struggled through the decades and worked their way up the ranks of the game, winning open event bracelets and playing high-stakes cash games, there was often an air of condescension and even hostility towards some women. It’s been slow progress, forged through the efforts of several generations of women (and there’s still a long way to go, as Weisner pointed out just before her run to the top of the chip counts).

One of the best and most visible ways women have been brought into poker is through women-only events, which provide a friendly entry point that can lead those who are successful into more lucrative open events.

“I love women’s events and I think they’re important, but I always encourage women to attend an open event once they feel comfortable after starting a women’s event,” Johnson said.

Whether it’s jumping straight into open-field events or dipping a toe in the water at women’s events, seeing a woman succeed in the most visible way at the world’s biggest poker tournament can only help to motivate the crowds and let them know it can be done.

“I think it’s good to have role models – and it’s good that they see that poker isn’t a game of strength, it’s a game where we can compete with men,” Johnson said.

It wasn’t easy, but if Friday’s events are any indication of the level of poker played by women, there is a tipping point that is becoming increasingly inevitable.

“These are all students of the game, these are women who take this game very seriously, and it’s what they do for a living — it’s not just a hobby, it’s their job,” Fisher said. “These are women who are consistently at the top of their craft. Some of them may not have won bracelets, but they continue to penetrate deep into major tournament arenas. It shows that women are just as strong as men in that regard, and maybe even more so in terms of traits like endurance.” WSOP: Poker would be strong by a woman in the November Nine | benefit poker news

Ryan Sederquist

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