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As I was reviewing the statistics for the 2013 World Series of Poker (WSOP), one in particular stood out. With 79,471 total entries, women players represented a mere 5.1% of the field. Yet, at the same time, female cashes represented 9% of the total money won. This is an encouraging fact. Female participation in the WSOP has come a long way since I began playing it in the 1980’s, but we as a poker community can do much more to increase those numbers.
To move forward we must first look to the past and honor the achievements of the pioneers that blazed the trail for today’s women in poker. No discussion would be complete without talking about Barbara Enright. To this day, Barbara Enright is still the first and only woman to make the final table of the WSOP Main Event. She accomplished this historic feat in 1995 when she placed 5th. That was just the beginning of her firsts. She was also the first woman to win three WSOP bracelets and the first woman to be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2007 along with Phil Hellmuth. Enright is still racking up those chips. To date, her total live tournament winnings exceed $1.5 million.
Though no woman has reached the final table of the Main Event since Enright, two women came close in 2012. In fact, both Gaelle Baumann, who placed 10th, and Elisabeth Hille, who came in 11th, are tied for the biggest Main Event payday awarded to a woman with $590,442 earned by each. By percentage, Baumann has the best record of any woman in the Main Event as she finished in the top .15% out of a field of 6,598 players. Only two women have lasted the longest in the Main Event twice—Annie Duke in 2000 and 2003 and Marsha Waggoner in 1993 and 1997.
This year, Loni Harwood’s spectacular run was the big story of the 2013 WSOP and was chronicled in a PokerNews article titled, “Loni Harwood Setting Records at the 2013 World Series of Poker” by Pamela Maldonado. The 23-year-old poker player from Staten Island, New York, won her first WSOP bracelet this year in the final $1,500 No Limit Hold’em event of the series. That win marked her 6th cash of the summer (accomplished by only three other players this year) and tied Cyndy Violette’s 2005 record for most final table appearances by a female in a single series.
And the records do not stop there. The $609,017 first place money she won surpassed Allyn Jeffrey Shulman’s record set in 2012 of the largest payday awarded to a woman in a Las Vegas WSOP event. With $874,698 in tournament earnings for the entire summer, Harwood has also jumped to the No. 8 spot on the all-time WSOP money list for women. That total was also the most a woman has ever earned at a single WSOP in Las Vegas.
Harwood’s three final table appearances at this year’s WSOP is an impressive accomplishment for any poker player, male or female. And the fact that the percentage of female participation is so small makes her achievement all the more stunning. Harwood has just embarked on her career and has many more final tables in her future. Some legends of the game have amassed an impressive number of WSOP final table finishes including Cyndy Violette at 12, Jennifer Harman at 11 and Marsha Waggoner at 9.
2013 marked not only the 10-year anniversary of Chris Moneymaker’s historic win in the Main Event that helped spark the poker boom, but 2003 was also the first year 10 women made final tables at the WSOP. 2012 saw 14 women final table the WSOP and that number will only continue to grow.
Female players are just as skilled as male players, but I feel one of the problems facing women is the lack of sponsorship. No matter what a player’s skill level, sponsorship money is critical in being able to compete in poker at the highest levels. When online poker went live in Nevada, I noticed the new sites were mainly reaching out to male players. I feel women make even better ambassadors for poker, and it is a mistake to overlook them. It is time for both men and women, the legends of the game and the up-and-comers, to work together to increase the number of female players so that someday in the not-to-distant future we finally have a female World Champion of Poker.
Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and marketing expert. Robert is most well-known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He helped create Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002. He also created the Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995.
He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM. He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing mobile apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing group.
Find Robert on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner.
Contact Robert at firstname.lastname@example.org for consulting, marketing or teaching.