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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.
Over the past few years, entry fees for poker tournaments with medium-sized buy-ins have increased from around 10% of the buy-in amount to as much as 25% and 30%, and sometimes even more for smaller tournaments. These fees can add up to as much as a first-place payoff for the casino, and that’s too many golden eggs in one basket.
A typical $300 buy-in tournament before the 2003 poker boom cost a player $330 to enter, with $300 going to the prize pool and $30 to the house. Often, each player would get a free meal, a hat, or other casino-branded item with their entry. If 200 players entered, the casino made $6,000, and first place paid about $20,000. In a recent major multi-day tournament, first place paid just under $250,000, and the casino’s takeout was nearly the same.
This trend takes too much money out of players’ pockets compared to other casino offerings. Poker tournaments now have a higher takeout than horse racing, instead of being only slightly higher than sports betting and table games. This has a negative impact on the gaming industry as a whole, as players enter fewer brick-and-mortar tournaments and turn to other entertainment choices, or, if they have the option, play online poker instead. In order to retain players and acquire new ones, casinos need to strike a better balance between entry fees and buy-ins, and give players more value for their money.
While some casinos still provide tournament entrants with vouchers, food coupons or promotional items, most give nothing back to the player. That’s a lost opportunity to build player relationships and casino loyalty. Poker players have many choices when it comes to spending their hard-earned money, and most enjoy games besides poker as well. Casinos should rethink their marketing strategies and return to using poker tournaments as a low-rake proposition or even a loss leader to encourage both new and returning players to spend their gaming dollars at their property.
Online poker tournaments have low entry fees, require no tokes and are available at the click of a mouse, while brick-and-mortar tournament players have expenses above and beyond the high entry fees. In addition to the extra time invested, live players also pay for transportation, food and lodging, and are expected to toke an additional 3% after winning a tournament. That adds up quickly, and when the entry fees alone for three or four tournaments equal an entire tournament buy-in, we’re killing the goose too.
Another challenge our industry faces is tournaments that offer too many rebuys and re-entries. These multi-day events, with as many as 20 qualifying sessions, dilute the fields and reduce the importance of skill. When deep-pocketed players have the opportunity to enter the same tournament over and over again if they fail, playing good poker becomes secondary to getting lucky. I’ve seen players walk away from a short stack at the last re-entry opportunity so they could start fresh with a full stack when play resumes. That’s not what tournament poker is all about. These events may have marquee value, but they aren’t good for individual players or poker as a whole.
In 2006, I started the Midnight Madness tournament at the Normandie Casino, attracting a core group of players. They drove from all over town to play, but as it was a no-limit tournament, players occasionally lost their chips on the first hand and wanted a second chance after their late, long drive. I decided to allow players to re-enter, but only at the break. If they did re-enter, they came in as a new player – full stack, full buy-in and full entry fee. This gave players a second chance, but not a third, fourth or fifth. By allowing only one re-entry, and allowing it only at the break, I was able to maintain the integrity of the game and keep the players happy. With this model, deep-pocket players can’t buy their way to the money with multiple crapshoots, and players who can’t afford to or don’t want to re-enter still get a fair shot.
For amateurs, live tournaments are a way to gain experience, enjoy the thrill of poker, and have a chance to win. Professional players are always looking for an edge, and gravitate towards events where they can use their considerable skills to exploit weaker players. Unlimited re-entry tournaments give amateurs less value and a smaller chance of winning, which discourages them from playing future tournaments. When those players leave the pool, the difficulty level increases for professionals, and multiple re-entries reduce their edge even further. When that edge disappears, pros will hold out for better opportunities, including online poker.
We can use tournament poker to attract and retain a quality player base, but we need to re-examine the fee structure, and make rebuy and re-entry events an occasional diversion instead of a poker staple. If we do, we’ll help ensure the long-term health of our favorite game.
Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiard marketing expert, best known for inventing and creating the game of Omaha poker and introducing it to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He also created the Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino and the National Championship of Poker for Hollywood Park Casino, both in 1995.
In the year 2000, Robert created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker, and in 2002, he created Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the internet. He is currently working with his new companies, Crown Digital Games, developers of unique mobile apps, and Vision Poker, a poker marketing and managing group. Robert has over 30 years experience in the gaming industry.
Follow Robert on Twitter @thechipburner. Robert can also be reached at email@example.com.
Edited by Steve Schwab (firstname.lastname@example.org)