How to Find Safe Spaces as a Female Poker Player

Bethany Jones
by Bethany Jones  |  Reviewer and Columnist

Safe Spaces for Women in Poker

The poker community is seeing more women than ever getting involved and excelling at the game, but there is still a lot more room for growth. Even after all this time, societal conditioning and ingrained biases continue to deter women from venturing into poker rooms worldwide.

Fortunately, we’re seeing more and more organizations dismantling these barriers, one hand at a time. By creating safe spaces where women can learn, practice, and compete without the intimidation often associated with male-dominated environments, they are fostering a sense of belonging and empowerment.

What Does an Unsafe Space Look Like?

Your average poker room may not always be considered a safe space for your average woman poker player. There are lots of challenges that we commonly face that deter us from wanting to continue playing.

Misogynistic Comments and Behavior

Women often encounter demeaning language, inappropriate jokes, and sexual advances at the poker table. They can range from subtle digs to outright harassment. You can’t really focus on enjoying the game or trying to hone your skills when you’re in an environment where you’re made to feel uncomfortable.

Stereotyping and Underestimation

Many players still hold outdated views about women’s abilities in poker. Some assume women are overly emotional, risk-averse, or less skilled than their male counterparts. So, we often come face-to-face with dismissive attitudes and patronizing behavior.

A lot of the time, women are underestimated in their ability to bluff, read opponents, or make aggressive moves simply because of the belief that poker isn’t a women’s game.

Intimidation Tactics

Some male players may resort to intimidation tactics to gain an edge over female opponents. This can include aggressive betting patterns, verbal attacks (see Mike Matusow‘s 2020 outburst), or attempts to unsettle women at the table.

Lack of Representation

The above examples are all extremes, as they don’t happen all the time to every single woman who plays poker; they are just the kinds of things that are likely to happen and that many women have experienced at some point in their poker-playing careers.

However, the one challenge that is pervasive and consistent is lack of representation. In many poker rooms, women are still significantly outnumbered by men, which can lead to feelings of isolation and exclusion.

We often feel like we don’t belong or that our presence isn’t valued. It’s also a lot harder to find female mentors or role models who can offer guidance and support.

Why Women’s Events Are Important

While the ultimate goal is to foster an environment where women feel empowered to participate in any poker event, the reality is that many still find the prospect of mixed-gender tournaments daunting. This is where women’s events and creating other safe spaces for women poker enthusiasts play a crucial role, serving as a gateway to the poker world – fostering a sense of community and belonging.

By providing a supportive and inclusive environment, these safe spaces allow participants to gain confidence and experience, gradually preparing them for the challenges of mixed-gender tournaments and ultimately, the broader professional landscape.

A Supportive Community

Beyond the educational aspects, organizations like Poker Power have done a great job of cultivating a supportive and empowering community of women poker players. Through shared experiences, mentorship, and just good old camaraderie, participants forge lasting connections that extend far beyond the confines of the poker table.

This sense of community is particularly vital for women who may feel isolated or underrepresented in their respective fields – which is incredibly common in the world of poker. By surrounding themselves with a network of like-minded individuals, they gain access to a wealth of knowledge, support, and inspiration, further fueling their personal and professional growth.

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Bridging the Gap: A Stepping Stone to Mainstream Events

While women-only tournaments have proven invaluable in nurturing confidence and fostering a sense of community, they also serve as a crucial stepping stone towards mainstream events. By providing a supportive introduction to the competitive poker landscape, these events equip women with the necessary skills and mindset to eventually transition into open tournaments.

This gradual exposure to the competitive realm, coupled with the support and camaraderie found in women-only events, empowers participants to break through perceived barriers and embrace the challenges of open tournaments with newfound resilience and self-assurance.

Embracing Diversity: A Path to Growth and Innovation

Getting women more involved in the world of poker by giving them more safe spaces to learn the game not only promotes fairness and equality but also unlocks a wellspring of untapped potential. With more of us in the mix, the poker community can benefit from a rich tapestry of perspectives, experiences, and approaches, ultimately driving innovation and growth within the game itself.

In an interview with Poker.org, Jamie Kerstetter stated that:

“Operators can learn from Ladies events by emphasizing inclusivity, promoting a welcoming atmosphere, and actively addressing any gender-related concerns. Offering diverse and appealing structures, along with showcasing the achievements of women players, helps create a more enticing environment for women in open tournaments.”

As evidenced by numerous studies on the topic (like this one), the poker industry can tap into a vast pool of talent and fresh ideas to propel the game to new heights. Gender diversity has been proven to benefit women

Support from the Industry at Large

So, now we know why womens-only events are important. Now we just need to make them more commonplace.

The successful implementation and proliferation of these kinds of tournaments relies on the support and cooperation of industry stakeholders and influential members of the community. As the demand for these events continues to grow, organizers and venues should really work hard to prioritize their inclusion within tournament schedules.

womens only poker tournaments
Events like the Ladies Event at the WSOP offer women the chance to compete in a high stakes tournament in a safe space.

After facing backlash from the poker community at large for removing women-only events from its circuit schedule, the WSOP decided to include a women-only event on every remaining stop for the year. It took a bit of pushing, but it was encouraging to see so many poker players call out the World Series of Poker and for the organization to respond so promptly with a fair solution.

This is the kind of commitment that industry leaders need to show – not only to validate the significance of these tournaments but also to set a precedent for others to follow.

No Women’s Only Events Nearby?

Not everyone has a poker room nearby – let alone one that has women-only poker events. So, the next best thing you can do is either create your own local women’s league using sites like Meetup, or join an online community.

womens poker night meetup
Meetup.com is a great place to find womens-only poker groups – especially if you live in a bigger city.

One of the best examples I’ve found is Pocket Queens – an online study group that hosts lessons on Zoom every week. Some big names in the poker world have spoken at these lessons including Maria Ho and Phil Hellmuth.

Online and live events are hosted for a women-only field, giving women the opportunity to play in a comfortable environment. This is one of the few organizations of its kind, as it aims to reach a worldwide audience.

Some of my favorite Women’s poker groups offer amazing opportunities to learn about the game with meet-ups, tournaments and workshops. These are some of the best organizations out there right now that are looking to provide a safe space for women in poker.

Women’s Poker Association (WPA)

The WPA is a powerful force in the poker world, advocating for greater female representation and opportunity. They host a variety of events like the Women’s Poker Summit, a multi-day conference featuring workshops, tournaments, and networking opportunities.

The WPA also offers educational resources like articles, podcasts, and a mentorship program that pairs experienced players with those looking to improve their skills.

Poker Power

 This organization is all about empowering women both on and off the felt. They offer a comprehensive curriculum that includes poker strategy, mindset coaching, and business development workshops.

Their signature event, the Poker Power Bootcamp, is a multi-day immersive experience that equips women with the tools to succeed in both poker and life.

Poker Divas

With a focus on fun and community, Poker Divas offers a variety of events designed to introduce women to poker and foster a love for the game.

Their Diva’s Night Out events combine poker lessons with social activities, creating a relaxed and supportive atmosphere for beginners. They also offer leadership programs that use poker as a platform to teach valuable life skills.

Poker League of Nations (PLON)

 This global alliance is dedicated to increasing the visibility and participation of women in poker. They offer financial backing to talented female players through staking agreements, helping them compete in major tournaments.

PLON also hosts a variety of women-only events and tournaments, creating a supportive space for female players to showcase their skills.

Globetrotting Poker Ladies

This vibrant Facebook group is a hub for female poker players who love to travel. Members share their poker adventures, exchange tips and advice, and connect with other women who are passionate about the game.

It’s a great resource for finding travel buddies, discovering new poker destinations, and building lasting friendships.

Fantastic Ladies in Poker (FLIP)

This supportive Facebook group celebrates the achievements of women in poker and provides a platform for encouragement and inspiration. Members share their successes, discuss strategies, and connect with other passionate players from around the world.

FLIP is a positive and empowering community that fosters a sense of belonging and camaraderie among female poker players.

Amplifying Voices and Driving Change

As the momentum for women-only poker tournaments continues to build, it is crucial to amplify the voices of those advocating for change. Organizations like PokerPower, dedicated to empowering women in the game, have played a pivotal role in raising awareness and driving initiatives that promote gender equality within the poker community.

poker power
Poker Power is an organization that teaches women how to play poker in order to foster skills like Risk Assessment, Decision Making and Negotiation.

By leveraging the power of social media, advocacy groups, and influential figures within the industry, the call for more women-only events can resonate far and wide, inspiring organizers, venues, and regulatory bodies to take decisive action.

Furthermore, the collective efforts of women poker players themselves, sharing their stories, experiences, and aspirations, can serve as a powerful catalyst for change.

“Growing the game means reaching untapped demographics – we can’t arrogantly assume what worked for us automatically works for them. True leadership isn’t telling someone what to do and demanding they follow. True leadership is inspiring someone to want to move forward – on their own terms.” – Amanda Botfeld, author of “A Girl’s Guide to Poker”.

By amplifying these voices and fostering an open dialogue, the poker community can collectively navigate the path towards a more inclusive and equitable future, where women-only tournaments are not merely a temporary solution but a celebrated and integral part of the game’s fabric.

Embracing Diversity on the Felt

As the poker industry continues to evolve, the importance of embracing diversity cannot be overstated. Great strides have been taken but I would love to see more members of the community actively promoting and supporting women-only poker tournaments.

I truly believe that diverse perspectives can breathe new life into the game, but the barrier to entry is high – not only because you need a lot of skill and knowledge to be successful but also because the lack of safe spaces for women stops us from getting involved in the first place.

In the words of Xuan Liu, a renowned poker instructor and advocate, “There’s plenty of room for everyone to shine.

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