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 10.75% 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 who blazed the trail for today’s women in poker. No discussion would be complete without talking about Barbara Enright.
To this day, 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 fifth.
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 tenth, and Elisabeth Hille (eleventh) 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. 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 sixth 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 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 Violette at 12, Jennifer Harman at 11 and Marsha Waggoner at 9.
This year 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. Last year 14 women were at final table and that number will only continue to grow.
Female players are just as skilled as males, 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 the legends of the game and the up-and-comers, to work together to increase the number of women players so someday in the not-too-distant future we finally have a female World Champion of Poker.
Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiard marketing expert, best known for inventing the game of Omaha poker and introducing it to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker. He has over 30 years experience in the gaming industry and is co-founder of Crown Digital Games. Twitter @thechipburnerRobert can be reached at [email protected].