Historically, poker and particularly professional poker, has very much been perceived as a male-dominated activity. However, as the game’s online popularity has grown exponentially over the last decade and a half, women are increasingly claiming their seat at the poker table and playing their male competitors on their own terms. Although women still represent just 5% of poker players, that number is set to grow, albeit slowly but surely. In 2013, the number of women playing online poker increased a massive 22% on the previous year.
There are a few reasons for this shift. As poker has become a more mainstream activity, the internet and online gaming has simultaneously provided a safe place for future female pros to hone their skills. Playing online fits into busy women’s schedules – it’s convenient and you can play anytime. Meanwhile, changes to UK gambling law mean poker can now be played in pubs (with prize pools of £100 or less) and compulsory membership for real world casinos is no longer such a barrier, making the game much more accessible.
Online stakes are often lower, giving them extra appeal for female players just starting out, who tend to be more risk averse than their male counterparts. All these facts add up to the reason why today around a third of online players are female. Some women have already gained real recognition as poker stars, like Brit Anna Duxbury, who cut her teeth through online gambling games during the birth of her second child. Anna, now also known as DuckRatMe, soon graduated to more serious play and made a name for herself. Really taking the live WSOP events by storm. As early as 1995, before online poker existed, Barbara Enright became the first woman to reach a WSOP main event final table.
More famously, Victoria Cohen Mitchell, who is also a UK media personality, journalist and presenter of geeky gameshow Only Connect, in 2006 famously won some $943,396 at the game. She was the first woman to win a European Poker Tour leg. Since then, that figure has been repeatedly overshadowed by the winnings of other high-profile female poker players. In 2007, Norwegian Annette Obrestad, then aged just 19 years old, banked an impressive $2,469,452. In the intervening years, two other women’s names have dominated world poker – Vanessa Rousso and Vanessa Selbst. Rousso claimed $1,293,282 in 2012, while Selbst has been the most domineering force, claimed $2,665,230, $2,369,550 and $1,030,869 in 2013, 2014 and 2015 respectively. These big winners have made the poker community question whether ladies events are really necessary anymore – why shouldn’t such talented individuals compete on a level playing field with male players? Leading and forward-thinking poker businesses have been fast to recognise the way women are gaining headway in the game and have enlisted them as ambassadors and star players.
It’s clear that women are on the rise in poker. As the game’s appeal broadens and ever more women discover their love for the skill and technique it demands, as well as its social side, their increased presence both online and in real world poker settings can only be good news.