Expectations were high for women at the 2023 World Series of Poker. Specifically, those interested in growing diversity in poker hoped to see more women in the series in general. By most accounts, people did notice more women at the tables.
Growth of women in poker is difficult to quantify, however, as most tournament operators do not provide gender breakdowns.
The World Series of Poker hosted 95 live tournaments in the summer of 2023, with several dozen more online. The WSOP Online contingent never provides gender breakdowns. The WSOP’s live series is hit or miss. In 2022, I received the number of male and female players in the Main Event and for the entire live series. This year, I asked for both but only received the Main Event number. That makes it very difficult to gauge progress – or lack thereof – for women in poker.
Since the Main Event number is something that the WSOP provides year after year, we can see the trends with women in that $10K buy-in tournament.
First, let’s look at the actual number of women in the WSOP Main Event in each of the last six years. The number itself grew consistently prior to the pandemic, dropped in 2021 (during the F-it-lets-try-it-despite-Covid-wear-a-mask year), and then jumped back into place in 2022. This year, there were 395 women in the Main – 20 more than last year.
From a different angle, we can see the percentage of women was on a solid upward trajectory… until this year. Even in the unusual 2021 circumstances, the percentage of women grew in relation to the overall field. Growth slowed a bit last year and then dropped this year. The record-setting WSOP Main Event attendance left the percentage of women to fall 0.4%.
- Good news? More women played the Main in 2023.
- Bad news? A lower percentage of women played the Main in 2023.
Polling the Public
When Joey Pigtails asked what can be done to positively impact the number, I decided to ask women.
Great question. Women who play…what would make you more interested in playing the $10K Main next year? (Money and time, obv, but what could be done to make it feel accessible?) https://t.co/xegSnRNFyN
— Jennifer Newell (@WriterJen) July 13, 2023
I tracked the answers on Twitter, and I asked the same questions in two popular women’s poker groups on Facebook. I received hundreds of responses, most public but some private.
A Lot of Money
Most women in poker are not full-time professionals, and very few play at the highest buy-in levels of the game. While the WSOP Main Event is not often considered a high-stakes tournament, it does require a $10K buy-in. That is, in fact, a lot of money for one tournament.
That was the most common theme from women’s responses: They can’t afford a $10K buy-in.
These were the most common comments, paraphrased:
- My bankroll doesn’t justify a $10K buy-in.
- If/when I have $10K, I’d rather play more events with smaller buy-ins.
- The WSOP Main is a bucket list item, not a realistic or justifiable expense.
There were other big concerns as well.
- I can’t afford the 7-10 day trip to Vegas.
- If I have to choose between Ladies Week and the Main, I choose Ladies Week.
- I can’t get away from work/family/children for 7-10 days.
- Taxes on winnings for Europeans and Canadians are prohibitively high.
- I don’t like the idea of playing in a male field with 4% or less women.
It’s important to note that time is a factor in the WSOP Main Event like in no other poker tournament. There are four starting flights and two “Day 2” iterations before players combine. And the money bubble may burst late on Day 3 or – like this year – into Day 4. Even if a player competes in Day 1D, they would need to book a six-day stay just to ensure they could play into the money and not have to worry about flight changes until they ran deep enough into the payouts that an airline fee wouldn’t be a second thought. Add on travel days to the beginning and end, and a player could be away from home for 7-8 days at a minimum to play one tournament.
Women were quick to include suggestions for ways to solve some of the above issues.
Since the primary hurdle to playing the Main Event is the buy-in itself, the most common suggestion was more satellites. That broke down into a variety of ideas:
- More low (less than $1K) buy-in satellites like step satellites
- More satellites outside of Las Vegas – across the US and around the world
- More online poker satellites
- Home game leagues with money contributed weekly/monthly to a Main Event seat
- Ladies-only satellites
- Satellites at WSOP Circuit event stops
- More satellites through women’s organizations like FLIP, WPA, PLON, etc.
- Some satellite wins that include money for travel expenses and accommodations
- More staking opportunities
Poker League of Nations (PLON) was quick to note that they offered satellites for women to win their way to the Main Event. PLON also offers staking opportunities via its Facebook group.
Staking has been offered on various terms. Some are shared investments (typically going back to the staking fund to support #MoreWomen), or at varying percentages, some are 100% to the player! Depends on who’s offering the staking, and what agreement is in any particular case.
— PokerLeagueOfNations🌎 (@PokrLeagNations) July 14, 2023
Some women noted that those who are newest to the game may not be familiar with all of the different women’s groups in poker, nor do they have the time to peruse long Facebook threads or scroll Twitter. They don’t know about staking opportunities, how to organize home games live or online, or how to find the online poker sites that offer sanctioned satellites. Some don’t even know how satellites work and why they are so popular.
Mo Problems, Fewer Solutions
There are, of course, issues for which there are no easy solutions.
First, an oft-mentioned concern is the sexism and misogyny still present in poker. Obviously, this is a problem the world over, well beyond poker, but it is more pronounced when women are such a minority at the tables. When a woman knows that she will likely be the only woman at her table at any given time, it can decrease the desire to play that event.
Further, if women are not confident that any sexism or harassment will be met with swift consequences by the tournament staff, it further deters women from wanting to play.
Second, there is the high tax for players from the European Union and Canada, among other parts of the world. For example, Canadian women mentioned a 30% tax off the top of any winnings exceeding $5K, which would be a min-cash in the Main Event. Add to that a plethora of paperwork to apply for some of that money to be reimbursed in the next year or more, plus an unfavorable exchange rate for US currency for everything from hotel to buy-ins, and it becomes a complicated, prohibitive mess.
I know many Canadian women who came down for the Series and I’m not sure why I never thought about the exchange rate…but it’s not $10k to them! If money is a barrier, so is exchange rate. They told me they really had to choose wisely due to that. pic.twitter.com/xVDPS4EVs2
— Malia Miranda (@JMaliaMiranda) July 13, 2023
Third, there is the loneliness that can accompany a journey to Las Vegas and playing the Main Event. If a woman does not have a family member who can afford to also make the trip to Vegas or if the woman has no poker-playing friends, the journey through the Main Event can be a lonely one.
Finally, comments from women expressed a need for child care references in Las Vegas, more education about staking and satellites, a forum to connect with women for traveling in pairs or groups, and online poker satellites in parts of the USA and world that have no WSOP-affiliated options.
There are some groups in poker that address some of these issues, with the exception of child care and online poker satellites. Some Facebook groups provide the space for women to network and connect. Pocket Queens is a group that focuses heavily on game education. PLON and WPA focus on community.
Women can find most of what they seek. However, there is trial and error in finding the right group with the right resources, the one(s) that will benefit them the most.
100%. Hard to believe QQ is just 1 year old, eh? Next year will be even more amazing, as the count down to WSOP 2024 begins today. Time to hit the lab, sisters! https://t.co/HDEWpE043k
— Victoria Livschitz (@VictoriaL_64) July 26, 2023
Perhaps, though, women will never flock to the WSOP Main Event in big numbers. They may stick to lower buy-in events and cash games. Some will always prefer women-only tournaments.
Time and the availability of resources will tell.