Monday, November 29, 2004

Women in Poker

A new player asked me how it feels to be a woman in the poker world. I typed in a long, detailed response to her, and thought it might be decent enough, with a little editing, to reproduce here.

The funny thing is, I never feel like a woman. I don't ever really feel like there is a difference between myself and the thousands of other players I encounter at the tables. I only realize I'm female if someone says something about it.

While this may come as a surprise to many, it's not to me, because I have always been extremely masculine. I remember signing up for junior league football with my brother when we were kids. They tried to put me in a skirt to be a cheerleader instead! I played football growing up, never even thinking about being "different" from the guys. In high school I tried out for football, not realizing the stir it would cause in my old-fashioned redneck town. It didn't even occur to me that I wouldn't be accepted. For years afterwards, all I heard was how I was the first girl to ever try out for the football team in the 100-year history of our school. Blah, blah.

So I guess I'm a dyke, in the sense of the word that I am very masculine and don't really feel like a woman. When I try to "go girl" and wear dresses or skirts, I feel like a transvestite.

Many people mistake me for a man. I have been very fortunate in certain circumstances because of my mistaken identity. For instance, one time I was playing a one-table sat at the WSOP. We were on the 2nd or 3rd hand. I had AQs and raised up front. Someone directly to my left went all-in. I was pondering my decision, trying to read the reraiser's body language, when someone not involved at the table said out loud, "Wait! He hasn't acted yet!" The reraiser was sitting next to me and thought he was speaking about a man. So when it was folded back around to me, the reraiser didn't realize I still had my cards and showed me his AKs. I told him I hadn't mucked yet, and he exclaimed, "OMG, I thought he was talking about someone else, doesn't he know you're a woman?"

So, yeah, I was playing with some amateurs here, obviously, but it did save me the sat. I took my depleted stack and came back to win my entry into the $1500 Stud 8 event.

In other ways, being thought of as a man also has it's advantages. If I'm at a table with men who suddenly become calling stations when there is a woman in the pot, I tend to get a bit more respect if I'm mistaken as a man, since they will sometimes fold, instead of calling me down with ATC.

On the flip side, being a woman has distinct advantages, too. Most of the time, it is simply a handicap, an unnecessary burden, but it can have it's good days. I feel the advantages most in cash games. In tournaments, it is usually a huge handicap. I can go more deeply into tourney strategy vs. cash game strategy if anyone is interested and I have enough requests for it.

Soooo, here is what I wrote to Stephanie, the woman asking about being female in the world of poker. Enjoy!

You can read the journal entries from the beginning, if you want a
better bio of me. Basically I started playing casually after my Mom
became a poker dealer. That was maybe 1992, 1993? I didn't play in
casinos, back then they were hell. There was way too much abuse.

After Glenn and I retired from AOL, we began playing more seriously,
because we had too much time on our hands, and couldn't find jobs.
By then, the casinos had improved a million fold. They still aren't
perfect, but there is much less abuse in cardrooms these days.

The best advice I could give you is that you have to have balls to
play poker seriously. If you look down, and you don't see those
balls, now is the best time to get out. You have to be aware of what
is going on at all times. Some players can be such scumbags at the poker
table that if you let it happen to you, you will become a chronic
victim. You must absolutely bust them. They will try to shoot
angles, you have to stop it immediately, nip it in the bud, or it
will never get any better. When they try to take their bets back
because they "didn't realize the pot had been raised" you must insist
the money stays in the pot. They will pull these angles on you 24/7
because you are a woman, because they can, because they are scumbags, because they don't even know they are shooting an angle. If you let them get away with it even
once, you may as well just get out of poker. If you have the balls
to play, you have the balls to speak out. Too many women, and players in general, don't speak up. Too many women let players roll over them, and then can't
understand why they are treated so badly and never win.

You will run into some people who tell you that you should be shiny,
happy, Kumbaya singing all the time. This school of thought believes you should never complain about being cheated. You should never say anything if the pot is over raked. You shouldn't boycott a tourney because of atrocious juice. You should never bust angle shooters or cheaters. Believe it or not, these are the majority of poker players. They think that we have a huge edge over bad players, so we should just keep our mouths shut and take their money more slowly.

These people have their heads buried in the sand, and I will gladly take THEIR money. They will criticize you, however, on the table and off of it, behind your back and in front of your face, on journals and poker forums, asking why you
are always the watchdog, why you are always busting the chops of the other players and the dealers. You will have to put up with this kind of behavior if you expect to win in poker.

Good players have a tiny, miniscule edge over terrible players as it is, don't be fooled into thinking otherwise. If you add angleshooting, cheating, and over raking the pot to that, there is no way you can win. Just to clarify, an angle shooter can also be a cheat, and cheaters almost always angle shoot, but not all angle shooters cheat in poker. In fact, lots of angle shooters don't even know they are doing anything wrong.

As an example, there is an old, deaf guy sitting behind you. He is usually in the one or the ten seat, because he can't see or hear anymore and needs to see the flop better, and/or ask the dealer questions. You raise the blinds. He said, "Call," but only puts out the amount of the big blind. The dealer tells him the pot has been raised. He takes back his chips and throws his cards away.

This is sometimes not cheating. In fact, if the old man knew he was breaking a rule, he wouldn't even do it. He often has no idea he is shooting an angle. But he is, and you absolutely cannot allow it. Why can't you? After all, he is an innocent old man who has no idea what he is doing, and why would you want to exploit his mistake when he obviously didn't even mean to call a raise, and will only tighten up and "come after you" if you insist on keeping his money? Why? Because the eight other people at the table will rape you if you let one innocent, sweet old man get away with this. Because for every dollar you may win by letting the old man think you are a nice, understanding little woman, you will lose eight dollars from the other players at the table who take advantage of your "understanding."

People can talk trash all they want about being the nice guy, and letting people get away with shooting angles, but it is the absolute truth that we do not have that luxury, if we want to win. So let people gossip about you. Let people call you whatever names they come up with that week. Let them think you are the rudest, coldest most annoying witch in the universe. You will end up with the money in the end, and isn't that what really matters anyway? You are not at the table to make friends, you are the table to make money.

On the flip side, you are also responsible to do the ethical thing at all times, yourself. You cannot let the dealer move the button twice, just because it will let you skip the BB and slip into the SB instead. This is unfair to every player at the table, and gives you an undeserved advantage. You must stop it. Players will argue with you, the dealer will argue with you, but you have to stick to it. You cannot take advantage of a sloppy dealer, or players who move the button forward themselves, yet forget to tell the dealer. It is also your responsibility to give chips back to a player who put too many into a pot. Sometimes a player will not be able to cut his chips correctly. So if you make an $80 bet, in two stacks of four, sometimes he will "call" your bet by cutting two stacks of five. You must make sure to give him those chips. The player may be careless, the dealer may be sloppy, but don't steal chips that you didn't earn. Do the right thing! It is your ethical responsibility.

Now, getting back to my own history, once I found out that I could beat most of the LL players in cardrooms, I started trying to add to my edge by reading poker
literature. I think that the 2+2 books are the best books available. Sometimes RL play differs from theoretical play, and you will have to learn to know when to veer from the theoretical play preached in most 2+2 books, but by then, you will have the experience to do so. Studying, reading poker forums and thinking very deeply
about poker is one of the best teachers in the world. Experience comes slowly, but surely, if you take your sessions to heart and don't try to fool yourself into thinking you were outdrawn, when in actuality you were outplayed from the start. The more you admit to your weaknesses, the easier it is to work on them and overcome them. If you rigidly stick to the idea that you always play better than your
opponents, but just continually get "unlucky," you will always lose in the long run at poker. Try to be as realistic as possible, burying your head in the sand is only going to hurt you in the long run, no matter how many so-called "friends" you make in the poker world.

When you play poker, play your best at all times. Yes, you will still make mistakes, but you must absolutely play your very best when you play. You don't have a big enough edge to make mistakes. When I hear players say, "Oops, I didn't know he was still in the pot, I thought we were head's up," I want to cringe. You cannot afford to make mistakes. When every pot is raked, you must know how much was in the pot, and how much the rake should be. A dealer cannot drop five chips down the slot when the cardroom has a $4.00 max rake! Every time a dealer over rakes a pot, you are losing money. The edge becomes meaningless if you consistently allow this to happen. If you set a maximum number of errors allowed per session, and stick to that rule, you might save yourself some losses. You can lower the number of allowable errors as you gain experience. I am fully from the Mike Caro school of poker, that you must play your A game at ALL times to avoid your miniscule edge becoming null and void. Just think, if you continue to make errors, you are actually giving odds when you play poker, instead of taking them! This should not ever be the case.

That is all I can type for now, my fingers are bleeding (lol). Good luck, and play your best at all times.