As has happened the last three summers, one of the questions being passed around at the start of this year’s World Series of Poker concerned whether or not a woman would successfully secure a bracelet in an “open” event (i.e., not the Ladies event.)
Vanessa Selbst was the last do so back in 2008 in the $1,500 pot-limit Omaha event. Selbst was only the 12th woman ever to win an open event at the WSOP, or 13th if we count Annette Obrestad’s 2007 WSOPE Main Event win. (Jennifer Harman-Traniello is the only woman to win two bracelets in open events.)
That meant at the start of the 2011 WSOP around 150 events had come and gone at the Rio since a woman managed to achieve the feat. Even more if we count the events played at the WSOPE since 2008. That’s quite a drought!
You might recall how last spring amid all of the “Year of the Woman” talk WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart boldly predicted that not one but three women would win bracelets in open events. That ambitious prediction prompted Mike “the Mouth” Matusow to offer to run down the Las Vegas strip naked should Stewart’s prediction come true.
The question of the streak -- that is, the one since Selbst’s WSOP win, not the one Matusow threatened us with -- came up again last month when professional player Brandon Adams proposed a side wager over whether a woman would finally win a non-Ladies event bracelet this year. Adams offered even money on the bet, which got many thinking about just what the appropriate odds would be on such a wager given how long it had been since a woman had won.
Those who have played at the WSOP in recent years -- or like me have been there reporting on events -- have noticed a couple of factors that seem as though they should be relevant here. One is how often women have come oh-so-close to winning open events time and again over the last couple of years. Here are the instances I remember from the last two summers:
2009 -- Millie Shiu, 3rd (Event #50, $1,500 LHE Shootout)
2009 -- Julie Schneider, 3rd (Event #55, $2,500 2-7 Triple Draw)
2010 -- J.J. Liu, 3rd (Event #9, $1,500 PLH)
2010 -- Jennifer Harman, 3rd (Event #15, $10,000 Stud/8)
2010 -- Christine Pietsch, 2nd (Event #21, $1,500 Stud)
2010 -- Karina Jett, 4th (Event #27, $1,500 Stud/8)
2010 -- Vanessa Rousso, tied-5th (made quarters) (Event #35, $10,000 NLHE Heads-Up)
2010 -- Jennifer Harman, 6th (Event #40, $2,500 Razz)
Seeing that makes me want to side with Adams. After so many near-misses, a woman winning can’t be that far away, can it?
The other factor anyone spending any time at the Rio during the WSOP has noticed is the small percentage of women participating in many of the events. I actually covered Selbst’s victory in 2008, and remember distinctly how with 100 players left only three women remained -- Kathy Liebert, Allyn Jaffrey Schulman, and Selbst.
This year the WSOP has been occasionally reporting some of the percentages of women’s participation in certain events. In most events for which figures have been reported, women have only made up around 4% or less of the total fields.
Seeing that statistic makes me less eager to side with Adams. How likely is it for a woman to win if so few are entering?
Let’s look a little more closely at some of those numbers. Setting aside the $500 buy-in Casino Employees event (Event #1) -- for which a whopping 11.06% who entered were women (94 of 850) -- for events for which we have received numbers, the turnouts by women are uniformly low:
Event #2 ($25,000 Heads-Up NLHE) -- 4 of 128 (3.13%)
Event #3 ($1,500 Omaha/8) -- 36 of 925 (3.89%)
Event #8 ($1,000 NLHE) -- 172 of 4,178 (4.12%)
Event #20 ($1,000 Seniors Event) -- 149 of 3,175 (4.69%)
Event #24 ($5,000 NLHE Shootout) -- 7 of 287 (2.44%)
Unofficially, we’ve heard Event #7 ($10,000 PLO) drew 2.81% participation by women and Event #11 ($10,000 Omaha/8) just 0.99% (two women out of 202 entrants). WSOP Communications Director Seth Palansky also tweeted earlier that through the first nine events there were 391 women among the 8,108 total entrants (4.82%). (Thanks to ckbwop for help running down some of these figures.)
As I mentioned, seeing these numbers initially might dissuade someone from joining Adams in believing a woman has an even-money chance of winning a bracelet in an open event this year. But if we consider that in every event we’re essentially seeing about 1-2 women per 50 players, it stands to reason that one or two might win at least one of the 50-plus events on offer.
And just like we’ve seen for the past two years, we’ve already witnessed a couple of instances of women coming very close to doing just that. Maria Ho finished second in Event #4, a $5,000 NLHE event, earning $540,020 -- the most ever for a woman at the WSOP in Vegas, and second only to the £1,000,000 score Annette Obrestad enjoyed for winning the 2007 WSOPE Main Event. And Kim Nguyen took second in Event #19, the $2,500 LHE 6-max. event, earning $131,900.
I like that the WSOP has provided at least partial information on women’s participation at the Series this summer, although I think it would be useful to have more complete data, and not just for those looking to place side bets on the possibility of a woman winning an open event.
The WSOP often speaks of the need to attract more women to poker and of its own efforts to increase their participation. Clear data on just how many women are coming out to play in events would help show how well those efforts are working. Such numbers would also help demonstrate which game types and buy-ins seem to be most popular among women tourney players, with such information then subsequently being useful to tourney organizers hopeful to attract still more female participation.
I’ll be heading out to the Series in just a couple of days to report on the final four weeks, and one of the things I plan to do while there is to see if more information about women’s participation at this year’s WSOP might be available than we’ve learned thus far. If I am able to find out anything, I’ll be sure to share with you here at WPP.
Meanwhile, the wait for a woman winner in an open event continues. At the start of the WSOP I probably would’ve leaned toward Adams’ side of the bet and said it was more likely than not we’d see the streak end. But with half the Series done and the partial information we’ve received thus far about women’s participation, I’m less confident today that Adams is going to win his bet.
See also: She Said: Women Noticed and Noted at the 2011 WSOP