This year, the Women in Poker Hall of Fame asked Annie Duke to give the keynote speech at the annual induction dinner and ceremony. At first glance, it seemed an odd match, as Duke does not unequivocally support women-only poker tournaments and, therefore, cannot be inducted into the Women in Poker Hall of Fame. But everyone welcomed that proverbial elephant into the room at the Golden Nugget on September 2 to see what would happen.
Any tension that may have led up to Duke’s speech was almost immediately broken when she spoke into the microphone. “I am so honored to be speaking in front of this amazing group that has done so much to support the role of women in this industry,” she began. And she went on to talk about her mother, who was her role model and mentor.
The crux of Duke’s story about her mother was the lessons she learned. “So her mentorship was not about teaching me the intricacies of the game. It was about giving me courage - the courage that as a woman, no matter what barriers to entry there might be, or whatever you might want to try - that if you believe in the power of your own intellect, you can accomplish anything.” Her sentiments resonated with many, this writer included.
Speaking to a group of women is not something foreign to Duke, but doing it from such a personal place and sharing such an intensely painful yet inspiring message was strong. The crowd was engrossed in her speech. And when she transitioned into discussing the number of women in female tournaments, ears were perked.
She mentioned that when she played the WSOP Main Event in 1994, only three percent of the field was comprised of women. The same was true of the 2011 WSOP Main Event. “I know we can do better,” she said.
With another mention of mentoring, she asked that women mentor other young women in the game, rather that we have a responsibility to do so. She then issued a two-pronged challenge. “On the personal level, consider becoming a mentor, to take another female player under your wing, teacher her, encourage her and nurture her. As a group, let’s work toward finally breaking that three percent number.”
Duke’s encouragement to the group pertained to next year’s WSOP. “Next year, on the weekend of the Ladies Event, let’s organize our constituencies to play not only the Ladies Event but the open $1,000 event that same weekend.” She feels that a concerted group effort could give an open event a field of nearly 50 percent women. On a greater note, she urged women to take to tournaments in greater numbers and increase the overall percentage to 10 percent in the next three years.
The roar of the crowd made it seem possible. Duke inspired and encouraged, and her challenge made it to a number of blog posts and articles. The female poker community seemed fired up!
The question that will linger, however, is whether or not it will happen. There are several factors to consider.
First, the community of female poker players, including all the players who frequent the various poker groups live and online, must come together. They must not only support the idea of playing the open event at the 2011 WSOP but encourage others to do so. This will not work without the strength of the poker community as a whole.
Second, poker players themselves must find the financial means to make it happen. Many poker players compete in the Ladies Event as a once-a-year sojourn to Las Vegas without a substantial enough bankroll to allow for other tournament play. The $1,000 buy-in to the Ladies Event is a proper chunk of change for many of the women in the field, so to ask them to pull together another $1,000 buy-in could be a stretch. However, if the aforementioned community works together to suggest home games and encourage other bankroll building opportunities, it could happen.
Third, the players will have to arrange for more time off work and away from families, which is often one of the reasons that many women cannot play tournament poker on a regular basis. Knowing of the challenge well in advance, however, may allow arrangements to be made to stay in Las Vegas for a few extra days.
I, for one, would love to see it happen. A high percentage of women in an open $1,000 event will be big news, and it will let the poker world know, without a doubt, that women are a force in this game. I also believe it can happen, if poker players and the communities that support them unite in the cause.
As Duke mentioned at the end of her speech, we can do it, “if we believe in the force of our collective will.” In collective will, there is power. Maybe it really is that simple.
See also: He Said: Getting Gals Into the Game