Two days ago, I composed a list of players who I felt would be most-recognizable to the readers, the kind of names that bring the kind of ongoing storylines WSOP tends to shine a spotlight on. I chose 25 names out of the 282 that remained and while they're all gone (If all skill was even, the chances of all 25 missing the final 27 was about seven percent. Nice job, Gary), the bigger folly was my failure to include two that would almost certainly be the focal point for any October final table.
Really, from this point onward, until they get eliminated, Elisabeth Hille (fifth place, 9,770,000) and Gaelle Baumann (20th place, 5,530,000) are the start and end of all focus on the main event, because they're bringing the potential of a woman at the main event final table for the second time in history, and the first time since 1995. A long time ago in the poker chronology.
Barbara Enright, the woman who stands alone as having made a main event final table, finished fifth and she's in the poker hall of fame. Granted, she was also the first woman to win a solo open-invitation bracelet (Starla Brodie, the first female bracelet winner, got hers by entering a team tournament with Doyle Brunson) and the first woman to three bracelets (two of them in the ladies event), but let's just say her $1.4 million career earnings over 26 years of playing tournaments would rank far down the list for enshrinement if not for gender. A woman making the final table of this tournament would be a very big deal.
The 17 years since Enright's final table includes the Rounders generation, the Moneymaker generation, the online generation and the UIGEA- and Black-Friday sub-generations. That period includes the creation of online poker, the hole-card camera, the World Poker Tour and multiple WSOP main event Day 1's . The 1995 WSOP had a field of 273, or approximately one table fewer than we started Day 5 with this year. It's been a long time.
There are those who rail against ladies events in the name of equality, saying all are equal at the poker table, but if Vanessa Selbst's bracelet win this year (which broke a four-year ladies open-event bracelet drought) taught us anything, it's that things haven't been equal at the table, at least at the top reaches of the game. That isn't because it can't be, but the welcome signs for new female players have been few and far between and we see the proof in the results. Hille or Baumann (or, dare to dream, both) getting to the final table, getting three months of interviews and features and focus, getting a spot on live network television -- these are the kind of things that inspire. They could inspire poker's greatest untapped market -- women -- and in doing so, make the table seem a little more accessible. Somehow, nine brooding, hooded or hatted, glasses and headphones-wearing, unshaved, surly men playing for unrealistic amounts of money doesn't offer a lot for lady viewers in the way of inspirational role models.
Poker's booms have only been about one thing: new players. I'm not saying a Hille or Baumann final table would inspire anything so massive as that, but really as health of the industry goes, the more people who are playing, the better things are. These two ladies bring the hope of further cracking open the dam that blocks the onrush of women to the tables. Even if that doesn't happen, the rarity of a woman making the final table makes theirs the most riveting tournament stories to watch today as the final 27 works its way down to nine. Some reporters will tell you they often find themselves cheering for "the story". Today, that's exactly what these two women are.
Editors Note: Baumann and Hille finished in 10th and 11th place.