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The History of the WSOP Ladies Event
Written by Amy Zupko   
Wednesday, 02 June 2010 00:08

In 1977 the World Series of Poker, then in its eighth year, began what would become an annual tradition. On Friday, May 6th, at 12:00 PM, the first ladies-only championship poker event began, and since that date the World Series of Poker’s Ladies Event has been the largest women’s-only tournament in the world. The event has grown annually and now features a truly international field that has turned hobbies into long lasting careers and turned dreams into a reality.

According to legend, the WSOP Ladies Event was started in order to give the wives and female companions of the male poker players something to do in order to bring a bigger draw to the other tournaments that were predominately male. The WSOP has not been able to deny or support this rumor, as past records for the event were not very accurate and no complete history exists.

As a result, the number of women who entered into that initial 1977 event is also unknown. The buy in for the seven-card-stud event (the switch to no-limit came later) was a minimal $100, the lowest buy-in in the history of the WSOP -  it also produced the smallest prize pool in WSOP history as a result. The top three women were paid, with Jackie McDaniels taking the top spot..

From 1979 to 1981 the buy-in for the Ladies Only Event was bumped up to $400. The game was still seven-card stud. The field continued to grow in numbers, albeit small compared to today’s tournament fields, but there was no denying the steady growth of women wanting to try their hand at the poker tables. 1982 saw a jump in the buy-in to $500, where it remained through 1991. The field steadily grew from 64 entrants in 1982 to 110 in 1991.




In 1992, the WSOP brought the women’s-only event to new heights. Although the event has been a bracelet event since its inception, raising the buy in to $1,000 made the ladie’s event more of a championship event, and moved it past the image of housewives playing in the back room to keep them occupied. The increased buy-in gave more credibility to the event, but seven-card-stud still ruled the feminine side of the felt.

The event changed to a Hold'em/stud mix in 2000 and remained that way through 2003. The number of entrants remained steady at about 100 throughout the early part of the decade. In 2004, the WSOP changed the format over to limit hold’em only. The poker boom was in full swing but had not fully grasped the potential of the ladies market and its growth. The field grew to 200 that year, a record number, but nothing prepared the WSOP tournament directors for things to come.

2005 was the year the ladies’ event hit the big time. No one expected the 601 women who flocked to the tables at the Rio, the new home of the World Series of Poker. The event switched over to no-limit hold’em that year as well, and combined with the growth of online and televised poker; women received far more exposure to the game and turned out in massive numbers as a result. By 2006, the ladies WSOP reached a form similar to today. About 1,000 women enter the tourney annually.

Over the past few years, the World Series of Poker staff has taken into account many suggestions from players and industry professionals alike to make  improvements to the Ladies Event. These changes make it not only more inviting to women but also make it more competitive as compared to previous years. The event now spans across three days with 60-minute levels and 3,000 starting chips.

This year’s event looks to bring much more to the table than in the past. In 2010, more than ever women are proving their merit on the felt. Big wins by top women in the field have shown that female players are stepping up to the challenge and are willing to bring a competitive spirit out in themselves as well as in each other.

Tidbits from the World Series of Poker Ladies Event


May 6, 1977

Buy in: $100 7-Card Stud

Winner: Jackie McDaniels

Entrants: Unknown

  • The winner Jackie McDaniels took home the smallest prize pool in WSOP history totaling $5,580. In 2009 the 19-27th place finishers took home slightly less.


May 12, 1978

Buy in: $200 7-Card Stud

Winner: Terry King

Entrants: Unknown

  • The winner, Terry King went on to cash in 4 more WSOP Ladies Events


May 15, 1979

Buy in: $400 7-Card Stud

Winner: Barbara Freer

Entrants: 53

  • The winner, Barbara Freer went on to cash in five more WSOP Ladies Events


May 9, 1980

Buy in: $400 7-Card Stud

Winner: Deby Callihan

Entrants: 62


May 11, 1981

Buy in: $400 7-Card Stud

Winner: Ruth Godfrey

Entrants: 88


May 13, 1982

Buy in: $500 7-Card Stud

Winner: June Field

Entrants: 64

  • The winner June Field took her poker playing skills and entrepreneurial spirit and founded Card Player Magazine, Card Player Cruises, Classic Poker Cruises as well as Poker Digest, which was merged with Casino Player Magazine.

  • The event 3rd place winner, Starla Brodie went on to cash in five more ladies events including a first in 1995

  • Linda Johnson cashed in her first recorded tournament, taking 4th for a payout of $1920. Linda has gone on to great heights in the poker industry dedicating her time to making poker tournaments consistent and fair.

May 8, 1983

Buy in: $500 7-Card Stud

Winner: Carolyn Gardner

Entrants: 64

  • The event winner, Carolyn Gardner became the first woman of color to win a WSOP event. She cashed in a total of 7 WSOP Ladies events, holding the record for the most cashes in the ladies event. (1983, 1989, 1994, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2007)

  • Jackie Jean became the first woman to cash in consecutive WSOP Ladies Events. She took 2nd in 1981 and 1982.

May 13, 1984

Buy in: $500 7-Card Stud

Winner: Karen Wolfson

Entrants: 62


May 10, 1985

Buy in: $500 7-Card Stud

Winner: Rose Pifer

Entrants: 74


May 13, 1986

Buy in: $500 7-Card Stud

Winner: Barbara Enright

Entrants: 82

  • The winner, Barbara Enright went on to place 1st in the Ladies Event in 1994 and to place 5th in the WSOP Main Event in 1995 and became one of the industry’s most respected players.

  • Linda Johnson boasted her second cash in the WSOP Ladies event finishing 3rd.


May 10, 1987

Buy in: $500 7-Card Stud

Winner: Linda Ryke-Drucker

Entrants: 84

  • Alma McClelland became the second woman to cash in consecutive WSOP Ladies events coming in 5th in 1986 and 3rd in 1987.

  • Cyndy Violette cashed in her first recorded tournament. Her 4th place finish gained her $2520. That win led to a lucrative poker career of over $1,000,000 and a WSOP bracelet in the Limit 7-Card Stud Hi/Lo event in 2004.


May 11, 1988

Buy in: $500 7-Card Stud

Winner: Loretta Huber

Entrants: 85

  • 2nd place finisher, Ester Rossi, cashed in her first recorded tournament that spurred on a more than a decade long career as well as landing her a spot on the Full Tilt pro roster

  • Jan Fisher marked her first recorded cash in a long career on the felt as well as off. Jan has led a career in the poker industry filled with various positions that make her one of the most respected women in the industry.


May 10, 1989

Buy in: $500 7-Card Stud

Winner: Alma McClelland

Entrants: 93

Read part two of this article here.



+3 # 2010-06-09 00:26
Thanks for the walk down memory lane. I remember some of these final tables like they were yesterday!. In 1980, I finished fifth and they only paid 3, but that still inspired me to quit my job, move to Vegas, and become a poker pro.

I'll never forget the 1986 final table. When it got down to 3 players, I was up against Barbara Enright and Betty Carey. They were each amazing players and I felt like I had been run over by a truck when it was over.
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+2 # Zupko2001 2010-06-09 14:21
Thank you so much for the comments Linda. Im glad you enjoyed the article. I really enjoyed the research for it. And thank you for being part of the history that continues to urge women towards the felt.
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+1 # 2012-03-26 18:54
Thank you for posting these wonderful ladies who were the pioneers of women in poker. Brought back many memories of the early years of WSOP and I was honored running Satellites for Jack and Jimmy in the middle 80's. These ladies 'paved the way' for women around the world.
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