The first time I saw Liv Boeree, she was wearing something black and silky and sheer and revealing and she was sitting on a toilet. I’d heard her name; she was the new English girl who’d recently signed with Ultimate Bet, but I didn’t know much beyond that. We were set to discuss her on a podcast I regularly participated in because she’d done a photo shoot for Maxim, so I looked her up and there she was in all her outhouserriffic glory.
While younger men were no doubt drooling, I was left unimpressed (not with the veneer, but with the impression it made upon me), despite judging the book by its cover as the photos asked me to do.
I’ve watched for a number of years now as the poker industry has asked why more women weren’t showing up to the tables. I’ve listened to women who will never be asked to pose for Maxim complain about the double standard of sponsorship, where men get their just deserts for demonstrations of skill, while women players get paid because they can make a toilet look sexy. One after another, I’ve seen lady poker stars flash through the sky, trading on their looks instead of on talents that in a vacuum wouldn’t quite measure up. When I saw Liv sitting on that toilet, I saw those complaints manifest. I saw yet another step down what I think is an unfortunate path. I assumed she was just the next pretty face without the skills to back the attention she was getting. I know I was wrong now.
Boeree is the real deal. All accounts say hers is a brain of higher functionality. In her time before poker she was an astrophysicist, which makes any work I’ve ever done the intellectual equivalent of sitting on a toilet in black lingerie. She’s well-liked by her fellows in the TV poker community, she started putting together better results leading to her shedding the UB tarnish for the PokerStars polish and she followed that up by having one of the most-fiscally successful campaigns a woman ever has on the tournament trail last year.
Hendon Mob gives Boeree credit for eleven cashes in 2010, the big one being her win at EPT San Remo. In a field of 1240 players including a handful of reputable, young American pros (Harrison Gimble, Nick Shulman, Steve Gross and Jason Mercier all made the money) and the power elite of European poker, Boeree took home €1,250,000, or just a smidgen under $1.7 million. You can count the women who have won comparable sums or tournaments on a hand of your choosing. I’ve since been instructed by multiple trustworthy sources that the woman can play poker, but immediately after that win, my guess was that she’d lucked her way through. Why? The toilet.
Well, not the toilet actually, but the stigma that came with it. I totally understand that strong, accomplished, successful women will pose for shoots like that one because there’s money to be made and it’s fulfilling to feel beautiful and glamorous, but when Boeree took that gig, she hadn’t accomplished much in the poker world. In my mind, she was relegating herself to that heap of model-types who were trying to make their names off playing a few hands while true pros were playing 100 times as many hours and working harder on their games. It’s not a breed I hold in high regard since I’m always wanting poker to be better-respected by the world-at-large for the authentic form of competition it is.
Boeree is legit, but by doing those photos, she took the long road to that distinction. Because of the power of the horny male consumer, beautiful women will always have the choice to climb through the ranks by showing a little skin, but it’s a double edged sword. As much as sex sells, it caters to a baser instinct. Provide the palate for that transaction and you need to understand that perception isn’t going to be in your corner when you beg to be appreciated for what’s above the shoulders. Men aren’t exactly going to be looking you in the eyes, if you get my meaning.
I love the women who take the other path. Vanessa Selbst, Annie Duke, Vanessa Rousso, Kathy Liebert, Annette Obrestad, Jen Harman . . . they’ve earned their attention by playing the game and excelling at it. Regardless of whether that should be the exception to the norm in the professional ranks of women poker players, it’s become the exception. I’m glad Liv Boeree has joined their number in earning the credit that comes with her success. I just wish the combination of the path she chose and my limited perception had allowed me to appreciate it sooner.
It’s not a crime to be feminine or sexy or beautiful and you won’t hear a lot of complaints about either. Just remember that when you’re dealing with the looking-below-the-shoulders contingent, once their eyes scope downwards, it’s difficult to maneuver them back up.
Gary Wise, an espn.com columnist, shares all manner of opinions on all manner of subjects at jgarywise.com. His twtter feed is @GaryWise1 and you can become a fan of his on Facebook right here.