The Ladies $1,000 No-Limit Hold’em Championship, has finished with Marsha Wolak defeating Karina Jett heads up -- in just one hand -- to take the bracelet and the $192,344 first prize.
I am in Las Vegas again this summer helping cover the WSOP for PokerNews, and while I was not assigned to report on the Ladies event this time, I did check in on the action all three days to gather some impressions to share here.
A few stories emerged on Day 1 of the event, not the least of which being the fact that 1,055 players entered, exactly one more than last year. That field created a total prize pool of $949,500 which would be distributed among the top 117 finishers.
Also of note, of course, was the fact that like in 2010, a handful of men were among those entering the event -- approximately a dozen, by most estimates. While their presence at the tables didn’t create nearly the same level of furor as we saw last year, they did once again ignite debates all around regarding both their participation and the inclusion of a women’s-only bracelet event on the schedule.
Day 1 kicked off with a nifty tribute to past female champions, with women who had either won the Ladies event or other WSOP events in the past all making an appearance in the Pavilion Room to be honored. That group included Deby Callihan, Barbara Enright, June Field, Svetlana Gromenkova, Jennifer Harman, Vanessa Hellebuyuk, Susie Isaacs, Linda Johnson, May Jones, Vanessa Selbst, Maria Stern, Jennifer Tilly, Cyndy Violette, Marsha Waggoner, and Karen Wolfson.
Then, before the first hands were dealt, a “flash mob” of women dancing to a medley of C & C Music Factory, Beyonce, and Lady Gaga broke out in the Pavilion Room, further lending a festive touch to the proceedings. But soon the cards were in the air, and the scene quickly began to resemble that of any other WSOP event.
By day’s end just 137 players remained, with Ruby Du topping the chip counts. It would then take less than an hour of play on Day 2 to reach the money. With one elimination to go, Gretchen “The Dragon Lady” Brummer stood and announced to the room a proposal to take up a collection -- a “save” -- which would involve everyone left in the event contributing $10 to give to the unfortunate player who bubbled the event.
An agreement couldn’t be reached prior to the elimination in 118th of Wendy Cordiner (who just happened to be sitting at Brummer’s table). However, a collection was still taken up, with more than $850 ultimately given to Cordiner, leaving some to admire such a spontaneous display of sympathy while others shook their heads at the spectacle. “Only in the Ladies event,” said some on the rail.
Speaking of spectacle, as happened in 2010, one of the men who entered did make the cash again this year. However, unlike last year when the fellow was eliminated soon thereafter, this year’s “last man standing” -- Jonathan Epstein -- survived much longer, making it all of the way to Day 3 when just 14 players returned.
Unfortunately for spectators, the main feature table located inside the enormous game show-like set constructed in the middle of the Amazon Room was undergoing construction by the ESPN staff in preparation for the upcoming Main Event. That meant the Ladies event had to be played out on the secondary feature table and another side table, requiring those wishing to watch the tourney’s conclusion to stand.
Epstein was at the secondary feature table to start play on Day 3, sitting squarely in the middle in Seat 5 -- literally under a spotlight. He was also the focus of much rail chatter. “What event is this?” asked one passerby. “The Ladies event.” “Why is there a guy at the table?” “I don’t know ... ask him.”
Epstein certainly looked uncomfortable, mostly sitting with his head in his hands as he folded hand after hand. There was kind of a joke-gone-too-far vibe coming from him, as though like everyone else, he, too, felt uneasy about his having crashed the party.
“Just out of curiosity, who’s here cheering Jonathan on?” asked the tournament director, Robbie Thompson who sported a pink tie and handkerchief for the occasion. A small group cheered, and the hundred or more standing three deep around the rail responded derisively. The rail on Sunday wasn’t terribly abusive of Epstein (in my opinion), although I’d heard reports that Day 2 hadn’t gone so smoothly.
When four were eliminated the remaining ten players assembled around the not-quite-final final table, then when Amanda Sizemore was eliminated and they’d reached the final nine, Kristy Gazes took the microphone to introduce the group.
That’s when we learned that in addition to the much-accomplished poker pro Karina Jett, there were several others with interesting backgrounds among the final nine, including a police officer (Katherine Shahl), a couple of nurses (Carol Tomlinson and Valerie McColligan), a plumber (Genevieve Gloutnez), and a body builder (Jennifer Cowan) who flexed her impressive muscles when introduced.
When introducing Epstein -- “the dude,” as Gazes referred to him -- no details were offered regarding his background other than the fact that he was “single and unemployed... no surprise on either count.” The crowd laughed while Epstein sat with a stoic look. The jibe went along with other official communications from the WSOP about the men’s involvement in the event in which their participation has been referred to as “appalling” and the point that they are not “gentlemen” is made repeatedly.
After a couple of orbits that included a dramatic double-up for the eventual winner Wolak -- who started the final table as the short stack -- Epstein was finally all in with Ad-Qd versus Wolak’s pocket tens. “Bust the dude! Bust the dude!” came the chant from the rail, and while there was a bit of a sweat after two diamonds flopped, Wolak’s tens held and Epstein was eliminated. Wolak and others shook his hand and some on the rail also offered congratulations to him as he left, but the overwhelming sentiment was that most were glad to see his run not go any further.
As happened last year, the eliminations came quickly at this year’s final table as well. It only took about three hours for the final eight to be trimmed to two, then heads-up play ended in a single, dramatic hand. Wolak had a 3-to-1 chip advantage over Jett, and following a Qd-Jd-8c flop the pair got all of the latter’s chips in the middle. Jett held Ks-10d for an open-ended straight draw while Wolak had top pair and a gutshot with Qh-9h.
The turn was the 10c, which gave Wolak her straight, and after the 3d fell on the river she had won. Jett, who’d finished fourth in this same event twice before, had gone further this time but ended her run one spot shy of the gold.
For a variety of reasons, the Ladies event is truly a unique one on the WSOP calendar. It provides a lot of opportunity to players who otherwise wouldn’t participate in the Series. It also provides an occasion for debates about men and women, generally speaking, as well as the significance of sex in poker in particular.
As we see in the culture at large, such debates about the Ladies event aren’t always conducted with the kind of decorum or mutual respect that is needed for them to be constructive. Still, as the many celebrations marking all three days of the event demonstrated, the Ladies event still brings a lot of happiness to the lives to players and fans alike.