A Poker Mom’s Decision: Should I stay or should I go?

By Ivonne Montealegre
December 14, 2022

It all started with a social media tag from Matt Savage.

Let’s give that some context: I have never met Matt, but I have followed his career as Tournament Director closely.  I’ve also heard the stories; he is such a legend in the poker industry! I received a very nice and supportive direct message from him while hosting one of my events at home in Malta.  So then, after the tag, things progressed quickly and the WPT staff — thanks Cathy (Zhao) and Hermance (Blum)! — invited me to their WPT World Championship week in Las Vegas, happening right now.

This week sees a $200K Guaranteed WPT Ladies Championship added as part of their lineup of events. And this is to me where things get interesting; in all my years in the poker industry, I have never seen a poker brand pay SO much attention to showcasing events for ladies during the roster of tournaments. Normally Ladies’ events act as somewhat of a “marketing stunt” to bring in the ladies, with no prize pools guaranteed. By contrast, this one that the World Poker Tour is hosting even has a televised final table!

The WPT has made such an important effort, have awarded so many prize packages and WPT Passports to the event to ladies’ poker groups, to professional female players who have used their social media channels to award passports to other ladies.  I’ve witnessed the female poker industry unite like never before.

A Tough Decision

So, I want to tell you my story as a recreational player, as a poker mom. Being a poker mom is hard. As you all know, kids are not allowed inside casinos, so it is pretty much impossible to simultaneously both be with your kids and play a tournament. The hours are very long hours and you carry around a lot of guilt. Vegas? Mid-December? This is crazy.

stay or go

I am missing an important week in my kids’ lives and they are still very young; however, everyone in my world is making this trip come true. I want to share my story so other women — other moms — can enjoy the pleasure that poker gives us.

There are so many opportunities now for women in poker. The future of poker is in women’s hands. I’ve said it many times before: every guy who wants to play poker online already has an account; women, by contrast, still need to get into this space and grow from a modest 5% of the player pool.

Due to patriarchalism, we women are trained to have a specific skillset and mindset. Things are changing, but there’s still so much to do. I still hear stories of women being berated at the tables. Poker gives you some FIRE, Sisters!

Poker Empowers Women

One magical night, a lady named Kristiana told me how after participating in one of the poker satellite tournaments I hosted, she went on afterwards to win a company poker event. Best feeling ever (not just for her!). We made her a shark; that feeling of finishing first place in a poker tournament — no matter how small the buy in — can be life-changing.

As far as my own poker playing experiences, I’ve got a story, too. I once went to play at my favorite local regular tournament — the Friday Shark at Malta’s Portomaso Casino — and I got sent home with the infamous “Vanessa Selbst vs. Gaelle Bauman” epic WSOP hand. In that same order, I get my pocket aces and they get totally cracked by quad sevens.

When you have the winning hand and only 1 card in the whole deck can change your destiny, it can sometimes be a very cruel game. Unlike Vanessa, I didn’t even see this coming and I couldn’t believe that the river displayed the one dreaded 7 that the villain needed to kick me out. But you need to get up, learn and move forward. The same holds true in life in general.

Ivonne Montealegre and Vanessa Selbst

I have just landed in Las Vegas and I’m eagerly looking forward to meeting so many female industry leaders and male supporters, as well as to play in the WPT Ladies Championship.

My dream is to have a more inclusive, integrated, diverse poker experience for all at the poker tables. I want female players to get what they deserve. Our seats at the table should be earned with hard work, not exclusively via “marketing stunts” in detriment of the perception of my gender at the tables.

Thanks for reading my story; and I hope next year even more of us can gather together. Over the coming week, I’ll be continuing this miniseries of articles on Cardplayer Lifestyle to report on the absolutely incredible and unique events that are set to comprise the 2022 winter Women’s Week. Stay tuned.

Ivonne Montealegre GPI award



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Ivonne Montealegre
Written By.

Ivonne Montealegre

Ivonne Montealegre is a trained psychologist by profession, and has been working in the poker industry for the past 20+ years. Her experience in Malta awarded her an Igaming Idol Outstanding Contribution to the industry in 2018, the same year in which she founded The Malta Poker Festival. Her experience as Event Director is extensive […]

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