When I first started playing poker, it wasn’t that big of a deal playing as a girl. Something I hardly paid much attention. Now I’m conscious of being a female almost always.
The biggest difference was that I rose up in stakes.
I expect to see at least one woman at a $1/$2 table. At a $2/$5 game? Not so much.
And even though I’m a poker writer — author of the book A Girl’s Guide to Poker and head quizmaster at amandapoker.com — I’m not some zillionaire poker star with several WSOP bracelets. Having previously worked as a research associate, I’m better at aggregating data than I am at holding a poker face. Figures.
So usually I’m one of the only mid-stakes female players I see.
Anecdotally speaking, most female poker players tend to be very bad or very good. This is because there are fewer opportunities for women to learn Texas Hold ‘Em casually, so women tend to either be highly studied or learning the hard way. It’s rare to see a woman at a poker table. It’s even rarer to see one playing well (who isn’t already a pro).
This doesn’t apply to $5/$10 tables by the way, where there indeed are a noticeable amount of skilled recreational players. It’s the $2/$5, $3/$5, $5/$5 levels that I liken to the “dead zone,” where women are either fish or sharks.
So I definitely stick out more than I did playing lower stakes. And there’s also subtext: you’re playing $5/$5? you must really think you know what you’re doing.
When I began my poker journey, I started at pretty unique stakes: $1/$3 with a $100 – $500 buy-in at the MGM Casino in Maryland. There was no lower-stakes game. This $500 max was entry level. Needless to say it attracted all skill types from rookies to pros, given the cap, so no one assumed you thought you were hot stuff just by sitting down. Now that I play elsewhere at games $300+ minimum buy-in, I sense a hidden, “Just who do you think you are, young lady?” vibe.
Partially this is my fault.
As I gained more knowledge and experience, I began to play differently. I “checked” without speaking. I mucked my cards right. I riffled my chips, creating that shuffle-shuffle sound between my bright-polished fingers. Chip towers. Hoodies. Lingo. Three-bets. Everything about me now screamed it wasn’t my first rodeo, and I believe that made me a target. Goading men into a battle of the sexes, if you will. Now I was a threat. Now I was one of them.
Before, I was rather silly. A goofy little girl who couldn’t even hold her cards right, let alone know what the dealer means when asking, “wait or post?” I didn’t seem like I knew what I was doing because I honestly didn’t.
Sometimes I consider going back to the persona of a rookie, but the fact that I have a book title out blows my cover. (Get it? Book title? Cover? There’s gotta be a joke there! 🙂 ) It’s hard to pretend you don’t know how to play poker when you really did write a book on it!
One last comment on moving up in stakes: there isn’t the same camaraderie. People are on the hunt, either to win financially or even just competitively. As chip values get bigger, egos do, too. You’re playing against a lot of aggressive businessmen who want to dominate in all areas of life. Including you.
You Can’t Beat the Rake
Playing poker at a $1/$2 table almost has a sense of “us against the world.” Which, to be fair, is kind of true — you are all playing against the house. Your main opponent at low stakes in a casino setting is and will always be the rake. There’s a chapter in my book where I explain rake by asking this question: If you and 10 friends each take $200 to play poker, how much will you have left after 12 hours? The answer is zero. Zero dollars. You will each have nothing left because all of it went to the rake. Your night out cost two grand. And you thought bars were expensive!
Psst… want a breakdown? Here’s a clip from my book:
- Dealer deals 30 hands/hour
- Every hour the casino takes $120 in rake ($4 rake x 30 hands)
- The casino takes $30/hour for jackpots ($1 per hand)
- Tips add up to $30/hour ($1 per hand for the dealer)
Grand total is $180 per hour being removed from the game.
Remember you each brought $200. That means your group started with $2,000 total. Ten hours later the casino will have taken $1,800 of your collective money.
Twelve hours later your wallets will be empty.
Pros know this. Many players do not. So when you sit down at an entry level poker table, the vibe has some similarities to craps or blackjack where you’re all trying to beat the house. Usually by winning a jackpot.
I’m not going to say the $2/$5 games are totally cutthroat (they’re not), but they certainly are more serious. Hands move slower, bets are counted more frequently. People are paying attention. Especially to you.
My hope would be for more women to join me at the mid-stakes tables. I’d like a friendlier, cheerier, more upbeat atmosphere where I don’t feel like I’m the only one making conversation (women talk!) And I’d also rather us fight together, as in “us against the world” rather than “us against the house.”
Hope to see you at the $5/$5 tables. I’ll be the one sitting with a backpack decked in glitter.