(The sentiments and opinions expressed in this piece are solely my own. I have not spoken to the person I mention often in this piece, and I do not pretend to speak for her.)

 

It should go without saying that women in a male-dominated arena will be subject to scrutiny. Some men will want women to prove that they belong there, that they can hang tough and develop thick skin, that they can take it on the chin like a man.

These women will face sexism and misogyny on some level, really on varying levels at different times, depending upon the time they spend in that male-dominated arena. By the same token, they will face those who say that said sexism and misogyny don’t really exist. These are just figments of the women’s imaginations, that they just want attention and will do anything to get it, that they are perpetual victims.

In this type of environment, a woman has to fight to belong on nearly every front. While a game like poker creates a baseline even playing field, everything else is a battle to some degree.

Players like Ebony Kenney know this. They live it.

Players like Ebony Kenney also face additional scrutiny because of race. This will also vary from time to time, situation to situation, and there will be many who say that the racism doesn’t exist. Same story, different barrier to fair treatment.

A Special Place in Poker

Earlier this week, I wrote about Ebony Kenney’s incredible poker run in Cyprus in the Triton Super High Roller Series, most pointedly her final table and $1.7M score in the Coin Rivet Invitational. I focused on the impact that her successes, not to mention her openness and excitement and vulnerability, had on me and other people in poker.

It was a moment in time for Kenney to celebrate, to be celebrated, and to enjoy all of it. She appeared to be doing just that.

Therefore, she accepted the invitation of friend Joey Ingram to appear on his podcast in her first public engagement since her Cyprus experiences. And the first hour of the two-plus-hour interview showcased her joy. She shared her feelings and observations, and she told some of her personal life story.

Tough Questions Require Tough Answers

Kenney knew that the interview with Ingram wouldn’t be all warm and fuzzy. Ingram asked the public to tell him what they wanted to know from Kenney, and he received a lot of input. He took notes and, in his signature style, took those topics to her. Some of those questions were tough, and she appeared prepared to answer them.

One of the first tough questions focused on backing and/or staking. When a mid-stakes grinder suddenly travels to Cyprus for some of the highest-stakes tournaments in the world – at the invitation of the CEO of the site she represents as an ambassador, no less – the public’s curiosity explodes.

  • How much of her own money did she spend to buy in to those events, especially the $200K buy-in Coin Rivet Invitational?
  • Did CEO Phil Nagy back her? If so, what percentage did he take?
  • How much of her nearly $2M in winnings did she keep?

Ingram asked, and Kenney answered. She noted that some of those questions from the public, via social media, were demanding and insisting that if she didn’t disclose the details of her deals, she was being “shady.” She also noted that these questions seem to come from men, aimed at women, when they do something new or out of the ordinary. Kenney pointed out the double standard, the one in which people demanded to know the details of any backing she received to legitimize her scores while not asking the same of every man who wins big in poker.

She responded accordingly:

“No. I’m not telling anybody shit. You don’t have to know. … You don’t have the right to know shit. You have the right to sit here and watch whatever you want. I get to choose to be on this podcast. I choose to share what I want. I’m choosing to keep this to myself.”

Next up, Ingram brought up questions about bots on Americas Cardroom. Kenney said that she and other team pros work hard within the company to make sure that the site is safe and constantly improving. She said that she is happy to represent ACR, a company that showcases diversity and inclusivity.

Kenney was the first to address Nagy specifically.

“While Phil Nagy doesn’t always make the best decisions, I do think that he takes some of the biggest chances and works really hard for poker players. He really does, truly, want to make poker better for everyone.”

Train Begins to Derail

As Ingram took a break to refill a water bottle, Kenney started to read the chat to fill air time. She shouted out the compliments and the love she was receiving while also addressing unfavorable comments. She acknowledged that there are always haters, and in general, they don’t bother her.

As the two-hour mark neared, Ingram said that he was done talking about Nagy and her possible staking deals, indicating he would veer off into other questions. But then he began talking about how poker site ambassadors (and others outside of poker) get a “free pass” to “shill products” with “no accountability or responsibility for whatever happens.”

Kenney acknowledged responsibility to her audience about the product she’s promoting. She took exception to Ingram using the word “shill” versus promote.

WHERE IS THAT TRAIN GOING?

Ingram then brought up the Daniel Negreanu tweets, a series of tweets Kenney made in May 2022. They were explanations of experiences she’s had at the poker tables and things men have said to her and ways she’s been harassed. This was in response to Negreanu having made some of his standard comments about why he believes more women don’t play poker. One of the instances she detailed was about Negreanu himself, seated next to her at a Foxwoods $10K buy-in tournament in 2008 or 2009.

Explaining further to Ingram, she stated that many people make mistakes and grow from them, learn from them, but that Negreanu is not one of those people. Negreanu’s response to her two tweets was to address it by badmouthing Kenney in a vlog. Kenney noted:

“In my opinion, he needs to grow the fuck up and be willing to have tough conversations and don’t ask questions you don’t want the answer to.”

Kenney went further to acknowledge that she, too, wasn’t always nice to people in poker. In fact, she acknowledged being unsupportive of women in poker but changing and growing over time. Now, she asserted, she is trying to make up for that by admitting her mistakes and trying to be a better person. She only wished that Negreanu would do the same, for him to be able to look at his bad behavior that has contributed to keeping women out of poker.

Train Goes Off the Tracks

By that point in the interview, as Kenney was answering Ingram’s question, Ingram was absorbed in the chat box. When trying to paraphrase her answers, he was not accurate and still reading the chat. She corrected him, and then he defended Negreanu’s right to do what he wants as an adult.

Kenney then noticed some of the chat asking her to address sexual harassment allegations against Nagy with the same vigor as she did the Negreanu situation. She agreed that the Nagy topic was worth addressing.

“One hundred percent. The fact of the matter is that there are no people around Nagy saying it’s okay. I’ve had multiple conversations with Nagy about things that he said or whatever, and I go hard, period. Everybody that knows me has seen me in any kind of interaction with Nagy or anyone…I don’t hold back. … At the end of the day, for me, in order for more women to be in poker, it’s not about telling the men to shut up and sit down. It’s about working with the men.”

She added that the way a man responds to being called out for said behavior matters. Some people are open to listening and becoming better people, and some are not. She seemed to put Nagy in the former category. Kenney also said that she was not “advocating” for Nagy. Despite a pushback from Ingram, she insisted that she doesn’t defend him and never held back from giving Nagy a piece of her mind.

Train in Flames

It got worse.

Ingram was focused heavily on the chat and didn’t appear to hear much of Kenney’s frustration until it was too late. Ingram said something about her being “fired up” about things for ten years and that’s all people see from her.

Both tried to bring the interview to a conclusion, but…

  • Ingram wrongly paraphrased her again.
  • Kenney noticed a moderator in the chat using the word “bitches” about women fighting each other in poker and assumed it was a male moderator.
  • Ingram said the moderator was a woman.
  • Kenney said the chat should be better and still took exception to the word.
  • Ingram blamed the female moderator for getting him “in trouble.”
  • Ingram said he was trying to understand Kenney’s points, but, in reality, he was actually reading the chat at the same time.
  • Kenney pointed out how chat streams can be toxic.
  • Ingram said he doesn’t censor the chat.
  • Kenney insisted that she sets rules on her chat during livestreams.
  • Ingram said bad behavior is subjective.
  • “More censorship is better,” Ingram said, laughing. “That’s my takeaway.”

Kenney ended the interview.

Speaking Her Mind

After the podcast, Kenney took to Twitter with a thread.

Ebony Kenney tweet

Ebony Kenney tweet

Ebony Kenney tweet

And it didn’t take long for the disgusting comments to begin, such as this one, which disappeared, either by the author or Twitter.

Ebony Kenney twitter

Not only did she have to reiterate her feelings on Twitter after the podcast ended badly, she had to read abusive tweets and retweet ones like that to prove her points.

Ones she didn’t respond to included those calling her: fragile, a good actor, that bitch, triggered, disappointing, contradicting, hypocritical, acting like a victim, easily offended, clown, sex-obsessed, femnazi, Swahili princess, bully, of questionable integrity, scummy, attention seeker, social justice warrior, immature, has a sailor’s mouth, and angry girl. There were ones telling her to stick to talking poker and, alternately, to shut up.

But, some people wonder, why is she upset?

Fallout Begins

In little more than two hours of what was supposed to be a respectful interview, Ingram became angry and distracted, and Kenney found herself in a position of defending her boss, her company, her past experiences, her intentions, her character, and her feelings.

It is important to note that approximately 30 minutes into said podcast, Kenney addressed the way some men in the poker public respond to her. She said that she was aware of the “disgusting” nature of the online chat that ran alongside the Triton livestreams. However, since she was playing live, she didn’t have to deal with the chat as she played.

By the time the interview with Ingram was almost over, the chat box was filled with comments likely offensive to Kenney, copied here as they appeared.

  • “More women don’t play poker because Joey let’s women say the b word in his chat.”
  • “OK, WOMEN WANT CENSORSHIP ONLINE, GOT IT.”
  • “If you can’t handle people talking shit to you, you’re cannot handle poker.”
  • “Joe let it go, I’m scared for ur life.”
  • “Feminist activity going down rn.”
  • “Giving one person all that attention is UNHEALTHY.”

The video comments on YouTube were equally astounding. These are only a few:

  • “Some people use their identity as a shield for bad behavior and the world doesn’t hold them accountable. She lived up to every terrible stereotype she hopes to end.” (69 likes)
  • “In my opinion this woman is what’s wrong in the world. (78 likes)
  • “She’s clearly another z lister who is trying to use #blacklivesmatter #metoo to get her name out there. I wonder how many times Mr Nagy came to her hotel room at 1am to catch the spider.” (67 likes)

Note that those comments have been there for days, not deleted or even corrected by the owner of the channel.

FORUM Fallout 

Then, there was the 2+2 forum thread dedicated solely to “Ebony Kenney.” It started with a post stating that she was good for the game, but, “Who is staking her?” It only took to the seventh post for the racism and sexism to begin.

  • “It’s so easy for some people. Just be black and a female. Not saying he can’t play but zero chance getting there being your typical online dude.”

Of course, someone mentions the vibrator she wears around her neck and the YouTube videos she has done about sex toys. And someone quoted that to say, “She definitely seems like the type.”

After Ingram’s podcast aired, the forum posters turned it up a few notches.

  • “I saw her have a complete and total melt down at the borgata when a table near her had 2 players joking around with each other racially. … Her melting down at internet insults is not remotely surprising.”
  • “Former WPT grinder binks big score, chaos ensues, news at 11, not sure why this is a big deal outside of her skin color which makes the whole path based in racism.” (Response to that: “tanned white?”)
  • “Lol what an unbearable human being. So aggressively woke and triggered by seemingly everything, even if its laughably contradictory. She’s also likely incredibly unstable and desperate for attention.”
  • “Never heard of her but she seems like a super toxic and horrible human being and I feel bad for anyone who have to spend a minute of their life with her. That being said, she’s pretty hot and will probably get staked in future too because of that so good for her I guess.”
  • “I really dislike when toxic (and often privileged) people hide behind a claim of oppressed status to behave badly. You just got a massive stake to play a huge event because of your looks and gender. … While women do sometimes get mistreated at the poker table, overall it’s a big advantage in poker to be a female under 40. … We’re supposed to respect a woman who wears a vibrator as a necklace?”
  • “Ebony Kenney is probably listening to black rap music, where every 2nd word is bitch or n***** …never heard her to complain about that…come tf on!”

There were multiple comments questioning her blackness, including one semi-long rant about wanting to know her ethnic makeup because people who have more whiteness than blackness should not be considered black.

This one will just be here in this picture as is:

Ebony Kenney forum post

The sexist comments included things like “women in general are not interested in strategy games and are not comfortable with risk,” and “the ‘misogynistic’ allegation is so played out.”

But, again, people want to know why she’s upset?

Damned if She Does or Doesn’t

What many are missing in this bullying of Ebony is that she was going to be criticized no matter her words on the podcast.

The fact that she is a woman in poker – an outspoken one who stands up for her rights as a black woman – brought the haters to her mentions from the start. Don’t want to be treated differently? Don’t act different. Don’t want to be scrutinized in poker? Don’t play poker. Don’t want to be harassed? Don’t dress like that. Don’t want to be sexualized by men? Don’t talk about sex.

And when Kenney was invited to play in the largest buy-in poker events of her career because someone trusted her and believed in her, the questions multiplied in number and scope. Don’t want to be questioned about backing? Don’t play high stakes. Don’t want to get bashed in a podcast? Don’t go on one.

Different Rules

Men without much experience in the world or without a closeness to women in their lives might say that women operate advantageously under different rules than men. Men fret that they have to be more careful in how they speak to women, to be sensitive to words and phrases that harm.

Let us not forget that men created this system and the rules under which everyone operates.

As mentioned in the introduction, women face scrutiny no matter their actions. For example, there is no way that Kenney could have escaped that podcast unscathed, as long as Ingram echoed the messages in the chat box. He should’ve been aware of that, focused on questions and answers, kept the interview on track, and – most of all – protected his friend and guest from a pile-on.

Instead, he facilitated the pile-on.

As Kat Arnsby said in her insightful and personal post about this very topic, Ingram is not the enemy. There is no call to “cancel” him, at least not here. Ingram is better than his podcast with Kenney, but to live up to that assessment, he needs to do a deeper dive – on a personal level – to find out what women face on a daily basis. And he must decide if he wants to be a part of changing that.

Matt Berkey also addressed the issue in a thoughtful discussion with his crew on the Only Friends podcast. He showed the levels of nuance, which should have dictated the way Ingram handled his on-camera interview with Kenney. And throughout Berkey’s own podcast, he posed tough questions to himself and others, taking responsibility for mistakes in the past and thinking aloud about how to do better. While this was a male leading the discussion with only one woman in the room, it is a discussion that many people – especially men – must have.

Most of the podcast hosts, poker news writers, forum managers and moderators, and poker company owners and executives are male. They will control the narrative, the level of coverage, the slant of said coverage, and when the community – as a whole, supposedly – gets tired of talking about something.

DO SOMETHING

Women need to speak up…for each other. It’s easy to say that we stick together but much more difficult to do it when it requires standing up to our male counterparts and facing the wrath of those who get uncomfortable with it. We can do this, however, in a way that doesn’t alienate those willing to face privilege, sit in discomfort, and grow.

With that said, nuance and understanding must lead to a change in the way women are treated in poker…quickly. Women are tired of having this discussion, decade after decade.

Society – not just poker – applies different rules and standards to women. Acknowledge that, and work to change it.

 

Jennifer Newell

jen newell profile

Jennifer Newell

Author
Jennifer began writing about poker while working at the World Poker Tour in the mid-2000s. Since then, her freelance writing career has taken her from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and back to her hometown of St. Louis, where she now lives with her two dogs. She continues to follow the poker world as she also launches a new subscription box company and finishes her first novel. Jennifer has written for numerous publications including PokerStars.com and has followed the US poker and gaming market closely for the last 15 years.
Jennifer began writing about poker while working at the World Poker Tour in the mid-2000s. Since then, her freelance writing career has taken her from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and back to her hometown of St. Louis, where she now lives with her two dogs.