When poker rose to the height of its popularity during the poker boom, the undeniable truth was that the game attracted men. When women began to ask about the actual percentages of women playing poker, a few tournament directors and tournament staff paid attention.

The easiest way to determine the percentage was to calculate gender through poker tournament registration forms. That took time and effort, though. And it took tour management’s willingness to give that information to the media.

It’s been difficult to obtain information from World Poker Tour events, as the casino staff is responsible for registrations. Most casinos are not accustomed to releasing such data and are often hesitant to do so.

Therefore, the easiest way to verify women’s participation in tournament poker was to record the numbers for the same series – one that attracts players from around the world – year after year. That series was the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, with a focus on the WSOP Main Event.

Even that has been a hit-or-miss process. The WSOP provided gender numbers for summer series in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 but missed 2019 and 2021. In 2022, upon request, the WSOP did provide the numbers again.

Small Growth is Still Growth

From the 2022 WSOP data provided, we found that the number of women had increased from 2018 to 2022. Considering that all the years of data showed that the number of women in the entirety of the WSOP in Las Vegas never exceeded 5.5%, the jump to 5.8% in 2022 was significant.

WSOP 2022 Women total entries

As for the WSOP Main Event, the percentage was lower but always had been. And the 2022 Main Event showed the highest number to date with more than 4.5% of the field identifying as women.

WSOP 2022 Women Main Event

WPT Prioritized Women

The World Poker Tour has been upping its efforts in recent years to grow the number of women in poker. From the WPT Women’s Poker Summit in 2018, VP of Global Tour Management Angelica Hael has been focused on initiatives to bring more women to the game.

Following that summit, the WPT hosted a women’s poker seminar at Borgata in Atlantic City and offered numerous LearnWPT activities at other casinos. And then…the pandemic stopped everything.

Hael never gave up on her women’s initiatives. Thus, when it came to planning the WPT World Championship at the end of the World Poker Tour’s historic 20th anniversary season, the company put a WPT Ladies Championship on a pedestal alongside the WPT Prime Main Event and the overall WPTWC Main Event. WPTGlobal’s Jamie Kerstetter headed up a women-only meetup cash game at Wynn.

The WPT made the growth of women in poker a priority.

And women came out in big numbers for the WPT Ladies Championship and cash game.

By some accounts, there seemed to be more women in other tournaments as well. Kerstetter noted that there was almost always a woman at her Main Event tables. Some in the media – notably me – noticed more women in the tournament room, especially at the tables.

Women Showed Up

The only way to know about growth for certain was to obtain numbers. And Wynn Poker Tournament Director Ray Pulford had them.

  • $1K WPT Prime Championship: 367 women among 5,430 entries (6.8%)
  • $10K WPT World Championship: 181 women among 2,960 entries (6.1%)

Admittedly, the World Poker Tour made an effort to award some WPT Main Event seats to women, but that doesn’t diminish the strong 6.1% attendance. And the nearly-7% female attendance for the Prime Championship is an almost unprecedented (as far as available data allows) number.

It’s also worth mentioning these women who final tabled and/or won the following open events at the Wynn series:

  • $600 buy-in NLHE: La Sengphet ($61,222 for 5th place)
  • $600 buy-in HORSE: Karina Jett ($21,710 for 2nd place) / Anna Wroblewski ($17,903 for 3rd)
  • $600 buy-in NLHE: Raechel Whetstone ($45,633 for 3rd place) / Florence Allera ($32,318 for 4th)
  • $600 buy-in Limit Omaha-8: Kathy Chang ($18K for 3rd place)
  • $1K buy-in Prime Championship: Lara Eisenberg ($481,500 for 2nd place)
  • $3K buy-in 8-Game Mix: Esther Taylor (1st place for $100K)
  • $1K buy-in HORSE Championship: Carol Fuchs ($10,422 for 6th place)
  • $3K buy-in NLHE: Cherish Andrews ($78,045 for 6th place)
  • $10K buy-in NLHE High Roller: Cherish Andrews ($259,200 for 2nd place) / Nadya Magnus ($39,370 for 9th)
  • $1K buy-in NLHE: Cherish Andrews (1st place for $131,912)

The three mentions of Cherish Andrews catapulted her to the top of the Player of the Festival race. She won that race as the player at the WPT World Championship with the best results overall. And for that performance, she won a seat (worth $10K) to the 2023 WPT World Championship Main Event.

Representation Matters

Women look at most poker rooms, tournament fields, forums, vlogs, livestreams, authors, media, and executives in the poker world and see few – if any – people who look like them. In and of itself, that can be intimidating. Combine that with various forms of sexism and harassment still on display in live and online poker, women can feel that it’s just too much.

While many in the poker space have been working to change the environment and perceptions alike, representation matters most. When women see other women playing poker, learning poker, and winning in poker, they are more likely to see themselves doing those things.

So, when women see the diversity at the World Poker Tour, it matters.

For years, the WPT has been proud to say that women comprise more than 50% of its executive staff. They see Hael representing the company and attending events, as well as Senior Director of Global Tour Management Cathy Zhao, whose focus has been often on WPTDeepStacks-turned-Prime. Deb Frazzetta serves as the VP of Finance. Hermance Blum is the VP of Marketing and very visible at many events, and Loc Sondheim is the VP of WPT Studios.

While CEO Adam Pliska said he doesn’t aim to hire by gender for the purpose of diversification, he does admit that diversity is built in to the fabric of the company. He is biracial, as are several other members of the WPT team.

“When you focus on character and potential, you’re going to end up with a diverse group of people. I’ve only known a diverse world because I’m diverse in it as a diverse person. It’s not fearful to me. To have 60% of our executives as women does not intimidate me.”

Pliska doesn’t know why his company is so diverse when most other large poker entities are not.

What is known is that diversity attracts diversity. Representation matters to people seeking work as much as people seeking a safe place to play poker.

 

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. She has written for numerous publications including PokerStars.com and has followed the US poker and gaming market closely for the last 15 years.