The rich history of the World Series of Poker dates back to 1970. The first decade of tournaments featured men. In most regards, the vast majority of the 54 years of the WSOP featured male players. Women captured occasional victories in the second and third decades of the World Series, but the percentage of women participating in open events at all remained proportionately low.
Who are the best Women Poker Players of all time?
The early years of the World Series of Poker found women going where no woman had gone before. They will forever hold a place in the history of the game, paving the way for generations of women to follow.
Annette Obrestad in 2007
Having first become known as an online poker crusher, Annette Obrestad became famous early for winning poker freerolls and then massive online poker prize pools within just a few years of playing. She also claimed to have won a tournament online with a piece of paper over her hole cards throughout the tournament except when facing an all-in decision.
The Norwegian now-former poker pro made WSOP history when she won the WSOP Europe Main Event at the age of 18. European tournament poker had a legal age of 18, and she won the £1M top prize in 2007 just one day before she turned 19. She still holds the record as the youngest player to ever win a WSOP Main Event.
Vanessa Selbst in 2014
She came on the live poker tournament scene quickly and made it known that she would be a force. Vanessa Selbst won her first open bracelet event at the 2008 WSOP in Pot Limit Omaha and then won her second one in 2012 in the 10-Game event. In 2014, she won the $25K NLHE Mixed Max bracelet, making her the first woman to win three bracelets in all open events.
Barbara Enright in 1994/1995/1996/2007
One of the most well-known women in poker, Barbara Enright holds a unique place in poker history with several WSOP firsts. She was the first women to win two WSOP titles, having won the Women’s Seven-Card Stud event in 1986 and then again in 1994. She then won the Pot-Limit Hold’em open event in 1996 to become the first woman to win three WSOP titles.
In 1995, she became the first woman to make the final table of the WSOP NLHE World Championship, better known as the Main Event. She finished in fifth place for $114,180 as Dan Harrington went on to win it for $1M.
Enright was also the first woman to be inducted into the WSOP Poker Hall of Fame. She received the honor in 2007 and didn’t have female company in that HOF until Linda Johnson joined her in 2011 and Jennifer Harman was inducted in 2015.
Vera Richmond in 1982
There were some women who played in the open events at the World Series through the early years, but it wasn’t until 1982 that a woman won an open bracelet event. Vera Richmond won the $1K buy-in Limit Ace-to-Five Draw tournament that year from a field of 77 total players. Eight players cashed, and Richmond won $38,500 for her victory.
Jackie McDaniel in 1977
Her name is listed as Jackie McDaniel in the Hendon Mob Database but Jackie McDaniels elsewhere. She was the first winner of the first women-only tournament at the World Series. Out of 93 players, she finished first in the $100 buy-in Seven-Card Stud event for $5,580.
The men at the WSOP decided in 1977 that their wives, girlfriends, significant others, and interested parties should have their own tournament. They decided on a $100 buy-in Stud tournament, one that initially pulled in nearly 100 women. Subsequent years increased the buy-in to $200 in 1978 for 84 players, $400 in 1979 for 54 players, and $500 for 64 players in 1982.
The buy-in didn’t hit $1K until 1992, and the game didn’t change to Hold’em until the new century. The 2000 event was a $1K Ladies Limit Hold’em/Seven-Card Stud mix, became Limit Hold’em only in 2004, and switched to No Limit Hold’em in 2005. It has been a $1K NLHE Ladies Championship through today.
WSOP Bracelets and Cashes
The World Series of Poker does track winning women, making some statistics easy to cite.
Only eight women in WSOP history have claimed more than one piece of WSOP bracelet gold to date. Kristen Foxen is the only one from outside the United States, as she hails from Canada and is sighted as one of the women making waves in this year’s WSOP. Nani Dollison is listed as representing America, as she did live in America when she won her bracelets, but she was born in South Korea. The rest of the women listed here claim America:
As for cashes, longtime pro and current Poker Hall of Fame nominee Kathy Liebert is nearing 100, with Maria Ho and JJ Liu doing their best to catch up. This is the top ten list per the WSOP website:
Kathy Liebert (USA) 96
Maria Ho (USA) 84
JJ Liu (Taiwan) 81
Jamie Kerstetter (USA) 60
Kristen Foxen (Canada) 56
Loni Harwood (USA) 53
Lexy Gavin-Mather (USA) 49
Katie Lindsay (USA) 47
Allyn Shulman (USA) 47
Cyndy Violette (USA) 44
All-Time Female WSOP Earnings
There should be a clear-cut leader in this category. However, due to a reporting discrepancy (or misunderstanding or controversy), two lists show different leaders.
The WSOP website shows Wenling Gao of China as the all-time WSOP money earner among women with $2,759,710. The Hendon Mob Database puts Vanessa Selbst atop that list with her $2,201,322.
At one point, the Hendon Mob powers-that-be weren’t sure if they were going to list WSOP Online bracelets because there were so many of them, especially in 2020 and 2021 when the pandemic prohibited live poker and most travel. Eventually, they did begin listing WSOP Online bracelets, even those won on GGPoker, but Wenling Gao’s 2020 WSOP Online Main Event Championship second-place finish for $2,748,605 was not cross-posted in the WSOP Women All-Time Money List.
Since the WSOP list is technically correct, this is its listing for the most all-time earnings by women in WSOP bracelet events:
Wenling Gao (China) $2,759,710
Vanessa Selbst (USA) $2,201.877
Annette Obrestad (Norway) $2,176,725
Maria Ho (USA) $2,036,977
Loni Harwood (USA) $2,014,870
Kristen Foxen (Canada) $1,787,321
Kathy Liebert (USA) $1,691,579
Jennifer Harman (USA) $1,503,592
Esther Taylor-Brady (USA) $1,448,131
Annie Duke (USA) $1,166,567
The best women poker players of all time have left a mark on the game, breaking barriers and achieving remarkable milestones. These pioneering women, such as Annette Obrestad, Vanessa Selbst, Barbara Enright, Vera Richmond, and Jackie McDaniel, have set records and shattered glass ceilings.
They have not only won prestigious titles and multiple bracelets but have also paved the way for future generations of women in poker. Their extraordinary achievements and unwavering determination serve as an inspiration to aspiring female players, ensuring that their legacy will carry on for years to come.
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Jennifer's poker journey began with the World Poker Tour in the early 2000s, leading her to a prolific freelance writing career by 2006. With nearly two decades of experience, she has become a poker expert, specializing in writing for publications like Poker Player Newspaper, Poker Pages, PokerStars, and Mediarex.
Beyond her writing, Jennifer has managed poker news aggregation at PokerScout and undertaken ghostwriting for poker pros and gambling executives. Her preference lies in interviews and opinion pieces, but her in-depth industry knowledge often guides her towards reporting on legislative and legal developments in poker and the broader gambling landscape.
Notably, Jennifer is a passionate advocate for women in poker, working to promote gender diversity in a traditionally male-dominated field. Her impact on the poker community extends from her expertise to her advocacy for greater inclusivity.