Sexism in poker?

Sexy young girl

At the risk of biting off more than I can chew, I thought I’d touch upon the subject of “sexism” in poker, and perhaps mount some kind of heroic rear-guard defence of this misunderstood condition.

It follows comments made by Vanessa Selbst on Twitter last month about the kind of thing that Forbes magazine referred to recently as “Benevolent Sexism”, that kind of casual sexism that might not even be noticed by some, but felt very keenly by others.

I once suggested to Selbst that she might need a lawyer to understand the famously incoherent rules of the World Cup of Poker. I didn’t mean it as a slight against her intelligence (the rules were complex and it seemed like an easy joke to make), but at the time I’d forgotten she was about to graduate from Yale, perhaps the world’s most famous law school. But she took it well, laughing in that way people do when they understand they are confronted with an idiot.

This will always be my position with regard to Selbst, one of frank inferiority and awe. I am one of the legions of people in the “poker media” who has run out of superlatives to describe Selbst. She was then, and is still, a refreshing change in poker; a player of staggering talent but also one of proper opinion and experience of the world outside the confines of a bedroom, multi-tabling with the curtains drawn.

So it’s with this condition of complete admiration that I say the following – is there really a problem of sexism in poker?

The points Selbst raised were that the references to “boys” and “girls” were putting off women from playing poker. Selbst also spoke of her frustration at the WSOP’s decision to commandeer the ladies lavatories in the hallways during the Main Event last summer, and finally about her exclusion from “juicy” male-only cash games.

But is there really sexism in the modern game, largely filled with single men under the age of 25? I’m not so sure. Women’s money is genderless, just like everyone else’s. There may be fewer women in the game – that much is obvious – but that’s not necessarily about sexism.

The term “bubble boy” is a little twee perhaps but it neatly sums up the last unfortunate soul to bust from a poker tournament empty-handed. They’re not always men (I only remember one “bubble girl” on the EPT for instance), but mostly so.

I’m not sure the organisers of the WSOP handed over the ladies bathroom to the gents for any other reason than there were hundreds of men, dancing from one foot to the other, lining up to pee in the short 20 minute break they had. The considerably fewer women who played that day had access to a bathroom slightly further along the hall.

Finally, Selbst suggested that she was denied access to juicy cash games because “guys want to be guys”. Sure, men behave like idiots from time to time. But barring Selbst from a cash game, particularly one she describes as being “juicy”, is perhaps a rare example of men thinking rationally for a change.

I may be wrong. Maybe there is sexism in poker. I just don’t think this is it.