“At my age I suppose I should be knitting. But I would rather play poker with five or six ‘experts’ than eat.”
— Alice Ivers Tubbs; aka: Poker Alice
The month of March is designated as Women’s History Month, and in honor of the observance, it’s a great time to honor women who have defied stereotypes and broken barriers to make their mark in the world of poker. PokerStars certainly has a long list of women who have excelled in the modern world of poker–names like Vanessa Selbst, Vanessa Rousso, Liv Boeree, and many others. You will read more about them here, but first a little history on the subject of women and poker.
Women have been playing and winning at poker at least since the mid-1800s when Alice Ivers, or Poker Alice as she was known, gambled her way across the Western United States, taking money from men at each stop. She supported herself playing poker and was reported to have won as much as $6,000 in one night. However, since the majority of poker playing in those days was done in saloons, most women who had a reputation to preserve steered clear of poker rooms if they could. But that didn’t mean they didn’t play–they just did it with friends and family in the privacy of their own homes.
Women today continue to play at home in the company of friends, but scores more play in casinos and in tournaments around the world in addition to those home games. Online play for women, particularly at PokerStars, has become an outlet for many women to hone their skills and win some serious money as reflected in this fascinating infographic recently compiled by PokerStars. The graphic and the article titled “It’s a Woman’s Game” outlines the great strides that the women of PokerStars have made in the game.
Many of the women who play online are getting their start much as Selbst, Rousso, and Boeree did, by rolling up their sleeves with the best of them. Some of them do it just because they enjoy the game and are good at it, but for many others, it affords them the opportunity to make money doing something they love from the privacy of their own homes. Rose Genest, a player from Canada and enthusiastic supporter of PokerStars, says that she plays mostly “to have fun and socialize,” but that as a result of being on sick leave for the last six years, she also plays to supplement her income. For Rose, and all the women who play for money, whether online or in casinos, poker is a way to make money while enjoying the game that they love.
PokerStars has played a big part in helping women change their lives through poker. In addition to offering online games that make it much less stressful to learn the game and to compete against men, PokerStars was the first major online site to offer a women’s community with special online tournaments for women, luxurious live events in locations around the world, and numerous articles and videos to help acquaint women with the nuances of the game. Additionally, thousands of women play weekly in special tournaments and leagues designated for women.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the female pros at PokerStars have forged a path for women in poker throughout the last several years. They have brought home championship trophies from major events such as the PCA High Roller in 2013 (Selbst), the EPT San Remo Main Event in 2010 (Boeree), and the EPT Monte Carlo High Roller in 2009 (Rousso). In addition to their successes at the table, they all have interests outside of poker that round out their busy lives.
Team PokerStars Pro Vanessa Selbst has shattered expectations by winning back-to-back championships at NAPT Mohegan Sun, a WSOP bracelet, and lifetime earnings of over $7 million, most of this while she was still in law school and taking time off for exams. She currently claims the top spot on the Women’s All-Time Live Tournament list as the woman with the most tournament winnings to date. But Vanessa is not all about poker. In addition, the focus of her studies in law has been in the area of human rights activism where she does pro bono work to help those in need.
Vanessa Rousso (earnings of over $3.5 million), was on her way to a law degree already having earned a degree in economics and political science from Duke, when she decided to take time off to play poker professionally. In addition to poker and her academic pursuits, Vanessa is an accomplished DJ who can often be found in her music studio when she’s not at the poker table.
Liv Boeree, with earnings of over $2 million, is also a highly accomplished academic with a degree in astrophysics from Manchester University. The TV presenter and heavy metal enthusiast is a well-known face to all who follow women in poker. When she’s not playing poker, she is often following up on a prop bet she made with one of the other PokerStars pros or on a photo shoot for PokerStars.
These accomplished pros, as well as the thousands of others who play online at PokerStars, are following in the footsteps of Poker Alice and all of the unnamed women who played in those dance halls and back rooms before it was wise or safe to do so. Thankfully, today, women have many opportunities to play in a safe secure environment and, like Poker Alice, many change their lives in the process.
For Poker Alice and many who have come after her, the appeal of poker is the frightening but intoxicating idea of matching wits against men on what was most certainly, in Alice’s time, their turf–and coming out of it a winner, or at least knowing they played their cards right.
For more on women in poker, see the PokerStars Women home page.