Why we should teach all girls to play poker

The Star Malaysia - - Focus - By GER­RIE SCHIPSKE

IN a 1985 Ms. mag­a­zine ar­ti­cle head­lined “Deal Me In: Why Women Should Play Poker,” fem­i­nist psy­chol­o­gist Mary Par­lee dis­sected the gen­der gap in the quin­tes­sen­tial Amer­i­can card game of poker. “Risk­ing val­ued prop­erty, bluff­ing, chal­leng­ing, strate­gi­cally re­treat­ing from no-win sit­u­a­tions, win­ning at the ex­pense of oth­ers – th­ese are the heart of poker,” she wrote. “Is it any won­der most women don’t play poker?”

Par­lee, who died in June, might be dis­ap­pointed to learn that, 33 years af­ter her ar­ti­cle, women still are not flock­ing to poker ta­bles. Just two months ago, the World Poker Tour, a pre­em­i­nent or­gan­i­sa­tion pro­mot­ing the game, hosted a sum­mit of fe­male play­ers at the Bi­cy­cle Casino in Bell Gar­dens to dis­cuss how to at­tract more women to card ta­bles and tour­na­ments.

De­spite an ex­plo­sion of in­ter­est in the game – due in large part to tele­vised tour­na­ments that al­low view­ers to see who is hold­ing what cards – par­tic­i­pa­tion by women is still low. Seedy, smoke-filled card clubs have been re­placed by shiny, glamorous, smoke-free poker rooms, but it’s still a mostly male arena.

Poker is lit­tered with ag­gres­sive or mas­cu­line terms such as “fir­ing at the pot,” “flop­ping the nuts,” “I fired a bul­let,” “folded a pair of bitches (queens),” and oth­ers.

At the end of tour­na­ments, erot­i­cally dressed women carry out the cash and dump it on the ta­ble, bend­ing over oh-so-slightly to sug­gest they could be part of the prize.

Not many women have ever stepped in­side a real card club, and even to­day you rarely see more than a hand­ful of women when I play. Clearly some women still find sit­ting at the poker ta­ble akin to so­cial­is­ing in a men’s locker room.

Men do not give up their dom­i­nance of poker eas­ily. When I served on the City Coun­cil in Long Beach, I learned there was a monthly poker game at which the mayor, pres­i­dent of the Cham­ber of Com­merce, the pub­lisher of a lo­cal pa­per and other men played. I asked if I could join. Ignored, I asked again and was told, “It’s a man’s game with cigars”.

Al­though there are ladies-only pro­fes­sional poker tour­na­ments, men have protested and crashed the tour­na­ments, sign­ing up to play them­selves. At one pop­u­lar women’s tour­na­ment in 2010, a pro­fes­sional male player came in drag. An­other man brought a tam­pon that he dis­played at the ta­ble as a “card pro­tec­tor” dur­ing the tour­na­ment.

At the women’s poker sum­mit in Bell Gar­dens, a ma­jor ques­tion was how to in­tro­duce women to var­i­ous card games in the first place. Poker play­ers do not tol­er­ate ques­tions about the rules from new­bies. Yes, card clubs could of­fer classes. Play­ing on­line at a free poker web­site is an­other way to learn, though with a big short­com­ing: you don’t learn how to read the other play­ers – which is prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant skill in the game.

Poker is a game of skill, not luck. Many win­ning hands are noth­ing but a bluff by a player who has learned how to read the other play­ers and who has the con­fi­dence to mask the weak­ness of her own cards.

As Par­lee re­minded women in 1985, poker works a lot like life in gen­eral, es­pe­cially when it comes to re­la­tion­ships. Recog­nis­ing a no-win sit­u­a­tion in cards (or in a re­la­tion­ship) and get­ting out of it by fold­ing a hand (or leav­ing) is also a crit­i­cal skill.

With the caveat that poker can cause gam­bling prob­lems, I think all girls should be taught to play poker – not be­cause they need to en­ter high-cash tour­na­ments, but be­cause the game is a way to prac­tice taking risks, size up your own strengths, man­age money (chips) and know when to call out oth­ers on their bluffs.

Dads who know poker should en­gage their daugh­ters and teach them the rules and strate­gies for win­ning. If done cor­rectly, the Girl Scouts could of­fer se­nior scouts a badge in “life lessons from poker.” Girls who com­plete the badge could be el­i­gi­ble to play (for fun) in a Girl Scout tour­na­ment. Who knows? They might even in­vite the boys.

No mat­ter the venue, it’s time to deal girls in. — Los An­ge­les Times/ Tri­bune News Ser­vice

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