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A WHOPPER OF A PARTY

By Wendeen H. Eolis
Bluff Magazine

December 2004

The message read World Poker Tour Producer Chris Palbicki has invited you to participate in the WPT 2004 Ladies’ Night II Invitational Tournament.’ Hallelujah! I was going to have a chance to strut my stuff at a WPT ‘final table’ on the Travel Channel’s top-rated show.

I etched the filming date in indelible ink on my dance card: September 1, 2004, Bicycle Club Casino, Bell Gardens, California.

The tournament was slated to be as much a celebration of women – the fastest growing demographic on the poker map – as it was a tournament to determine momentary supremacy among the ladies that were selected by the WPT.

The six contestants for the 2004 Ladies’ Night crown were: Clonie Gowan, the southern belle who captured the championship at the 2003 Ladies’ Night event; Cyndy Violette, an Atlantic City-based pro who has beaten the best on both coasts; Sharon Goldman, an emerging force on the World Poker Tour, with two money finishes to her credit; French-Canadian Isabelle Mercier, a former Paris card-room executive who turned tournament-poker pro a few months ago; Cuiling ‘Lavinna’ Zhang, the Asian-American beauty who qualified for Ladies’ Night II by wining the Legends 2004 Ladies’ Tournament; and yours truly, a businesswoman who has been mixing it up with the pros in cash games and tournaments for two decades.

On the day of the tournament, the WPT organizers welcomed us with lovely goody bags, complete with WPT-engraved Tiffany key chains, and then whisked us off to the back-stage dressing room for professional make-up applications and hair styling assistance. An hour later we were on the road to engage in hand-tohand combat. A prized $25,000 voucher for a seat in the 2005 World Poker Tour Championship event awaited the lady that ‘jitterbugged’ longest at the table.

Moments before the opening bell, our Ladies’ Night II cast received a final blessing from Jesus! Chris ‘Jesus’ Ferguson, the popular 2000 World Series of Poker Champion, strode up to our table and said, “You all deserve your seats at this table.” Personally, I was wondering how our ‘team’ would measure up against the ratings of the first Ladies’ Night show. With or without blessings, I was also worrying about how I would fare against the field in my least favorite tournament structure: blindingly fast.

Defending champion, Clonie Gowan, the woman who had bested the
high-voltage female pros at the table last year, was the first one sent to the rail this time around, in less than an hour. Next, Cyndy Violette, who won a WSOP bracelet this past spring, was forced to take her final bow in fifth place. She has been invited to play on the WPT Professional Poker Tour.

Defending champion, Clonie Gowan, the woman who had bested the high-voltage female pros at the table last year, was the first one sent to the rail this time around, in less than an hour. Next, Cyndy Violette, who won a WSOP bracelet this past spring, was forced to take her final bow in fifth place. She has been invited to play on the WPT Professional Poker Tour.

The heads-up challenge was fought between this year’s two wild cards, Isabelle Mercier, and Lavinna Zhang. It was a few-minute affair. While Lavinna had dazzled the table with her ‘no guts, no glory’ style of play, it was Isabelle who forcefully dominated the end-game show. WPT ‘super champion’ Gus Hansen had been tutoring her for several months on the finer points of fast and furious betting in shorthanded play. Her lessons paid off with the coveted $25,000 seat into the 2005 World Poker Tour Championship.

The television ratings for Ladies’ Night II are yet to be determined, but there is no doubt that the World Poker Tour turned up a spicy mixture of talent and unique stories among the accomplished women in residence at the ‘final table’ invitational. The tournament is scheduled to air on the Travel Channel December 15, 2004 at 9pm.

Ms. Eolis has been recognized by WPT management with a sponsor’s exemption, giving her a seat for the entire first season on the Professional Poker Tour. She has seven record-setting performances for a woman in major poker tournaments to her credit – feats accomplished not as a pro, but rather as a full-timebusiness professional who looks on poker as only a hobby. Ms. Eolis may be reached at wheolis@eolis.com.