By Wendeen H. Eolis
Poker Player Newspaper

WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel: Gentleman Sheriff

He acknowledged the presence of a few men at the tables, explaining that Harrah’s would not deprive the intruders of the right to play in the event. Lawyers had advised it might not be legally permissible to do so. He made himself clear: his warm welcome was reserved for the ladies. The tournament had been planned strictly for them.At the end of the 2010 Ladies Championship, WSOP officials remained unyielding in their passion for the rich tradition, and unapologetically supportive of their noble cause on behalf of women poker players who seek to continue this special event at the WSOP.In a post-tournament conversation, Effel expressed special empathy for women who had been offended by a crude man who sported a tampon as a card protector. Though Effel did not eject him from the tournament (the offender was given a two-round penalty) Effel warns, “Just because that player was not removed from the tournament shouldn’t give anyone the idea that the next person who tests the boundaries of permissible conduct won’t be shown the door.”

Men Do Drag and Gab Their Way Into Ladies Event

The competition began with a bit of low-brow but less criticized drama. At least one young gun among the fourteen male entrants pranced to his table in drag. The men’s arrival did little to dampen the spirits of experienced women pros who salivated at the chance to teach them a lesson by seizing their chips. But many of the ladies had looked forward to the unique networking opportunity and the fun of a ladies-only affair. For them, the event did not give them quite what they paid for.

Ultimately, tournament staff were unable to reason with 14 men as to why they should take their balls and bats and go home for the day. So grudgingly, on the advice of their legal department, WSOP officials allowed the intruders to hijack the tradition.

Boys Will be Boys at the Venetian

It was only a matter of days after the WSOP Ladies Championship that three male players trotted over to the Venetian ready to put up their dukes at yet another Ladies event. To their chagrin, Poker Operations Director, Kathleen Raymond took the starch out of their sails, ordering that the male imposters be granted seats at the table without a discussion about whether they were pranksters without a cause or protesters making a viable political statement. It was a simple strategy of take the buy-in money and run— back to the rest of the business at hand.

Harrahs and the Venetian Move On

Tournament executives at the Venetian, like their colleagues at the WSOP, expressed disappointment that a day carved out as much to honor the ladies as to encourage them to participate more broadly in serious poker competition, had been changed unexpectedly.

Both Harrahs and Venetian officials now say they are more concerned about looking further into the issue and will consider future options once they are more fully informed.

At the WSOP Ladies Championship just one male cashed in the event. The losers were roundly applauded. The Venetian’s “Ladies Do” took a harder hit. One of the imposters cashed in fifth place.

Joanne Liu— a Poker Lady Who Fears No Man!  

Wendeen H. Eolis, The WSOP Grand Dame of Poker with Poker Star JJ Liu

Weeks later, poker forums and online poker blogs were still debating the biggest controversy of the season, and last night, so was the mini United Nations of poker players assembled for a big birthday dinner in honor of longtime poker enthusiast Dan Alspach. Top female tournament pro Joanne “J.J.” Liu was holding court in celebration of husband Dapper Dan Alspach’s most recent addition to his 21+ birthday. Alspach introduced the couple’s two-year-old daughter along with his wife’s 18-year-old son, and then turned the tables on his Ms. JJ, singing her praises, both as a “top mother” and a top player in open events at the felt.

Joanne Liu’s poker resume includes enviable performances at the 2010 WSOP—where she played in the Ladies Championship “with pleasure”—even though she didn’t cash in that one. Ms. Liu is a hold’em specialist, keen on all variations. She has posted a third place finish, a seventh place finish, and a third cash, putting her into a tied position of 105 points with Jennifer Harmon—the highest standing among women—in the competition for the 2010 WSOP’s Player of the Year.

Birthday Party Revelers Weigh In on the Ladies Event

No sooner had Alspach finished his testimonial to Liu, than the mini United Nations of Poker Players that Liu had assembled turned to the topic of the WSOP Ladies Championship. Bertrand (ElkY) Grospellier a WPT and EPT champion player noted that his Koreanborn girlfriend Cathy Hong had cashed in the Ladies event. He said, “Men shouldn’t have played the event.” Smiling at his honey, he added, “It is not necessary for women to play in a restricted environment. They don’t need to do it.”

Irishman Alan Smurfit, a WSOP bracelet winner pressed his fiancée Guadalupe Santiago, a ravishing Mexican beauty, to try the WSOP ladies event next year. Tom McEvoy, a former main event winner and victor at last year’s tournament of champions at the WSOP did a serious rant on the insulting behavior of men who entered this year’s Ladies event, describing it as “totally outrageous and an inexcusable affront.”

The beguiling Taiwanese-born Ms. Liu said she “played with pleasure, despite the guys being around.” A nominee to this year’s class of Women in Poker Hall of Fame, Liu says, “I believe women who are successful should embrace other women and cheer them onward and upward.” She explains, “Ladies events are the easiest and most exciting tournaments for a newbie to get her feet wet.” She hopes the men will consider respecting the tradition better next year.

The Lawyers Rule

Sadly, the concept of ladies poker events is probably subject to near-term extinction unless organizers can determine they have a reasonable legal basis on which to include them in their schedules and lady poker players unite against the few women who would criticize ladies events as a means by which to try to elevate themselves in the eyes of male competitors and the press.

What are the perils of a successful bias claim against organizers of a Ladies Poker Tournament, if marketed as such? Inquiries to a half dozen lawyers in Nevada and Washington yielded no help, as none could offer up any case law—federal or state— to corroborate the supposition that such tournaments would be proven illegal in Las Vegas. Is it not time for the WSOP and other organizers of poker tournaments to look further for guidance rather than reacting solely to the fear of repercussions?

Ladies Can be More Trouble than Men

At the 2010 WSOP, a few high profile poker women were bigger troublemakers for Ladies events than even the uninvited men! Not content merely to stay away if they were uninterested in playing the event, they presented themselves to men as toughies and to the press as worthier celebrities with snarky comments about other women’s poker aptitude and disdain for the existence of the ladies event.

Annette Obrestad and Annie Duke were among a handful of women who used the contretemps as an occasion to broadcast their views. Early in the Series, Obrestad, the Norwegian prodigy, who had previously bragged about playing poker online as a 15 year old minor said, “It’s easy money… I’ve always said that girls suck at poker.” When push came to shove. Ms. Obrestad took a pass on competing in the “easy money” ladies event.

Ms. Duke, who has regularly served as a paid instructor to prepare women for competition right around the time of the ladies event, has nevertheless firmly opposed participation in such restricted competitions since the inception of her career. She told reporters that she could care less “if two or two hundred men crashed the event.”

Then there was the case of another female blue ribbon winner, an emerging poker pro. The evening before the WSOP ladies event, she reportedly walked with a male friend to a tournament cashier cage assigned to diamond-card holders. She smiled coquettishly and asked to register for the next day’s festivities. In the next moment, she made a quick switch ofplayers, presenting her companion’s card for the entry ticket. Ten Franklins later she had fooled WSOP officials into giving him a seat, instead of looking to him to act like a man. She registered herself the next day. This lady did more to tarnish this year’s Ladies Championship event and harm the image of women in poker competition than the act of any man who simply chose to take his seat without respect for a rich and harmless tradition.