Poker, despite having simple gameplay, is a game of intense strategic planning and mastery of bluff. Besides, it helps to have a few of the best online casino promotions at your disposal when looking to make a good chunk of cash. Over the years, many have adopted this game as a profession, a handful of them going on to become some of the world’s greats in poker. But the lingering question is, who plays poker better? Men? Or women?
Let’s take a stroll through poker history to find out!
The History of Poker
Poker is a 5-card game first played in the United States. Scholars believe it to originate from a similar counterpart played by the French, known as poque, in the 19th century. Other intellectuals claim it to have already existed in the 1800s, spreading across the US via the communities along the Mississippi River. Various forms of this game have been noted – some played with a standard deck of 52, others with a 20-card deck.
The American Gold Rush in the 1840s further sped up the development of the game as a popular pastime. The current design was first played in the 1950s, formalizing the use of 52-card decks. The American Civil War brought with it further variants like the straight and the stud, and this wave of diversification continued well into the 1920s, bringing us the poker variants we know and love today.
A Man’s Land
Poker tournaments were big in the 1970s, right about the time where the World Series of Poker (WSOP) began. And it was no surprise that faces dominating the winners’ list were often men. Early champions of the WSOP included the likes of Amarillo Slim, Bobby Baldwin, and Doyle Brunson. Bruson also published the first poker strategy handbook in the late 70s with the title Super/System.
With that, here are some of the best male poker players the world has seen so far, including Brunson.
Phil Hellmuth is currently the reigning champion, having earned 15 WSOP bracelets in his career and taking home a whopping $15,239,582 from his tournament wins. He was also one of the youngest players, at 24, to win the WSOP main event in 1989. He is also a no-limit Texas Hold’em champ, with 14 bracelets to his name. Hellmuth is famed for his tight-aggressive approach but has been known to have made a few bad calls ending in outbursts that gained him the title of ‘Poker Brat’. This also made him a TV staple, appearing in high-profile, high-stakes final tournaments. In total, his poker profits exceed $23 million.
Having earned 10 WSOP bracelets in his lifetime, Brunson is also one of the first to win a WSOP main event, back-to-back, once in 1976 and once again in 1977. He is well-known for his loose-aggressive and unpredictable style of play. He is considered a legend in the poker world, even having 2 special hands named after him – “The Doyle Brunson” and “Ace-Queen”. He played professionally from the early days of poker, right up to his retirement in 2018. The man has also written 2 strategy books on poker – Super/System and Super/System 2 – and had his own online cardroom area that cashed in big time.
Negreanu is considered one of the biggest winners in poker history – taking home over $40 million in profit. He is also the only player ever to have been crowned the title of WSOP Player of The Year, once in 2004 and later in 2013. He is more of a tight-passive player who also happens to play slow. His style of playing is extremely strategic, and he rides out the dangers before deciding a suitable time to stake his bets. Negreanu frequents tables with 6-figure buy-ins, including the high-stakes, televised poker game show, High Stakes Poker. He now also teaches poker professionally, even having a Masterclass session of his own.
Phil Ivey is one of the only poker GOATs to earn 3 tournament bracelets in a single year. His 2002 win streak saw him inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame at just 40. He is also a tight-passive player, carefully deliberating his moves before striking in for the win. Ivey’s talent in poker is evident from his titles. From 7-card Studs to Omaha, he has displayed only the best gameplay, making him one of the best all-rounders the poker world has ever laid eyes on.
Since a teenager, Stu Ungar was considered the champ of champs when it came to Gin Rummy. And that’s not unbelievable, seeing as he’s scored 4 WSOP titles within a span of 3 years. Ungar’s first win in the WSOP was in 1980, against legendary player Doyle Brunson. Interestingly, that was also his first year competing in the famed tournament. He followed up with a back-to-back win in 1981. The Kid, as he was nicknamed by his peers, was famous for his loose-aggressive play. And when coupled with his eerie ability to read his opponents’ minds, it rendered him absolutely unstoppable. His untimely death at 45 was believed to be the only thing standing between Ungar and his would-be title of the ultimate GOAT of poker.
The Big Change
The winds of change came when women started actively involving themselves in poker games rather than their traditional role of being the company at the table. The earliest recorded involvement of women in a 5-card game was that of Barbara Enright, who had spent the early days of her childhood mastering the bluff with her older brother, and later went down in history as the most successful female poker player.
Along with Enright, here is a list of the best women poker players to date.
Barbara Enright is considered, by most, the most prominent figure in female poker. Being an avid fan of the game since her wee years, Enright began to play at cardrooms before the age of 30. And seeing as this was the decade in which poker was booming, with large-scale tournaments held left and right, it’s safe to say that Enright was on her way to being a pioneer. To date, she has earned 3 WSOP bracelets and 1 tournament ring with her aggressive play strategy. She is also the first female to win an open main event at the WSOP for Pot-Limit Hold’em in 1996, and that sealed her GOAT status. And did we mention her place in the Poker Hall of Fame? And her sole induction into all 3 main halls of fame in poker?
Kristen Bicknell is the current reigning female poker champion. With also 3 bracelets to her name, she has been the recipient of the Global Poker Index Female Player of the Year award for 3 consecutive years since 2017. Her aspiration since her teens has been fellow pro player Jennifer Harman. She first dabbled with poker online in 2006, where she hit Supernova Elite thrice on PokerStars, leading to her having to play 2.5 million hands yearly. This then led to her first win at WSOP in 2013 for the $1,000 Ladies No-Limit Hold’em Championship and two more title wins in 2016 and 2020, respectively. Her aggressive and uncommon play has everyone convinced that she is the next female GOAT of poker.
Having 3 WSOP bracelets under her belt, Selbst has a number of other titles in hand, like the only female player to win the North American Poker Tour Main Event back-to-back. January of 2013 also saw Selbst rise to be the highest-earning female poker player in history when she hit the PCA high roller to take home a chunk of $ 1.4 million. Her loose-aggressive style of play, albeit having landed her some bad calls, is the main reason why she is one of the more successful female poker players. Today, Selbst still plays professionally and coaches new players on the tactics of poker.
Kathy Liebert holds 1 WSOP bracelet for $1,500 Limit Texas hold ’em Shootout, which she’d played for in 2004. Playing poker since the tender age of 12, Liebert first started her professional poker career as a prop player. Eventually, that led to her win in the foremost edition of Party Poker Million in March of 2002. Liebert was also the first female to do so. She was also one of the top finalists in the WPT, scoring 6 final table rounds before her record was shattered in 2007. Liebert opts for the tight-aggressive play, although she has also been known to change to loose-aggressive, depending on her opponents. Her highly unpredictable style is what makes her one of the best bluffers around.
Boeree is a one-time WSOP champion, earning her first and only bracelet in the $10,000 Tag Team No-Limit Hold’em Championship in 2017. Her start came with a spotlight. She was one of the 5 lucky players to be coached by greats like Annie Duke, Phil Hellmuth, and Dave Ulliott on the TV show Ultimatepoker.com Showdown in 2005. Her first win came in 2008, where she was crowned champion of Ladbrokes European Ladies Championships. Boeree was also the GPI Female Player of the Year for 3 consecutive years since 2014. Her playing style was a more passive one, with loaded tactical and strategic bluff methods. Despite being retired since 2019, Boeree still ranks high on the list of top 10 female earners in poker.
What Makes a GOAT Great?
It seems that a handful of players on this list opted for a more aggressive playing style and were more than willing to risk their losses. Additionally, several of them have also been known to change up their playing style when their opponents least expect it. Their wins are also not as consecutive as one would have thought. Many new players come into the picture and easily steal the title away from their predecessors, whether man or woman. One can only conclude that younger players seem to have better poker tricks up their sleeves compared to more seasoned contenders. After all, poker is all about the bluff.
Why Are There Still Less Women Players?
It seems that the main deterrent for women to play poker professionally is a pay disparity. It is reported that women players earn 18% less compared to their male counterparts. Additionally, there are lesser numbers of female-only tables, which allow ladies the benefit of comfort away from the prying eyes of men and any possible sexual tension.
Also, it is possible that women poker champs aren’t given the same exposure as their male counterparts, resulting in fewer people, especially teens and young women, knowing of their achievements and accolades.
However, there is also the matter of risk-taking. Being naturally nurturers, women aren’t predisposed to taking huge risks, while men are the exact opposite. A majority of women may view poker, or gambling in general, as an unnecessary risk and may, oftentimes, refrain from taking part in poker. It also doesn’t help that poker has, over the years, gained the identity of being a “man’s game”.
How Can I Play Poker Successfully?
Now that you’ve seen the achievements of the poker idols, it’s not odd to want to emulate them. You can start easy by playing at your favorite casinos that offer well-paying and exciting promotions. These generous promo offers help stretch your bankroll to the maximum, giving you more room for practice and strategy planning, even with a nice bonus at the end.
So, Is Poker Mastery Gender-Dependent?
After scrutinizing the facts and contrasting between men and women players, it seems that the mastery of poker is independent of the player’s sex. Granted that each gender may have a few advantages in terms of bluff strategy and ability to manipulate the game table, it is of general consensus that men and women have similar abilities when it comes to mastering poker gameplay.
If you’re looking to further hone your skills of bluff and strategizing online, check out some of the top digital poker games and best online casino promotions for poker that the Internet has to offer. Good luck!