Evelyn Who? Or, Girls Girls Girls!

Thursday, December 16th, 2004, 9:00 am

Or, to be less sexist, women. Women playing poker last night. Can I say that I positively ADORE Isabelle Mercier? I admired her during her brief appearances during the WPT events in Paris, but seeing her play last night just made me swoon. Not only did she win, she won by playing tough, aggressive, confrontational, mean and nasty poker. I used to be afraid of Annie Duke…well, I’m still afraid of Annie Duke. But Mercier looked like she was hugely pissed off the whole time she was playing, her face constantly displaying a Gallic sneer of arrogance. Mercier may be French-Canadian, but the general air of hauteur she showed during this event brilliantly evoked the first half of her hyphenated nationality. And for some reason I liked how the sweater she was wearing had these loops that fit over her thumbs and pulled the sleeves down past her palms. Who can explain the rules of attraction? Isabelle, je t’adore.

She played pretty well, too. Once she got the lead she mercilessly hammered away with that big stack, and while she kept getting cards (and got lucky when Sharon Goldman folded AK when Mercier held AQ), I thought she was a most deserving winner. Boy, you think Steve Lipscomb was thrilled when Clonie Gowan got knocked out about 15 minutes in? And Cyndy Violette right after? It mattered not to me, more face time for Isabelle, but I’m sure the WPT folks would’ve been quite happy for Mrs. Gowan to repeat as champion.

Nearly 400 women played in the qualifying tournament hoping to win the open spot at table that Lavinna Zhang ended up filling (and she ended up in 2nd place, a job very well done). More and more women are playing tournament poker now, the game no longer a male-only preserve. Violette described how she’d be the only female at the table during her early days as a pro, and while men still hugely outnumber women the barriers in poker, as they’ve been in society writ large, have come a-tumbling down. The walls aren’t ALL the way down, of course, not in poker or in society. But the progression toward equality among the sexes continues forward with an almost Marxist inevitablity.

In poker, there’s always the question, can a woman be as good a player as a man? They asked that question during last night’s show, and the usual answers were given. The women players said that, yes, they can be as aggressive as a man. The male players, including Daniel Negreanu, talked about the intuition women allegedly possess. I don’t buy the whole women’s intuition thing–I’ve seen too many women make too many stupid decisions about their relationships to believe in it. It is possible that women see the world with different eyes and this perspective gives them certain advantages at the poker table.

The question about aggression in women should I think have been answered by now. Yes, women can be as aggressive as men. Heck, the most aggressive locking of antlers I’ve ever seen in televised poker came during the WSOP Ladies Championship, when Karina Jett and (I believe it was) Mimi Tran just glared at each other for a good 15 seconds. No blushing or giggling during that contest of iron wills. I was just watching the thing on TV and I got squirrely inside, thinking that any second one of them was gonna start swinging. Great, great stuff.

If there is a difference, and this is just my opinion and not scientific fact, is that women can more easily CHOOSE to be aggressive than men. Many men automatically default to naked aggression when provoked, while women, I believe, are more able to control that reflex and think things over a bit before acting. A guy get re-raised, thinks it’s a threat to his manhood, and goes all-in because he considers it an insult, a challenge to fight, and if he backs down he loses his right to reproduce and spread his DNA. A woman gets re-raised, she’s insulted, she’s ticked, but maybe she takes a moment to think over the situation, review the available information a bit more critically, and she makes the tough laydown. And doesn’t carry that frustration over to the next hand as viscerally as a man might.

But I don’t know that you can make such broad assumptions about gender, and that’s especially true when you’re dealing with very small populations like professional poker players. If we make a broad statement like, “Men are better at mathematics than women”, we can point to statistical data supporting that statement. Boys do better on standardized tests than girls. Is this because there is something in the wiring of boys’ brains that makes them better at math than girls, or is it a societal thing, that girls are discouraged from taking math and are pushed toward the arts and more traditionally “feminine” pursuits? I leave that to the social scientists.

But when you’re talking about the top of the curve, are the top .00001% of boys better than the top .00001% of girls when it comes to math? Or any other subject/skill/attribute? That’s where the social determinism breaks down and you wander into the realm of talent and genius. I don’t know if men are inherently better poker players than women. But I’m pretty sure that Jennifer Harmon is a better poker player than 99.99% of the men out there. Making the assumption that the lady sitting down at your table is ripe for the skinning BECAUSE she’s a lady is liable to leave you both poorer and with more respect for the fairer sex.

OK, enough pontificating. Oh, wait, let me pontificate a wee bit longer. Saw the first promos for the new ESPN poker show “Tilt” last night. Let me go on the record now and predict that it’s gonna suck. It’s gonna suck large. It’s just going to be crummy over-the-top soap opera with some poker stuff thrown in. Rather see a documentary about the everyday life of a top poker pro than garbage like “Tilt” will probably prove to be.

A giant non-poker post is forthcoming, and I still have a couple smaller things in the works, though they’re pretty long too.

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One Response to “Evelyn Who? Or, Girls Girls Girls!”

  1. StudioGlyphic Says:

    Census data show that young women today are more likely to graduate high school and more likely to get a college degree than their male peers. The doctoral level is still dominated by men, but if these other trends are anything to judge by, this, too, will change.

    Of course, this doesn’t necessarily translate into professional levels of success or even salaries. There are obviously examples of highly-paid women professionals and female executives, but these tend to be outliers rather than the norm. Change is slow, but hopefully we’ll get to statistical parity in my lifetime.

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