Women & Men, Venus & Mars

Poker Profits and Sexual Politics

Female PokerLike the rest of the world, when poker advanced to a new millennium it did so with the baggage of previous centuries. Poker used to be the exclusive habitat of cigar-chomping men, playing "a man's game." No more. Rather than just accept, or begrudge, or even celebrate the integration of public poker, thoughtful players should focus on what's really matters: where the money is in this, and how we, both men and women, can get some of it.

Mirroring most any male majority group in society, the poker world is overrun with a lot of demeaning sexism and misogynist attitudes. I'm not going to focus on the politics of that. I want to talk about the profit.

Many men refuse to accept the fact that women as a group play poker more successfully than men do. That doesn't mean women overall aren't losers. Of course they are. The nature of the game is that the group of all players lose the house rake -- women just lose less per capita than men. While it's true that among the top players men are represented disproportionately, the disproportionate advantage there doesn't come close to compensating for the disproportionately lousy play of the mass of men. And, as more women start playing poker at a younger age, the disproportion of men at the top will dwindle -- at least as long as so many men remain arrogant, macho dipsticks.

Let's assume 85% of poker players in cardrooms are men. Among the group of tremendously awful, huge long-term losers, far more than 85% are men, probably over 95%. At the same time, in the group of the most successful players, less than 15% are women, probably under 5%. However, if as in a diving competition, we throw out the top and bottom numbers and look at the middle group, the mass of women players -- most playing tightish, non-hormonal poker -- do far better than the mass of men, a great many of whom let ego, machismo and testosterone effect their play dramatically. The group of mediocre long-term losers is proportionally higher in men.

Which gender has a higher capacity to memorize logarithms counts for little in poker. What counts is how a person plays in the heat of battle. Men bring all sorts baggage to the table that counteracts any possible genetic mathematical advantages that some insist exist: they drink more, they smoke more, they eat more --- and they let their egos get in the way of how they play far, far more. In most circumstances, men blindly throw themselves into things without thought or study far more than women. So it goes in poker. Many male players misuse what should be a winning asset, aggression, particularly when they play against female players.

So, how can we use this to put money in our pockets? How does knowing this help our poker game?

Poker WomenFor women the answer is simple. They need to understand their sex virtually always matters. In each individual hand, many male opponents will relate to them in terms of their sex rather than the cards they hold. So, non-card based strategies are more important to women than men! A youngish woman for instance should build a game strategy based on knowing that she will often be flirtingly softplayed, while other men will try to run over her. A soft-spoken older woman needs to realize she is going to bluffed constantly. Each female player needs to understand the universe she actually is in, the universe the bulk of male players put her in, and build her counter-strategy with that in mind.

Male players need to treat women the same as they do men. Showing off, flirting, softplaying, over-aggression... these are the road to the front door of the poorhouse.

And then comes the complex part.

There is money to be made by playing off any male-female dynamic at a table. For instance, if some normally aggressive preflop-raising liveone is not raising whenever a woman he's flirting with enters a pot, but is still wildly splashing chips post-flop, it makes sense to take advantage of these cheaper opportunities with speculative hands that could well win a nice pot from the liveone. Or, especially in a tournament situation, if you recognize an apparently very tight female is in the big blind, and some man raises whom you guess might be thinking he can run over her blind, then this could be a prime "three bet with a weaker hand than normal" opportunity.

Then finally, while ego and misplaced testosterone are the root of how many men play poorly, some of the most pitiful and self-destructive players are at their core misogynist fools controlled by their anger and prejudice. If you find yourself at the table with anyone who hates someone else at the table, exploit that hater's blind hatred.

Almost every hand offers similar tactical advantages if you look for them. Sexual politics calls for situational adaptation, even at the poker table!

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