How Women Are Taking Their Place in the Poker World

“The last time I played cards was at the Mirage in Las Vegas.”

It was a year ago, before the pandemic hit, and Tara Macdonald, a Canadian with a penchant for poker, craps and slots, was killing time on the strip. She had already checked out of her hotel room, had a few hours before her flight departed, and decided to place the last of her money on the card table.

“I had been playing a while, was up about a hundred bucks, and was having fun. That’s when I was dealt pocket aces,” she said.

Macdonald isn’t a professional poker player, she’s an auto insurance adjuster by trade, but she does understand an opportunity when she sees one. When a third ace hit the flop, it was JACKPOT, literally.

“I was excited to see the flop and decided to slow play it because my opponent was betting heavy. He raised me all-in on the turn, I called, of course, and then another ace fell on the river. There was about $500 in the pot, and I scooped it with quad aces. I only wish I had more money to start the hand, could have won so much more. He had pocket kings and made a full house.”

Not only did she scoop a substantial pot, she also won the Mirage’s ‘High Hand of the Hour’ promotion, for an additional $100. A prize she had already claimed once earlier in the week. So happy with four-of-a-kind, and extra loot, Macdonald actually grabbed her phone and snapped a picture of her chip stack for family and friends on social media. Talk about lucky.

International Women’s Day

Today marks International Women’s Day, the focal point of women’s rights. Canada will join other countries around the world to celebrate achievements made by women and raise awareness about obstacles still in their way. Officially recognized by the United Nations in 1977, the day’s origins actually date back more than a century to Russia, when members of the women’s movement were peacefully protesting World War I on March 8th. A year later, on the same date, solidarity rallies were held across Europe, and today it’s a global event.

International Womens Day

“The women in my life are all very important to me, and I always try to keep those bonds strong,” Macdonald said, admitting it’s been extremely tough to do ever since the lock downs began. “Pre-pandemic, we would have had a ‘girls’ night’ out or gone for dinner.”

Poker is for Everybody

Like millions of people across North America, Macdonald loves to play poker, Texas Hold’em in particular, and enjoys the challenge of testing her wits against male counterparts at the table.

“It’s definitely more of a man’s game at the casino, and I have been intimidated, I’m not going to lie. It’s great to win a few hands right off the hop to let them know that you understand the game. Actually, sometimes, I feel they’re intimidated by me.”

Tara Macdonald

Macdonald occasionally dabbles in online poker as well, and has accounts on a few different sites. In the live arena, though, she needs work on her poker face, and freely admits she gets nervous and has trouble hiding her excitement when dealt good cards. “You get that adrenaline rush, and it’s hard to contain,” she said in self-assessment.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons she has taken up yoga and fitness, activities that have become the main focal points of her day. She has used the pandemic to transform her basement into a home gym. Now, when those ‘bad beats’ arise, in life or at the casino, she can take out her frustrations on the elliptical machine or the heavy bag hanging from her rafters. Boxing? No wonder she is gaining confidence with each visit to the poker room.

“Men don’t bother me too much at the table,” she jokes. “I have two grown sons, I can hold my own with the boys.”

Great Flops, Amazing Feats

Angela Jordison knows a thing or two about holding her own in a room full of men. Not only has she owned a bar, this mother of two from Oregon is also a very talented, accomplished and savvy card shark. In 2015, she set the poker world abuzz by winning not one, not two, but three straight tournaments at the ‘Spring Round Up’ at the Wildhorse Resort and Casino in Pendleton, Oregon.

“Oregon Woman Wins Three Straight Poker Tournaments at Wildhorse,” screamed the headline at Card Player magazine, widely regarded as a leading authority on poker news, player rankings and live updates.

Angela Radich-Jordison

“My kids think I’m a bad ass,” she said, with an obvious smile.

It really was an incredible run. To win three large tourneys, on consecutive nights, with fields of 537, 448 and 214 players respectively, is almost unthinkable. Not even the great Phil Hellmuth has done that, and he’s captured 15 titles at the World Series of Poker. For her efforts, she pocketed $10,828, $18,348 and $8,731 for a total of $37,907, and is now well into the six-figures in career earnings.

“The percentage of women players in the field has been on the uptick the past several years. Moving forward, I’d love to see more women discover their love for the game, and hope the industry and other players can make them feel comfortable and welcomed. And, as always, I hope to see a woman at the final table of the Main Event.”

A Numbers Game

Traditionally, poker is a game mostly played by men, and the statistics are alarming. Women, on average, make up just five per cent of the player pool. And, the only time a woman has reached the final table of the $10,000 buy-in WSOP main event, poker’s world championship, was way back in 1995, when Barbara Enright placed 5th. Enright, a legend of the game, won three gold bracelets in all, and was the first woman ever to take down an ‘open’ event. In 2007, she was forever enshrined in the Poker Hall of Fame, inducted alongside the aforementioned Phil Hellmuth.

Barbara Enright Hall of Fame

Barbara Enright’s tournament wins at the World Series of Poker:

  • 1986, $500 Women’s Seven Card Stud
  • 1994, $1,000 Women’s Seven Card Stud
  • 1996, $2,500 Pot-Limit Hold’em

Striving for Success

Like Enright, Jordison has made a name for herself in poker, a predominantly testosterone-fueled industry. She works hard on and off the felt, remains humble, and always tries to have fun, whether she’s winning or losing. Always striving to get better and constantly studying, a strong work ethic has been one of the keys to her success. She is also quite adaptable, has learned how to utilize her table image, and will profitably exploit anyone, male or female, who over looks her at the table.

“Never underestimate an opponent,” she warned. “It’s a huge mistake, and the single biggest blunder men make when playing against women. If you can identify players who may do that, underestimate you because you’re a woman, it’s a big advantage. Profitable, too.”

A Family Game

Jordison learned a few tricks of the trade from her father, a poker enthusiast himself, who would quite often travel with her to events far and wide. Tony Radich was diagnosed with stomach cancer in the fall of 2019, and passed away last August. He loved the game, the strategy involved, the banter and camaraderie, and he really enjoyed bluffing his daughter. She even posted a picture of him on social media, with the caption, “he’s getting his chemo, and I just check-raised his ass.”

Angela's Tweet about her father

“I played poker with him as a kid. We would go to tourneys together and, when he was sick, we played heads-up in the hospital. At the end, I even set him up online to play. He was too weak to get up, and he lost every day, but he was doing what he loved. Having a sick family member during the pandemic was a challenge I don’t wish on anyone. It was tough. Actually, I just realized this is the first time I’ve talked about without crying. I must be getting better.”

As for check-raising her ailing father, she joked, “he had it coming, he was talking a lot of trash that day.”

The Six Million Dollar Woman

In the world of high stakes poker, Kathy Liebert needs no introduction. She is one of the fiercest competitors in the game, period. She’s also one of the best. A long-time cash game grinder in Las Vegas, Liebert gained fame in 2002 after winning the Party Poker Million, the first ever limit tournament to offer $1 million prize for first place.

Kathy Liebert

At the 2004 World Series of Poker, she won a gold bracelet in a $1,500 Texas Hold’em Shootout event, and was one of three women to capture open events that year (Annie Duke, Cyndy Violette). Oh, and she’s also banked a lot of money in her career, exactly $6,337,998 according to the Hendon Mob website, which tracks such things.

Other career highlights:

  • Has reached 6 World Poker Tour final tables
  • Placed 2nd at the 2009 Shooting Stars tournament
  • Appeared on Poker Royale: Battle of the Sexes (2005)
  • Provided commentary at World Speed Poker Open
  • Placed 3rd in $10,000 World Championship of Pot-Limit Hold’em ($306,064)

Bright Future

Liebert is just one name on a long list of powerful poker females. Players like Jennifer Harmon, Vanessa Selbst and Vanessa Rousso have had great triumphs against the men. Actress Jennifer Tilly, who’s been nominated for an Academy Award, has also had tremendous success. Best known for her role as Tiffany Valentine in the Child’s Play horror film franchise, Tilly captured WSOP glory in 2005 when she outlasted 600 others to claim the Ladies Limit event for a cool $158,625.

“I think the number of women playing will increase in the next few years, and I hope many more women find success in poker. We will see more talented women at the card table, and I think more will enter the game over time. These days, anyone who studies and works hard on their game has a great chance to make it. I am always thinking about my game, and searching for ways to improve. Every little edge helps. What am I doing right? What am I doing wrong? That’s how you get better.”

Battle of the Sexes

The 53-year-old Liebert has been around the block a few times in poker. She knows what she’s doing. When there’s blood in the water, she’s the shark. And, she doesn’t get all caught up in the ‘man versus woman’ talking points.

“I don’t think it’s gender that makes the difference. Some see females as easy marks, but you can take advantage of those misconceptions. Some men try to bluff women, or try to run over them with big bets, and some fold too much. Don’t be afraid to mix it up, either. If you are aware of how you’re being perceived at the table, you can make strategic adjustments and attack. If they see you as weak, you can bet more for instance, and when you figure that out, that’s when you make money.”

Kathy Liebert

Leibert definitely knows how to do that, she’s made a lot of money over the years. Incidentally, she’ll never forget the time she was called a ‘bitch’ by a well-known male player.

“I wasn’t fazed, I just reported it to the tournament director.”

With more than $6 million in earnings, another ‘B’ word may be more appropriate – Boss.

Derrick Oliver

Derrick Oliver

Derrick Oliver Dewan is the founder of High Roller Radio, and has interviewed a number of the world’s top poker players including Chris Moneymaker, Greg Raymer and Barbara Enright. A former, long-time radio and television broadcaster, Derrick has always had a passion for all things gambling (and darts too). He has even played at the World Series of Poker and other cash games all around the world.

To see more of Derrick is up to on a day-to-day basis, go follow him on Twitter @HighRollerRadio

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