One of the great confusions that returns again and again to poker unresolved is the “woman question,” as in how to add more to the player pool. Much like the “Jewish question,” “homeless question” or any of the other rather clammy propositions you’d really be better off avoiding at the poker table or the Thanksgiving table, whether frighteningly historical or merely parochial as ours is, a lot of people rather boldly state their innocence and bravery and progressivism on the matter. In fact, much nobility has sprung forward in poker on this one of late!
How rarely do we hear from some opposing or alternative argument – little hint there about the unseriousness of a debate when everyone appears to be on the same side, yet no answer is found.
Bad faith and posturing obscures the question
So, while many distance themselves from blame with costless gallantry, I enjoy the debate with an equal but different sort of remoteness, especially from those in Tweet form. However, there’s no reason to chase down these hand-waving humps because I like knowing the stock of fish remains healthy. Further, it’s mostly in vain to “virtue signal.” In the end, there is no safety in saying the safe word because it changes daily, and so your rock is overturned soon enough. Plus, any remaining heroes are no doubt very ready to die defending my right to speak my mind! Right? The noted black communist Pascal Robert likes to call the formidable black economist Thomas Sowell a “degenerate”: if such distinguished company can sink to that level on social media, imagine what the angry upper levels of the stadium might chant at unknown me or you.
Identity for better and worse
Of course, it is all a rather funny business, isn’t it? Because very few can answer why it’s so important to have specifically more women in the game. Do you like being told you are part of some group and more of you are required for something? I don’t hear much about the urgent need to get more boomers or Gen X or Z, or college grads or the lower-middle class or the proles or whatever clumsy societal designation they blather on about. What about the black population in the game, never mind the black communists and black economic historians who really are underrepresented, to my disappointment, in my home game and maybe even online. Can’t be sure. My god, what will I do if ____ does not match my skin color/age/sex/profession/class? Who will I look up to?
It of course turns out we look up to all sorts of people. I certainly wished to be Phil Ivey, yes, mocha skinned, set apart, staring, crushing. If had learned to sing, I would have followed Vinson Cole or Julia Migenes, as that black man and that woman once inspired me with the pure revelation of their excellence. Is anyone still confused why a squishy white accountant didn’t move me and many others into poker? I thought we liked the far darker skinned Sammy Farha, man of the world and hero of the endlessly replayed High Stakes Poker? Was he at that final table with Moneymaker or something?
I did hear the increasingly on-point Jamie Kerstetter raise the question on the Solve For Why pod, but on a show that values quantity of answers, somehow none arrived on this essential beyond the apparently urgent need of the poker war requiring more and more soldiers at the front. The talking heads all over say they want more players, on one hand, and which can thus be anyone, while also citing the minor participation rate of females as the problem. “Ratios need making,” they keep hammering away, taking their cue from the latest wide-eyed NPR host affright over the lack of gay Latinos on the school board or too many Catholics on the SCOTUS.
What if society, and even poker, is, oh, a little more complex than third grade math and third grade philosophies?
Unfortunately, we live in an era where the numerators think they are the denominators – and won’t keep this conceit to themselves.
The danger in extreme positions
Fortunately, there are two very clear, highly intertwined but ultimately opposing answers as to why more women should be in the game. The first is well expressed by Kerstetter and others of similar mindset: I want more people like me so that I feel comfortable. This is simple and human and natural. It has the advantage of also suggesting the way to make it happen, as we will discuss. There is no real argument with this. I’m on board.
However, there is a related, strong, obtuse and angry answer as well. A dark answer. Of late, it was summarized by one rather, well, startlingly vile character, who was completely new to me and who promulgates an ugly idea that needs to be slain in the culture at large and infests poker, too. And that’s only one that I will focus on, because this particular bacillus in fact gets all around the table and on the chips and the food very easily.
Over the course of an interesting if disturbing stream hour, I listened to this person slander various figures and attempt to effectively worsen the divide between the sexes. I don’t really want to name this person, who endeavors, not figuratively either, to speak for women. I am not into trading on names when it’s the ideas that count; let her audience figure out how wrong she is on their own time. (Even the show’s participants seemed a little nonplussed, however. Do they really ever come for you, because you said nothing? No.)
This person posited that identity is the root of inequity, which is fair, given the mimetic nature of the human mind. Thus, she argued that whites need to see whites, blacks, blacks, and yes, women, women. The problem is, this is both true but woefully incomplete: all lies are. To personalize it, why take away my fantasy of being Phil Ivey? And what drew him to poker, by the way, which is the real point? What is the origin of anything? Why ruin Carmen for me and shame me for the divination in my head? Or Phil’s motivations, again the real point, if the argument is all about the serving the minority population?
Identity essentialism is an almost bizarrely weak explanation for anything, but this is what we are being handed by the new denominators. It posits that people are powerless in the face of their racial, sexual, cultural identities while also insisting there must be a magical example that overcomes this powerlessness.
And, of course, no cares about my obscure tastes, I might as well be speaking Arabic – what about your love of hip-hop and rap – are you not comfortable and do we need an invasion of white people to bring equity to those exclusionary BET Awards? Do you think Jay-Z would forego all the sales of his albums to dorky white boys for the sake of keeping the battle lines drawn and the bloodlines clean? What weird contortion and ironic cultural “colonialism” is being endorsed now?
It just falls apart so quickly, this bitter, backwards identity trap once we take it too far past the plaintive wish to not be alone. Moreover, it begs the question: whither and why the hobgoblin of equity? Resentment, which you were warned to not take part in if you were going to dabble in dangerous philosophies, rules these people with near physical force, which is why they tear each other apart at the first hint of heterodoxy.
So, while there may be, as Alvin also argued with me on the Zoo one time, an appetite for an Asian to see an Asian, a white to see a white, a woman to see a woman, this is not necessary or sufficient: we emulate excellence or character or style or God knows what just as often. If not, there is no To Kill a Mockingbird or American Gangster or Django Unchained if we cannot see ourselves in the hero, victim, and villain roles, if we are all essentially only character actors doomed to, as the worst people say, our “lane.” This clinging to racial and sexual and class and religious and age identity isn’t as, as this person asserted, an academic truism, but is simply one theory of many, one that is a reactionary, comfortable tribal trope as much as it is a liberation. It’s race realism for people who hate guns and trucks, a confederate flag for Bernie bros, an Asov patch for Antifa.
Keeping it simple
But I’m already over it and will grant this identitarian claptrap if people insist upon it, because it’s a foolish thing to argue over. Obviously, the woman question in poker is a bit off, because who wouldn’t want more women around? Society is based around women, all things happen because of them and for them. If you are a male winning player, you are very likely spending those winnings on women, to find one, or to console yourself for not having one around. What else is there, really? History, humanity, and the future revolve around women.
Foxes take a keen interest in the building of henhouses
The problem is, the expansion of our little world of poker, and thus the “woman question,” is poisoned by what is really going on: the search for the bigger bottom of the pyramid. And of course, the vast majority of the poker players that are most eager to greet the ladies at the poker border are the worst, can’t beat anyone, and are always desperate for a new “Moneymaker Boom.” They litter the comments section and the chats. “Is this going to be a boom?” they cry. “This stream will cause a boom!” “Maybe if this player wins there will be a boom! Oh, oh, oh, to play in a BOOM!” (I mean, never mind the economic illiteracy of the idea that Chris Moneymaker caused the boom, good lord.)
The Woman Question, for these dead-enders, has nothing to do with women, not really. It’s about more money in the market. These guys aren’t exactly Raleigh laying his coat in the mud for Elizabeth.
You see, no one proclaims the virtue of chickens more than the fox. The first thing to realize is that anyone normal isn’t entirely comfortable based on a “boom” based on purses and skirts. That’s because normal men protect, consciously or unconsciously, their women, their sisters, their friends, their wives, their girlfriends, their cousins, their mothers from the mostly rather wretched bunch that poker comprises. I’m not sure if you noticed, but while everyone was swearing fealty up and down to protect Marie Antoinette and all the things they would do for her angelic poker daughters, we just unraveled some of the latest and greatest scandals of cheating and general bumfuckery we’ve heard, oh, since some other recent month. (BTW, why did one big one come out – because of some intrepid truth seeker? No, out of some caustic and miserable revenge.)
That one was of course particularly cruel to, you guessed it, a woman. Not a soul mentioned this while they simultaneously pledged to expose more women to this very scourge. Now why do we want the people we love and should protect most to play our zero-sum gambling game, where shifty people wager resources often better employed elsewhere? Maybe, instead, we can at least be humorously honest about the state of poker when addressing the woman question, about women in poker, about welcoming women into a difficult and often cruel community – that’s charm. Probably not a word you know very well, not in 2022.
The problem is built into the game
Humorously honest about something – charm. A bit of an old-fashioned word, but it’s proved daunting, even impossible, to replace with all the identitarian stuff, and certainly with the marketing pablum like “FOMO” pushed by “influencers.” I’ll have to use it only briefly because you won’t listen to me if I don’t hurry through it, you who walk around in shorts and sneakers and the jersey of the sports team you paid for – it’s hard for suckers to be interesting to women, I’m afraid.
All of which is just beautifully ironic, that is to say, that deprecating honesty is what won’t be used to acknowledge our problems and limitations, because the constant lament why, oh why won’t the girls come play exists precisely because low stakes poker – the gateway and the heart of the game- is so full of losers and creeps and cast offs, discarded husbands, failed fuckboys, pimps, criminals, grifters, investors, coin sharks, sportsbookers, NFT poseurs, tankers, eurotrash, coughers, podcasters, silent miserable betas, down-rung mangy alphas, anglers, welfare kings, loan cheats, YMCs, social media clowns, chat pros and a long list I will enjoy lengthening.
See, it is not just that women don’t come to the tables, it’s that they know implicitly not to come.
It’s not even a question. Yet now you want to skip all that and go straight to marketing poker, to essentially disregard the state of the game in order to fund the show. Now you had a little tweet, podcast, article about this? Are you doing your part to help the war effort? That’s nice! Oh, I know let’s make a VLOG with some LAY-DEEZ and and and they’ll live together and they’ll be influencers and we’ll talk about them yeah and and and
Yeah. It’s not real. The debate is not real, and the answers they peddle are not real.
The culture of EV is ungenerous and unhelpful
Poker’s charm (and from here, I will abandon that word to make you comfortable again) is in its essential seediness, its cheer amidst doleful reality, its socialized individualism, its band of thieves’ honesty. There is only a little greatness and charisma, which is, alternatively, what women are generally attracted to; they’ll settle for amusement and fun.
What we have to offer in spades and actually advertise daily is Expected Value. We multiply our wins and subtract the losses for immediate gain, and even sternly remind each other never to think of the future. Oh, yes poker players love them some Expected Value at the cost of everything. When they aren’t pursuing it at the table, they are pursuing it in the markets, in their partners, in their possessions, in God knows what. We attack others for not being exploiting each other enough. We criticize the imaginative and worship the equilibrium calculator, literally exchanging our strengths in order to appear as bigger nerds.
We make podcasts and shows about it, and when, at last, we run out of desire for it, we work on our mental game to literally trick ourselves into wanting more of it. “Help me get motivated to do more of this thing I don’t want to do” is a constant lament in poker. “How do I get motivated to spend ten hours a day until my eyes bleed on a computer screen?” “Need mental game to help me not feel my feelings.”
This is what you want to sell to women? Have you met a woman?
Recreational players, even many pros, want and need poker to be a fun pastime
Now, there was a time (and a place) when more women played poker, and that was when limit games made poker a fun, modestly splashy, and ultimately affordable pastime. Ironically, it is likely many of you even learned poker from a woman in a home or family game. But we moved away from those games and the primary action went to big bet games which experience time and bankroll differently. That matters.
The concept of the pass time is very important to a healthy, bourgeois culture, and women participated in it. They still participate online, where affordable, fun gradations of the game are possible – obviously the talented ones play much bigger and go to the very top. But live rake and big bet games have pushed poker into different directions. It’s not as fun and it’s more stressful. Is that how amateurs want to spend their time, let alone women? We were warned about this but felting someone just feels too good. There is a Sadism in big bet games that is unappealing to many, when what many want is fun, if not excitement.
This cruelty at the table can be a plus EV move: it is maximum selfishness. That is one of the reasons poor behavior happens. It is very simple. To ask players not to take their edge when we literally teach with max EV equilibrium tools is an inherent contradiction. We teach people to be awful, that they must fight for every dollar or be the sucker, that the game is to take every bit of “value” and then wonder why they are awful.
And when the edges disappear? What do you think happens? Even the limit culture has swung from fun to the point where I expect to get in fights every time I dare to play. That answer has dried up, too.
Bad faith positions poison discussions, part two
Of course, now we must address the word, the dumb word, the misused word, the weapon word, the trump card, the philistine scrawl: misogyny. As if the world could even function or endure for a few generations if men hated women. The story of humanity itself is of Adam and Eve expelled, of overcoming the elements, of bonding and fighting and scratching out an existence on our blue and green and grey and yellow rock.
It’s a beautiful story, one full of shocking death and unlimited pain and of course conflict – the “war of the sexes” idea is not new- but at heart, near galactic success and the joy of life. Of Victory. Humans have conquered nearly every inch of the planet and salivate over the boundless frontier of space – if we were dragging and dragged down by a hated, resentful relationship with our other half, this success would never have happened. Some ass calling you a bitch and building a skyscraper to house thousands of business, families and lives are not equivalent acts, one is not the abnegation of the other, and to think so is an act of narcissism so grand it is the actual abnegation: life is not just about your troubles or sins or sufferings or some weak man’s anger.
But the philistines must have their day, and they intend to make this particular corporate meeting with a one item agenda a very, very, very, very long one.
Men obviously do not hate women. The word should be reserved for some very special cases, for serial killers and the mentally ill and the rare true lout or really, something so abstracted that doesn’t translate at all into why the drunk guy at the 2/5 game slapped the waitresses’ ass or got mad at you while his little world fell apart in a poker hand. The habit of the half-educated to scourge the world with half-baked ideas is a long and dangerous one. Even if you have no grasp at all of psychology, you can probably be persuaded into understanding that it didn’t happen because of hatred.
Now I know a lot of you can’t see this or don’t want to, and think that what motivates behaviors, the ones unlikeable to you, requires your opprobrium, your judgement, your activism. That’s fine, the non-reality-based community welcomes you to a world of exciting propositions that can stimulate you for a lifetime, not just misogyny! You can spend time trying to figure out why command economies mysteriously fail and how to overcome that through superior technology. You can provide theories on how to run society without enforcing laws. You can join think tanks to help run the world without conflict. You can try to figure out why your race/age group/religion is best and their race/age/religion is not. You can get an entire degree specializing in convincing people of how they should eat/live/have sex/raise/kill their offspring. You can go to conferences, universities, get-togethers, flagellation rooms for why god/conscience/society does/does not want this thing from you/them.
It gets even better, in fact. For many of these fields, you even have the privilege of being right all over again once your old theory goes out of date! Yes, the beauty of reality is that it is so big, it even has room for those who live outside it. In fact, the mere Men Hate Women Shouting Club & Happy Hour, membership five, will be jealous. Well, there’s always room at the top, as they say: do your worst.
Instead, it might be worth poker players’ time to learn the most basic rules of that far more important game – the game of the sexes. If we are inviting people to come potentially enjoy losing their shirts and blouses, it’s going to take someone who knows how to behave and who knows the audience. The Fox always knows the henhouse best, as he is a crafty fellow. Of late we’ve convinced women all over to wear those jerseys and care about the Eagles and the Dodgers and the Knights, an amazing but natural accomplishment, really, because the fans themselves exhibit loyalty and simplicity and passion and the women know they won’t escape it every Sunday and Monday and Thursday, and hey, let’s add some more days. We’ve convinced millions of women to join us in not fulfilling our mutual biological purpose, sending them into old age unloved or using chemicals to fool their bodies into a forever-pregnancy state so that we can live responsibility-free. We’ve convinced them to work and slave in multiple spheres and now even die on the battlefield, protecting a society that caves in on the freedoms we sent them in the name of as often as, well, you don’t need to told.
I, and a lot of others, I can only presume, don’t have time for this. I don’t have time for endlessly dumb ideas on encouraging people to do things because you want them to do them. I have a game to run, money to win, students to teach (yes, including women), and a life to lead. Confront your contradictions on your own, don’t tell me, who has never been cruel to a woman at a table but has been fantastically cruel to men – little hint there as to the real nature of behavior at the table and in life – that “WE” have to do something, when all you want are more chickens for the foxes. When I speak with women at the table, the podcast, the chat, I don’t ask them how their hormones make the game different. They can volunteer it, but I’m not bringing it up. That is how to answer the question of behavior: the assumption that a free being will do a thing freely if it is attractive enough.
The problem is, it is clearly not.
Solutions are simple and challenging, propaganda is complicated and easy
Now I don’t really want you to get it. I don’t want you to succeed in fixing it, and I doubt you will even if you listen. The idea of poker players behaving well, of becoming cleaned up and interesting, of not forbidding, say, the very politics we are talking about at the table because they can’t handle it (think about how insipid the participants have to be in order to need this pitiful poker social rule) is to make the poker table a social hub of dynamic interest. Obviously, this is the answer: become interesting to women. It’s so simple yet so hard.
Fortunately, that is the one thing I know we won’t do. Instead, we want to get the advertising team on it while we sweep NVG under the rug. Thinkfluencers, go!
Because, while more women would be great, duh, what I want and everyone else wants, really is more fish. I want more red-faced fools who think I want you to keep talking about that local sports team and drowning in drinks. I want to hear all about your Etherium project. I want you to tell me how to market to women, all your wacky and cynical and yes, actually sexist media manipulations. I want you here to do your thing, Poker. Don’t become interesting, don’t make it good for women.
Because when this game turns good for women, you bums are out.
The nature itself of the poker economy is the heart of the matter
I want all the fish in, and women aren’t attracted to fish. It’s the impasse, the heart of the heartless world of poker. Money flows from losers to winners. Women, despite any babble about them not liking risk – all of life is risk – enjoy winners and winning, and since these are few and little, so go the women. The correspondence in poker, five percent win big, five percent women is not a coincidence. Men win at all sorts of things in life, and attract their mates, friends, and society through that form of charisma. Your cousin may put up with your cousin-in-law’s poker losses, but it doesn’t make her want to sit at the table. And the bad beat stories don’t help. If we’re going to run the pyramid better, we better be an awfully interesting set of people. Now, look around the table – would you send those eight people out to convince a woman to try and stay in poker? Didn’t think so. They can barely convince their family they don’t have a gambling problem.
We barely even make the game fun, which is in fact the most minimal qualifier for women to do something with us.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way, nor will it, ultimately. What is most likely is that just as it was not Chris Moneymaker who changed poker but the technological and media growth of the game that brought the “boom” – dragging along his lucky ass – to fruition, market and cultural forces may well bring not just a few, but many women to poker. Culture is not an even progression; there is no “right side of history” but instead, peculiar, unpredictable confluences of events which produce seemingly inevitable challenges and outcomes.
One point in this piece is that unreflective, bad faith, zombie-like manipulations of the market not only won’t work, they never work, haven’t worked, and no one has the power to do them, anyway. There is no Twitch streamer, no vlog solution, no silver bullet: here’s a piece from 2014 – you’ve not come a long way, baby.
I want more people who look like me so that I’m more comfortable. It’s a talking point and real argument at once. It’s modest. Attainable. Will you do what is necessary for it to happen?
Yes, the foxes tell us, grinning weirdly, we’re on it!