The poker night I faced down Le Schiffre and made rent
Poker is becoming more popular and women are placing their bets with purpose. Helen Razer entered a tournament in the hope of improving her game, but then things got out of hand.
In 2005 a Broadmeadows chiropractor travelled to Vegas and took out what was then the biggest poker field in history. As Joe Hachem moved all-in against a Baltimore Pro at the World Series of Poker, he was holding a made straight and, apparently, the nascent hopes of at least a thousand Australian amateurs.
When Hachem returned with a bracelet and a $US7.5million prize, I honed my dreams and began to work on my bankroll. I was hardly alone. Our weekly game of six at an inner Melbourne bowling club expanded to 60. At Crown, where I buy-in whenever I've managed to take down Conservative Sue or Serious Joe at the Bowlo, the number of poker tables has quintupled since Hachem's celebrated victory.
The simple, exhilarating game of No Limit Holdem is, very nearly, chic. For a professional game kick-started by a few surly, artificial cowboys, it attracts a fashionable attention. The heiresses and actresses of the celebrity circuit might be shocked to learn of WSOP founder Amarillo Slim's agreement with the ladies. "If they agree not to play poker, I'll agree not to have any babies."
Then again, perhaps they wouldn't care. Certainly, in recent years, professional female poker players have ceased to give a hoot about this kind of trash talk. High-stakes cash game legend Jennifer Harman once told me that Slim, who was quoted as saying that he'd slit his throat should a woman win the WSOP bracelet, could, "go jump."
Late last week at Crown Casino, 143 women were almost assured that there'd be no antique sexism at the tables. Well, almost. One bloke who fancied testing discrimination law bought in. But I didn't see him at the final table.
For the serious player, this $100 buy-in to the Ladies Event wasn't a big purse. First place came in at just over three and a half K. However, none of us would have minded a trophy that signified victory in an event at the reasonably prestigious Victorian Poker Championships.
As a hobbyist, I was simply hoping to improve my game. If I could finish at the middle of the pack and learn a little extra about the dynamics of a tournament, I reasoned, I was a winner.
My thinking changed at the two hour mark. I wanted the damn cup.
After a few legitimate all-in moves, my chip stack was slightly higher than the average. I'd found the rhythm of this wily female play and learnt that women, unlike men, tend to suspect everyone of bluffing. They do not, to use the parlance of the game, give "respect".
I played like a pussy for hours. I folded my rags, let go of pocket pairs and saw less than 10% of flops.
When I had the means, I showed a little heart. My chip stack developed. I re-raised with a few winnable hands and was rewarded when one of my many outs appeared on the River or the Turn. I took out a big girl from Wantirna. "Why did you call me, bitch?" she demanded.
I found myself faintly aroused.
Essentially, I played the game taught to me in the best poker text I have yet read, Kill Phil by Lee "Final Table" Nelson.
I was in the money. And then, I was on the final table. I was faced off against a quiet matron who kept mumbling "isolate" as she bet and a suburban Le Schiffre who was weeping tears of chardonnay instead of blood.
In the end, my two pairs didn't hold up against a straight that bobbed up on the River. I came third. Bad beat, as they say. But I made rent, improved my game and resumed my Hachem dreaming.