Women still remain a clear minority in poker. The female empowerment organisation Poker Power estimates only 4% of poker players are women! But there are few who’ve made a distinct name for themselves.
In honour of International Women’s Month, let’s look at some of the most famous women in poker – past and present – and the lessons they teach.
Old School Stars:
1) Jennifer Tilly: Don’t be fooled!
Arguably one of the most recognisable women in poker, Jennifer Tilly continues to be at the top of the list for famous females in the game. She was one of the very few women playing televised poker at the highest stakes –doing so in revealing outfits with bubbly energy.
But don’t be fooled: Jennifer Tilly is not nearly as clueless as she seems (or rather her shtick would suggest).
The Academy Award nominee has more than 1 million dollars in live tournament earnings. Yes, seven figures! This number includes another seven (lucky sevens, anyone?) first-place finishes. She is not a one-hit-wonder.
Her most significant tournament score was for $158k – impressive but nowhere even close to her total earnings. What this suggests is a consistent track record of success.
So, ignore the dress and keep your eyes on the deck. Jennifer Tilly uses her persona to rake in the cash.
2) Liv Boeree: There’s a World Outside of Poker
Another big name from a previous generation is Liv Boeree. The former poker pro has nearly 4 million dollars in live tournament earnings and established herself as a bona fide shark. (Not to mention she was the #1 ranked female player from 2014-2016.)
She co-founded the non-profit Raising for Effective Giving (REG) alongside her longtime partner and professional poker player Igor Kurganov. The enterprise helps identify and raise money for the most globally impactful charities.
But what many people don’t know about Liv is that she holds a degree in astrophysics(!) She started playing poker to pay off her student debt. And while she retired from poker in 2018, she is going strong on the science front.
Liv hosts her own science-oriented YouTube channel dedicated to answering the questions about the universe (e.g., Why Are Conspiracy Theories So Appealing? and How Do Waterslides Work?)
Her hosting skills have also landed her features on major networks such as the Discovery Channel and National Geographic.
Liv Boeree used poker to launch her career to infinity and beyond, reminding us that there is a big, big world off the felt.
3) Maria Ho: Choose Your Spots Wisely
No list of female poker players would be complete without mentioning Maria Ho. She is one of the few to have prominence in both past and present generations - with more than 4 million in earnings,
Maria is unique because she continues to play poker regularly as a full-time pro today, keeping her fans updated on her Facebook and Instagram pages. She also spends quite a bit of time hosting and commentating.
Yet the poker hand that garnered Maria Ho the most controversy happened in 2017 at the World Series of Poker Europe final table. (Doug Polk did an analysis video here, adding further publicity).
In a four-way pot that was three-bet preflop, Maria flopped a set of tens on J♥️7♥️T♥️ and – spoiler alert! – folded.
But in interviews afterwards, Maria didn’t say she was convinced she was behind. She knew that her opponents could have a hand like nine-eight, jacks, or a flush. But that wasn’t her primary concern.
Her fear was that even if she was up against a hand like A♥️K♣️ – which is precisely what her opponent held – she was risking her tournament life. With a relatively big stack of around 50 big blinds in a high variance spot, her equity would be roughly 60/40.
She wasn’t wrong: her hand only had a 63% chance of winning.
In a highly-disciplined decision, Maria shocked the poker community by folding what she knew was likely the best hand. She didn’t want to be at the mercy of the deck for her entire tournament. This insightful way of thinking is one that most poker players would never consider.
Maria wanted to wait for a better spot and combined poker with a much-needed skill: patience.
New School Stars:
1) Jennifer Shahade: Strategic Thinking
Often, the outside world stigmatises poker and doesn’t consider it the intellectual sport it is, unlike chess. Jennifer Shahade is one of the women out to change that perception.
- She is a two-time U.S. Women's Chess Champ, author of the book Chess Queens, and a Woman Grandmaster.
- She also plays poker.
- She is an ambassador to the game and serves on the board of Poker Power. This organisation dedicates itself to teaching business skills through poker skills.
Jennifer’s leadership is transforming how the public sees poker from a game of chance to a game of strategy.
2) Nadya Magnus: Giving Back
The name Nadya Magnus might ring a bell for some old school poker veterans. But she was on the popular television show The Big Game. The show was a typical poker game with a key twist: a table of pros except for one amateur.
The amateur was always affectionately dubbed “the loose cannon.” One of the most memorable faces in the show’s history was “loose cannon” Nadya Magnus.
Flash forward ten years later, and she is winning the Global Poker Index Women’s Player of the Year award. The win made her the highest-ranking female poker player in the world in 2021.
My chocolate trophy tuned into a real one last night. Dreams can come true…. pic.twitter.com/JXWL5m5IfV— Nadya Magnus (@NadyaKGB) February 19, 2022
But what is extraordinary about Nadya isn’t just her rise from student to teacher, but her initiative in giving back to other women. She has hosted a variety of high-roller giveaways on her own personal Twitter account, buying women into $5,000 and $10,000 events – no strings attached. No staking agreements or splits.
She has a pure desire to see women succeed – and put them into their own big games. Similar to how she was so famously given the opportunity on live television.
Here is the puzzle to win @WynnPoker Millions Main Event $10K seat. FIRST correct eligible answer will win a seat. Don’t forget to attach your @TheHendonMob profile link to your answer. Best of luck! pic.twitter.com/lftHMTEFms— Nadya Magnus (@NadyaKGB) February 24, 2022
Since Nadya started the high buy-in donations, other poker operators and ambassadors have started doing the same. (And hey, even casinos like the Wynn are throwing in free rooms!)
Her generosity is inspiring and contagious. May we see more of these in the future.
3) Maria Konnikova: The Power of Decision-Making
Maria Konnikova made waves in the mainstream press when she took on the writing of her 2020 book, The Biggest Bluff. The author – who holds a PhD in psychology – previously wrote for various news outlets before electing to explore the world of poker. She trained under the legendary Eric Seidel and became so successful she went pro herself.
If you read her book, one of the key distinctions is the power of decision-making. Maria explores how luck plays out in your own life.
In that sense, by choosing wisely, you make your own luck.
Her book examines what we can and cannot control. She teaches us to make the best of the cards we are dealt in life and lives by example.