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Women’s Poker Spotlight: The History of the WSOP Ladies Event

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In 1977 the World Series of Poker, then in its eighth year, began what would become an annual tradition. On Friday, May 6th, at 12:00 PM, the first ladies-only championship poker event began, and since that date the World Series of Poker’s Ladies Event has been the largest women’s-only tournament in the world. The event has grown annually and now features a truly international field.

According to legend, the WSOP Ladies Event was started in order to give the wives and female companions of the male poker players something to do in order to bring a bigger draw to the other events that were predominately male. The WSOP has not been able to deny or support this rumor, as the records from the time were not very accurate and no complete history exists. As a result, the number of women who entered into that initial 1977 event is also unknown. The buy in for the seven-card-stud event – the switch to no-limit came later — was a minimal $100, the lowest buy-in in the history of the WSOP; it also produced the smallest prize pool in WSOP history as a result. The top three women were paid, with Jackie McDaniels taking the top spot for a $5,580 payout.

From 1979 to 1981 the buy-in for the Ladies Only Event was bumped up to $400. The event remained seven-card stud. The field continued to grow in numbers, albeit small compared to today’s tournament fields, but there was no denying the steady growth of women wanting to try their hand at the poker tables. 1982 saw a jump in the buy-in to $500, where it remained through 1991. The field steadily grew from 64 entrants in 1982 to 110 in 1991.

In 1992 the WSOP brought the women’s-only event to new heights. Although the event has been a bracelet event since its inception, raising the buy in to $1,000 made the women’s event truly a championship event, and it had long since moved past the image of housewives playing in the back room to keep them occupied. The increased buy-in gave even more credibility to the event; seven-card-stud still ruled the felt.

The event became a Hold'em/stud mix in 2000 and remained that way through 2003. The number of entrants remained steady at about 100 throughout the early part of the decade. In 2004 the WSOP changed the format over to limit hold’em only. The poker boom was in full swing but had not fully grasped the potential of the women’s market. The field grew to 200 that year, a record number, but nothing prepared the poker world for things to come.

2005 was the year the ladies’ event hit the big time. No one expected the 601 women who flocked to the tables at the Rio, the brand new home of the World Series of Poker. The event switched over to no-limit hold’em that year as well, and combined with the growth of online and televised poker, women received far more exposure to the game and turned out in massive numbers as a result. By 2006 the event had reached a form similar to today. About 1,000 women enter the tourney annually and it has spread its wings to include a charity element, conducted by Queens of Heart, starting in 2006.

For 2009, the World Series of Poker staff has taken into account many suggestions from players and industry professionals alike to make more improvements to the Ladies Event. This year the event will span three days, and will feature a 3,000-chip starting stack and one-hour levels with a maximum of ten levels played on Day 1. This year the Queens of Heart tie-in will offer an increased presence as well. Women will have the option of donating a portion of their winnings as well as the opportunity to purchase “Queens of Heart” shirts and hats. All proceeds will be donated to the Nevada Cancer Institute.

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