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After Another Close Call, World Poker Tour Still Seeks First Female Champion

Maria Ho, Vanessa Selbst, Xuan Liu

With the conclusion of the World Poker Tour Fallsview Poker Classic this week, another event has passed without a female winner of an open event on the main tour. For those counting, that's now 218 events without a female champion. But, it hasn't come without several close calls over the years.

Most recently, Kelly Minkin placed third in the WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open for $262,912. Many within the poker community were rooting for Minkin to pull through with the victory, but she ultimately fell short.

Minkin's finish was extremely impressive, and she's no stranger to deep runs after previously placing runner-up in the 2013 Arizona State Poker Championship for $151,983 and winning a side event at the 2015 L.A. Poker Classic for $54,630. But, how does that finish rank amongst other female finishes on the WPT? Let's explore.

The WPT debuted in the middle of 2002 and is currently in its 13th season. Each season, it seems more and more women are getting deep in these marquee events, but unfortunately none of them have been able to break through. With more women playing poker these days and a greater frequency at which you can find one making her way to a final table in a WPT event, it's only a matter of time before the win is secured.

The question now isn't how is a woman going to break through to win a WPT event, but rather when.

Comparing the WPT to some of the other major tours in the world, the European Poker Tour, which debuted in late 2004 and has played 104 events, saw its first female winner way back in Season 3 at the 16th stop of the tour. That champion was Victoria Coren Mitchell, and she has since gone on to become the first two-time winner in EPT main event history. What's more is that through those 104 events, two other females have won titles on the tour, with Sandra Naujoks winning the Season 5 German Open and Liv Boeree capturing the title in Sanremo in Season 6. That's four times a female has reached the winner's circle in less than half of the events played on the WPT.

As for the World Series of Poker, it took 27 years before the first female won an open bracelet event. In 1996, Barbara Enright won the $2,500 Pot-Limit Hold'em for $180,000. Her win was in the 315th WSOP open event ever held. Enright has since gone on to win two more gold bracelets and be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame. In 1995, she made the final table of the WSOP Main Event and is the only woman in the history of the game to reach that pinnacle in the "grand daddy of them all."

As for the WSOP's "minor league" tour, the WSOP Circuit, no female has won a main event there, either, just like on the WPT. There have been 152 WSOP Circuit main events played out over the years, and the tour began at the start of 2005.

Now, back to the WPT. Just because there hasn't been a female champion yet doesn't mean there haven't been a bunch of attempts with women knocking on the doorstep of victory. The WPT plays its official final tables as six-handed affairs, and many female poker players have reached that point in the tournament. Through the 218 open WPT main events, a woman poker player has reached the final six-handed table 29 times, with one of those times coming in the Season 5 $10,000 Foxwoods World Poker Finals in 2006 where both Mimi Tran and Kathy Liebert reached the final six.

Back to Minkin. Her finish was the 15th time a woman finished in the top three of an open WPT event on the main tour, but only one woman, Vanessa Selbst, performed better in an event with a larger field size. As for the money, Minkin's score was the 13th largest for a female on the tour if you look at the actual prize, but the perspective could be skewed a little bit here as well. Because of the varying buy-ins and field sizes, Minkin's accomplishment might be better served if ranked by buy-ins won. By that, Minkin's 75.12 buy-ins won ranks second best, again behind only Selbst, who won 153.93 buy-ins.

Here's a look at the top final table performances by women in open WPT main events, ranked in order of finishing position, then by prize money won:

PlayerEventField SizeFinishPrize
JJ Liu2007 Season 5 $10,000 Bay 101 Shooting Star4502$600,000
Kathy Liebert2009 Season 7 $10,000 Bay 101 Shooting Star3912$550,000
Vanessa Selbst2013 Season 12 $3,200 Borgata Poker Open1,1892$492,569
Lily Kiletto2013 Season 11 $3,500 Lucky Hearts Poker Open3692$191,880
Cecilia Pescaglini2011 Season 10 €3,300 WPT Malta2402€116,700 ($161,313)
Diane Gagne2012 Season 10 $3,500 Lucky Hearts Poker Open2952$158,194
Mimi Tran2006 Season 5 $10,000 Foxwoods World Poker Finals6093$472,228
Kathy Liebert2005 Season 4 $10,000 Borgata Poker Open5153$427,115
Vanessa Rousso2010 Season 9 $10,300 Five Diamond World Poker Classic4383$358,964
Vanessa Selbst2011 Season 10 $10,300 Five Diamond World Poker Classic4133$338,351
Jen Harman2008 Season 6 $10,000 Bay 101 Shooting Star3763$330,000
Kathy Liebert2008 Season 7 C$10,000 North American Poker Championship4543C$319,337 ($282,682)
Kelly Minkin2015 Season 13 $3,500 Lucky Hearts Poker Open1,0273$262,912
Lisa Hamilton2011 Season 10 $3,500 WPT Jacksonville3933$112,657
Diane Crous2014 Season 13 $3,500 Emperors Palace Poker Classic1663$54,721
JJ Liu2005 Season 4 $15,300 Five Diamond World Poker Classic5554$362,140
Jen Harman2004 Season 3 $15,300 Five Diamond World Poker Classic3764$299,492
Abbey Daniels2011 Season 9 $10,000 Seminole Hard Rock Showdown4334$286,819
Nesrin Kourdourli2010 Season 9 €3,500 WPT Amneville5434€109,886 ($153,230)
Mimi Luu2013 Season 12 $3,500 WPT Thunder Valley4654$100,240
Maureen Feduniak2003 Season 1 $5,300 partypoker Million1774$79,155
Margo Costa2013 Season 12 $3,440 bestbet Jacksonville Fall Poker Scramble3584$79,114
Kathy Liebert2006 Season 5 $10,000 Foxwoods World Poker Finals6095$257,579
Esther Taylor-Brady2015 Season 13 $3,500 Borgata Winter Poker Open9895$174,118
Lily Kiletto2013 Season 12 $3,850 WPT Montreal8625$121,848
Christina Lindley2013 Season 12 €7,500 Grand Prix de Pairs1875€82,280 ($112,590)
Susan Kim2004 Season 2 $5,000 Bay 101 Shooting Star2435$68,400
Stacy Matuson2005 Season 4 $5,000 Aruba Poker Classic6476$100,000
Ronit Chamani2013 Season 12 $3,600 Emperors Palace Poker Classic1916$26,504
Kathy Liebert2002 Season 1 $5,000 Legends of Poker1346$22,575

There's still six more open WPT main events this season, and the next one will be the magnificent L.A. Poker Classic starting Feb. 28. It wouldn't be a surprise at all if another one or two women land themselves at a WPT final table in Season 13, and as we said before, it's only a matter of time before one of them wins.

Since Season 8, when no woman poker player made the final table of an open WPT main event, 16 have done so in the seasons to follow, including an all-time best of six from Season 12. That's some strong momentum to grab from, and through the first 12 events of Season 13 three have reached the final table. Furthermore, prior to the zero put up in Season 8, the average through the first seven seasons was just under 1.9 females to reach a WPT final table in a season. After Season 8, that number has nearly doubled to 3.4, and that's without the current season being finished yet. This increase is a factor of a few things. For one, the WPT hosts more events per season than ever. Two, the buy-ins these days are more player-friendly than they were back towards the beginning of the WPT reign. And three, reentries have become the norm. Put those three factors together with the greater expansion by the WPT to new markets of the world that allow more women to get involved and you've got a recipe that is allowing more female players to thrive in these events.

Above all, though, some of the females in the game today are some of the better players in these fields. Sorry, fellas, but when you've got talent like Selbst, Maria Ho, Xuan Liu, Loni Harwood, and many more regularly in these events it isn't a big secret.

It is without a doubt that there are a lot of highly-talented women in poker these days, but which one of them is going to break through and become the first female WPT champion?

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