Women in poker has been a topic bantered about for decades. Can they compete with the men? Time has shown that they clearly can. Are they better at the game than men? Some would say so. Whatever the debate, one thing everyone seems to agree on is that it'd be nice to see more women playing poker.
Jessica Dawley, an 888poker pro, is on a mission to make that happen.
Dawley, who was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and raised in Southern Indiana, learned to play poker when she was just six years old, courtesy of her uncle. She used those skills to earn a little extra income during high school, but afterwards joined the US Air Force and was deployed to the United Arab Emirates. Like President Richard Nixon did back in the day, she often played against her fellow soldiers and padded her bankroll.
After her time in the Air Force came to an end, Dawley decided to give poker a full-time go. So far she's done well, traveling the world, landing a lucrative sponsorship deal, and has amassing $133,674 in live tournament earnings.
To date, Dawley's biggest score was $69,222 for a 17th-place finish in the 2010 Aussie Millions Poker Championship. She also finished sixth in the 2009 Southern Poker Championship for $12,993, 173rd in the 2014 Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open Main Event for $9,978, and appeared on Poker Night in America's wildly popular Ladies Night cash game.
Dawley will be appearing on Ladies Night II later this month at the PNIA at Sugarhouse Casino in Philadelphia.
Recently, PokerNews had the opportunity to talk sit down with Dawley.
PokerNews: Women account for a low percentage of the poker-playing field. What sort of things do you think can be done to attract more women to the game?
Dawley: While the percentage of women may be low compared to the overall population of poker players, it has been increasing in recent years. Clearly, women are an untapped market and online poker sites such as 888poker have certainly opened the door for us to join in on the game.
888 is doing a great job at marketing to women and we get tremendous turnouts to ladies events and promotions. I believe the industry overall has done a better job creating a positive environment for women at the table, but there is still work that needs to be done.
How has the legalization of online poker in certain areas increased the amount of women playing poker? Does the anonymity play a factor?
Anonymity plays a huge factor in this. At the live tables, players use intimidation as a strategy, and if you've never played the game before, you'll find yourself at a huge disadvantage. In my experience, men have tried to use the fact that I'm a woman as a weakness. The ability to play in your own home increases your comfort level and is a great way to introduce yourself to the game. When reviewing recent statistics, it is very clear that in increasing numbers woman are playing online at sites like 888poker.
How do you feel when men enter women-only events? Do you think that turns a lot of women off from poker?
Men enter women-only events as an intimidation factor, and to be honest, rarely does it work as one would expect.
I recall one incident in particular, in which a man entered a women-only event, and it really backfired. A well-known player tried to mock us during a ladies tournament by dressing in ladies attire. Not only did he look ridiculous, the crowd quickly turned against him and the women rallied together to boot him out of the tournament. He never stood a chance.
Some people suggest that overall women are better players than men. Do you think this is true?
I do believe this is true. From my experience, women generally have better analytical skills, are more self-disciplined, and less concerned about ego than men. These qualities, when combined with thoughtful, smart play, theoretically make women better at playing the game of poker than men. Of course, men have historically posted greater results at tournaments than women due to their shear numerical advantage. As we encourage and see more women train and understand the game, you will see those numerical advantages begin to change.
Over the years, some poker companies have used sex to sell poker. Oftentimes it's quite blatant, while others like the WPT Royal Flush Girls are a little subtler. What's your take on it all?
Let's face it, sex sells and is used in so many industries, not just poker. My goal is to get more women involved in the sport, versus using women as sex symbols to sell the sport to men. One of the reasons I signed to be a spokesperson for 888poker was how they made it a priority to tap into the female population by empowering women, rather than use them as sexual icons. That was very important to me before signing with them.
Has your relationship with 888poker allowed you to do any sort of promotional work pertaining to women?
Absolutely. We routinely host "Ladies Night Tournaments" on 888poker, and we have a number of upcoming initiatives designed to attract more women to poker.
PNIA hosted a televised Ladies Night cash game last year and is primed to do the same this season. Do you think such events are good for women in poker?
There is no question that the PNIA Ladies Night cash game has been helpful in introducing the game to more women and has stimulated greater involvement. The exposure is significant, and it also underscores the fact that women today are successfully playing poker across the country and online.
What was is like playing in that event?
It was an absolute thrill and a fun event to participate in, and I will once again be playing in similar events this year. It was one of the most-watched episodes!
What sort of advice would you give to women who are new to the game?
First, do not be intimated by what you may have seen or heard about poker being a game for men. Secondly, I would register on a site such as 888poker and begin getting comfortable with playing poker and gaining valuable experience. I would also encourage taking tutorials that can provide additional insight into being a successful player. I would also follow female pros such as myself and others to learn about the game and the female-specific strategies we use at the live poker tables.
What sort of things do you think the poker industry as a whole can do to attract more women to the game?
Most likely, the thing that the industry can do to encourage female participation is to provide education as it relates to women beginning to enter poker. Additionally, the industry should consider offering more tournaments, cash games, and bigger prizes for female-specific events.
Keep track of Jessica Dawley's poker progress by following her on Twitter: @JessicaDawley.