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December was an exciting month for women poker players.
Kudos to the World Poker Tour and the fabulous job they did promoting women at their recent WPT World Championship festival held at the beautiful Wynn Las Vegas.
To celebrate their 20 years of success, the WPT partnered with Wynn, and among other fabulous and successful tournaments, they offered an inaugural televised Ladies Championship event with a $200,000 guarantee. That is the largest guarantee ever for a woman’s event.
None of this would have happened without the determination of one strong, ballsy broad, who impresses everyone with whom she comes in contact. With a distinct Aussie drawl and a no-nonsense attitude, as WPT Vice President of Global Tour Management for over a decade, Angelica Hael is the bomb. She came up with innovative ideas for ladies which the WPT coined as “creating women-centric initiatives” aimed at welcoming, including, and encouraging women.
For example, prior to the Ladies Championship, the WPT put on a Ladies Meet Up Game, hosted by poker pro and commentator Jamie Kerstetter. The ladies met the likes of Linda Johnson, Jan Fisher, Veronica Brill, Sofia Lövgren, Kathy Liebert, Xuan Liu, Katie Kopp, Ashley Sleeth, Kyna England, Angelica Hael, and WPT anchor Lynn Gilmartin, to name a few.
They all played low-limit poker together. There were gift bags, candy, mystery pots with envelopes containing $100 Wynn gift cards or future WPT buy-ins, to say nothing of the laughter, cheering and excitement. As time went on, everyone began talking about the woman’s televised tournament, who had already won a seat, and what venues were giving away more seats.
Seats could be won from as far away as bestbet Jacksonville and Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood in Florida, the Jack Cleveland Casino in Ohio, Choctaw in Oklahoma or even the Malta Poker Festival in Europe. ClubWPT as well as other online rooms had seats to give away with Women in Poker Hall of Fame Inductees as bounties.
The WPT also partnered with several prominent women’s organizations supplying them seats and thereby honoring and uplifting the importance of the organizations themselves. The Women in Poker Hall of Fame gave away seats as did Women in Poker and Poker League of Nations. Hael did a brilliant job of including every possible venue and organization creating such a buzz that the guarantee wasn’t only met, but almost tripled.
“The WPT World Championship festival is set to be a record-setting event and we wanted to ensure it also showcases our commitment to growing the presence of women in poker,” said Hael before the event. “We can’t wait to shine a spotlight on these amazing women in the Ladies Championship with a televised final table for our 20th-anniversary broadcasting schedule.”
The Ladies Championship was well run by Wynn Tournament Director Ray Pulford. Halfway through day 1, the First Lady of Poker, Linda Johnson stood up and graciously thanked the tour and Wynn for providing such an exceptional experience for women. My fellow Card Player columnist could barely be heard through the cheers of the ladies, all 578 of us.
This was a tournament like no other. Ladies were laughing, some were drinking, some were all dressed up or had fun costumes, but everyone was enjoying themselves. It was uplifting for all who attended. It was a place to see and be seen.
Late into day 1, I had almost triple the average when I was moved from a softer table to a table with lots of big stacks. Almost immediately, Dusti Smith put a beat on me, decimating my stack and ultimately catapulting her into a possible position to make the final table, which she did.
We played down for quite awhile, and when the 72 remaining women went home, they were tired but satisfied to be in the money. By the time I got home, I was so pumped up, I don’t think I fell asleep until 3 am, but not before learning that my friend Louise Francoeur was in first place and bagged over a million when the average stack was under 400,000.
The heartbreaking story in my book was day 2 when Francoeur got it in good with Q-Q but lost to Kathy Liebert’s A-K. Of course, all poker players have been on both sides of that flip. But after enjoying two days of the chip lead, after going to bed the prior evening with two and a half more than the average stack, in a blink, Louise went out seventh, just missing the televised TV table after two days of stellar play. The A-K would come to haunt Liebert as well as she was knocked out of the final table with the same hand that got her there when facing the pocket sixes of Lina Niu.
I spoke with Louise, asking her about that gut-wrenching last flip. Like the classy lady she is, she said it was going to be miserable for whoever lost as she and Liebert were both playing great poker that day. Besides just missing the final table with all its glory and festivities, what really got Louise was when she heard that Virgin Voyages gave away free cruises to the final six, with a super-duper special room for the winner!
“Oh man, I want a cruise!” she laughed. “But I have to say that from the top down, the WPT is first class. They did everything right with friendly people, a great structure, and a mood unlike any other woman’s event. I usually don’t enjoy ladies events but this one was fabulous.”
I caught up with Women In Poker Hall of Famer Kathy Liebert, who impressively cashed in the WPT Prime Championship ($45,000), the WPT World Championship ($19,150), and the WPT Ladies Championship ($28,847), adding to her nearly $7 million in career earnings.
“Ladies events have changed since the old Horseshoe days,” Kathy said. “It used to be a social event and now the ladies are very competitive and good while still being much more friendly and sociable which makes it a great fun tournament. I decided to play after busting the main event and was just having fun playing lots of hands and wound up rebuying a lot and going to many different tables, all were tough.”
When asked about her two pivotal A-K hands, she said, “Poker has a lot of variance and flipping is part of the game. Sometimes you win the flips and sometimes you don’t. It balances out in the long run.”
The televised TV table was so exciting, there was an overflow room with a big screen TV and alcohol flowing. All the Women in Poker Hall of Fame inductees were invited guests. We were welcomed and escorted to the Latour Ballroom VIP seating like royalty. I sat next to JJ Liu who was wearing such a huge, gorgeous hat, she had to hold one side down so people could see. We all laughed about it, including JJ.
Prior to the tournament, the WPT put on a short but magnificent show which included a video that flashed pictures of successful women poker players. It was clear now what the WPT meant by “women-centric.”
By now, everyone knows the results of that final table. The most well-known pros at the table, Jamie Kerstetter and Kathy Liebert, were the first two out, winning $21,934 and $28,847, respectively. Although Olga Iermolcheva bullied the table for hours, in the end it was Lina Niu who took it down, winning $105,136.
But the tournament wasn’t the only highlight of the month for women in poker.
Since the ‘90s, Lupe Soto has worked tirelessly for women in poker, starting Poker Chix, the first online poker forum for women. She thereafter created the first women’s poker tour, Ladies International Poker Series (LIPS). In 2008 she founded the prestigious Women in Poker Hall of Fame to showcase those who excel in the poker industry as players or industry professionals.
The WiPHoF is embraced by the poker world and stands as one of the greatest honors in the industry. Lupe also founded the Women’s Poker Association, a 501c3 Non-Profit created to elevate and empower women in poker. And next year, she has even more in store for women.
Another star and staunch supporter of women, Linda Johnson, has been a leading force in the poker world. In 1993, Linda purchased Card Player magazine. As publisher, Linda became an ambassador for the poker world, traveling to more than 200 cardrooms. She has co-written three poker books and was instrumental in helping to establish many influential poker projects including the World Poker Industry Conference, the World Poker Players Conference, and the Tournament Directors Association (TDA).
She was a major force in establishing the WPT for which she had the role of studio announcer during its first six seasons. Her involvement in promoting poker led to being chosen as the original chairperson for the Poker Players Alliance (PPA). Linda is currently on the Board of Directors for the TDA and LIPS. As well, she was a charter inductee into the Women in Poker Hall of Fame in 2008. As a female voice in the world of poker, she makes us proud!
Angelica’s day of reckoning came as she was finally recognized as a major force for women in poker. On Dec. 14, 2022, Angelica was inducted into the Women in Poker Hall of Fame at the PokerGO studio in Las Vegas along with Terry King, Vanessa Selbst, and Jennifer Tilly. Master of Ceremonies Jan Fisher was as funny as ever lightening up the mood before Adam Pliska’s tear-jerker speech honoring Angelica.
Angelica has made it a mission to develop the WPT Women’s Poker Initiative, which has launched serious conversations regarding women in poker throughout the industry. The WPT Ladies Championship was but one example of what is to come for women in the future.
*Photos courtesy of World Poker Tour. Credit Hayley Hochstetler and Drew Amato
Allyn Jaffrey Shulman is a 40-year veteran criminal defense attorney. As a constitutional law expert, she testified before the North Dakota Senate regarding online gaming. The Card Player Poker Tour Venetian main event champion has more than $1.6 million in career tournament earnings, including a World Series of Poker bracelet after topping a massive field of 4,128 in the senior’s championship. The former Poker Player Alliance board member was inducted into the Women in Poker Hall of Fame in 2014. Shulman is currently writing a book about her experience as woman in a man’s world. You can find her on Twitter @ajaffrey.