In this extract from her new book How To Become A Poker Queen, Rebecca McAdam explains how women can use their feminine ways to get an advantage at the poker table
Using one’s femininity at the poker table can have various meanings. It can be using the perceptions of female players to your advantage, manipulating your relationship with different types of male players, or even flirting and using physical assets as a distraction or lure. I would rather steer clear of the latter, but how you play is totally up to you.
If we as women are playing solely on the idea that we’re seen a certain way, then this is not always going to work out so well. Aside from manipulation of gender perception, to be successful in the long-term, we must develop other skills and ensure we adjust our game as the attitudes of those around us (hopefully) change.
It’s confusing; we can talk about sexism in life, in the workplace, or in poker, but then at the same time use gender-based attributes and perceptions to succeed. However, poker is about information; it’s about what we know about the here and now, and how we can use every detail.
Any good player will use whatever edge they can to get ahead, so if this means using current thoughts about your play to your advantage, then that is just one tool we have at our disposal right now.
Professional poker player Katie Stone says, ‘Playing like a girl is wonderful. To me, it means being smart and utilising all my tools to win. It means that I have an advantage over everyone, because I know that I am always going to be initially regarded as weak. This is more information that I have, that my opponents do not have. My edge is immediate for me as soon as I sit down.’
Fatima de Melo stands out at a poker table. She is not only talented but has presence and charisma. She says she loves playing amongst men. ‘They’re so easy-going most of the time and usually a little surprised when I get involved in the ‘changing room’ talk at the table. I’m not what they seem to expect from a small, blonde girl, she says. ‘On the poker level it’s good to know that most male players see female players as being really tight, so I like to play that card, especially in the first couple levels of a tournament… and then pick my spots to bluff later on when the blinds have gone up.’
Your physical presence at a live poker table is always going to provoke a certain response whether you’re a man or a woman. After all, a large part of poker is trying to figure out the kind of player your opponent is, and their strengths and weaknesses, based on any information you have at your disposal. I wrote a thesis in college about women in poker and in it I explored some of the different types of men you will meet at the poker table and how they can treat you and play against you. They fell into roles like the mentor, the bully, the flirt, and each had their own approach.
A Weis woman
Melanie Weisner: ‘Presence at the poker table is one of the most valuable assets you have as a player, and one of the most under-utilised. This can be exploited from many different aspects, not just as a female – age, dress, attitude and behaviour have just as many associated stereotypes and particulars that smart players will be able to use to their advantage. Being a female at the poker table presents a very strong advantage.
As a female, I have experienced distinct advantages in a myriad of ways. At a very base level, men often enjoy having a pretty lady at the table. It breaks up the monotony of a bunch of testosterone at battle over cards. Often, men will ‘soft-play’ women at the table, which is defined by them not extracting as much value as they could out of their hands, in order to save you from losing too much. It is quite easy to spot this type of player, and often they will even tell you something like, ‘I’m only betting XX to save you from losing too much.’ (But always be wary of table talk!) Then there is the opposite end of the spectrum – a palpable discomfort playing hands with a woman. This can be for a few reasons – they can feel psychologically out of their element, or they can simply feel uncomfortable since it is rare for men to get involved in battle with women at the table. These type of players will often play one way versus the other players at their table, and a different way against you. Many times, I have experienced a seemingly solid, tight player going berserk or playing distinctly erratically versus me, and visibly being uncomfortable. You will notice this type of behaviour if you see elements in their play against you that doesn’t match up to what you’ve seen versus the rest of the table.’
Talk and win
Melanie Weisner: ‘The third, and most common type of way that men adjust to women at the table is by either giving you too much credit (they will be willing to make big laydowns to you, and view you as being very tight as is stereotypical for a female), or they will not give you enough credit (they will be trying to run you over at every opportunity since they view you as weak). The first way is much easier to play against, but there are clear ways to combat the second type of player – be more selective about hands you play, as the profitability of weak hands will diminish versus a player with this type of aggression, but be willing to be more forceful with your stronger hands and don’t be scared off them.
Women seem to be more naturally attuned to psychological factors at play in-game than men do, probably because of generally more intricate senses of social behaviour and an ability to manipulate those factors with more ease and subtlety (there are, of course, very smart men who are adept at using these types of psychological elements to their own advantage).
To begin with, I recommend utilising speech to try to gain information from your opponents. If you can engage them in conversation, before or during play, you will find yourself having a much better idea of where you stand and what a player is capable of and willing to do against you, which is a valuable asset.
The ideal situation is for you to be able to command the different ways your feminine presence can be advantageous, and be able to then execute whichever suits the situation correctly. You should be able to pick out players that will soft-play you, and ask to see their hands if you plan on making a big fold to them. You should be able to spot the players that are going to give you a lot of credit, and pick good bluff spots against these players. You should be able to more freely hero-call players that want to try to run you over, and you should be able to pick up on subtle social and psychological factors – both involving you and other players at the table – and use those to more accurately determine how likely it is that a player can be manipulated to your desired action.
Lastly, you should be able to not only respond to all the ways your opponents will naturally behave towards you, but become adept at specifically manipulating your own image to elicit these types of reactions, in whichever direction you deem most profitable
for the situation.’
Learning to survive
Rebecca McAdam’s top tips to become a better poker player
The wrath of boredom
Although poker is a fun and exciting game, there are many dull moments where you are not involved in the action or you’re feeling tired or bored. It’s hard to concentrate all the time but disconnecting from the zone can easily lead to distraction or mistakes.
Most professionals will say that they are still learning each and every day they play. In poker as in life, the best lessons I have learned are through the mistakes I’ve made. If you can learn to see these mistakes as lessons then you won’t be so hard on yourself.
No shame in folding
If you make a move and someone plays back at you and you are uncomfortable with the situation, then why not wait until you are more comfortable to get involved. Folding doesn’t mean that you are weak or that someone has outplayed you or is better than you. Don’t let pride or ego get in the way of your decision-making process. If you watch professionals play, you will rarely see them take a long time to fold or agonise about mucking their cards – unless it’s in a really close scenario with a lot on the line or they feel they have committed themselves in a tricky spot.
Try to have a plan for what you’re going to do based on your stack size, your position and those of your opponents. You can also have plans when it comes to hands you get involved in. This will give you more confidence at the felt and a greater sense of satisfaction with the decisions you make. If you have a plan and are willing to react to what others do instead of just brazenly sticking to your intentions, then you can make the most of your decisions – this may also mean folding later in the hand to escape loss.
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