Saturday, June 12, 2010

Women's event at the WSOP

This post is about the ladies' event of the WSOP, which started today, as well as the general phenomenon of such tournaments. The post is going to be quite different that it would have been if I had written it when I first decided to do so, about nine hours ago. Since then, I have been back to the Pavilion Room to play a cash game, took a few pictures, and saw and heard various relevant things, as that is where Day 1 of Event #22 is being played.

I have also, since returning home,

-- Read maybe 100 Twitter messages about the subject, mostly from people I know, a few from people I don't know.

-- Read this story at Card Player's site about the WSOP threatening various long-term consequences for the men who played in the event.

-- Watched Daniel Negreanu's video blog post about the subject.

-- Read the PokerNews live updates for the first eight hours or so of play.

-- Read F-Train's excellent post. This may have changed the intended post more than anything else, because he said much of what I was thinking, but better than I might have, as well as shifting my thinking on one big point, which I'll get to later.

As often happens, I don't have a coherent thesis (failing English Comp 101), just a bunch of more-or-less interconnected thoughts, which I present here in no particular order. I am going to assume that my readers are familiar with the beat-to-death basic arguments for and against the existence of female-only events, and not rehash them here.

1. Here are two men I saw playing who were close enough to photograph easily, presented so that you can either hate or admire them, as you choose. I have no idea who they are.

2. Taking an early departure from topical relevance, I just have to show you this picture of Cheryl Hines. From a technical point of view, it's a horrible shot, but I love her facial expression anyway.

3. One of the women in my cash game had earlier been playing in the tournament, and was at a table where a male player (she designated all of them who entered as "idiots," just to give you one sampling of woman-on-the-street opinion) had a tampon that he was using as a card protector. I thought this might be my little reporting scoop of the day, but I found out when I got home that the incident--including the penalty this jackass incurred--had already been widely reported. Not cool, dude. Not funny.

4. As has also been reported everywhere, upon every elimination of a male player, the female players let out a collective cheer. This was not--repeat, not--the polite "good game" applause that one hears from the audience when a player exits a final table. No, this had an unmistakable flavor of "Get the hell out of here and don't ever come back."

This behavior shows that men have no monopoly on being jackasses and poor sports. Perhaps it is wrong and offensive for these men to have entered the event, but that doesn't make it OK to vocalize your glee at their elimination. As my mother liked to remind me ad nauseum, two wrongs don't make a right.

If you object to a male entering the tournament and sitting at your table, I think you are within your rights to basically snub him socially--don't humor him, don't chat with him, don't interact more than is minimally required to keep the game moving. Cold shoulders from eight women at a table might make him rethink whether this is an action he wants to repeat. I consider that a socially acceptable form of expressing your opinion about his choice.

If you feel like being more direct, you can even start the day by telling him something like this: "I think your entering this tournament is like urinating in the punch bowl of a party that you weren't invited to. I resent you being here, and I hope you will think better of entering any other such event in the future." Then snub him. Nothing wrong with that, as long as you're calm and civil in your tone and choice of words.

But if you want to claim the moral high ground in this controversy, you have to keep your reaction to the situation classy. Cheering an opponent's loss completely fails that simple test.

5. I wonder if Harrah's is really serious about imposing some sort of sanctions on the men who entered. Are they actually that stupid, or is it just a corporate bluff?

Here's what Seth Palansky said, according to Card Player's reporter: "The good news is at the World Series of Poker, we have the right to refuse service to anyone at any time at any point that we deem, as operators of the event."

Assuming, as would seem to be the case, that it is illegally discriminatory for a place of public accommodation to forbid men from entering the tournament, it must surely also be illegally discriminatory to refuse them equal access to public events in the future on the basis of their legitimate participation today.

Suppose that some racist restaurant owner didn't want to serve blacks, but wanted to get around the anti-discrimination laws. So he says, "I'll serve you today if you absolutely insist, but if you do, then I'm going to ban you from the premises forever, because I'm free to take or reject the business of anybody I want to."

How does that even make sense? If Harrah's doesn't have the legal right to refuse access to a public event on the basis of sex, then it can't possibly have the right to ban that person from future events on the grounds that he accepted the open invitation. I can't imagine how a court, if asked to decide the matter, could come to any conclusion other than the obvious: The future ban is just a different means of practicing the illegal discrimination. There can't be any logical distinction between "You can't play today because you're male," and "OK, you can play today, but if you do, then because you're male, we will never let you enter one of our tournaments again." The perverse consequence of that approach would be that a place of public accommodation could freely discriminate on the basis of sex or race for a person's entire lifetime, as long as they didn't do it this one time.

That's just too bizarre to take seriously. If they really try it, I'd love to be the attorney bringing the suit. Seems like a slam-dunk win for the plaintiffs to me.

6. Speaking of bizarre legal theories, you should listen to Negreanu's. He proposes that Harrah's set up a men-only tournament with a buy in of $100 billion. Then they could legally hold the women's tournament as is.

Well, unlike Seth Palansky's idiotic claim, at least Negreanu freely admits that he doesn't know the law and doesn't know what he's talking about. Courts enforcing anti-discrimination laws have little patience for schemes that pay lip service to inviting full participation by everyone, but in actual practice have unreasonable or insurmountable barriers to participation by members of some protected class.

I guess Negreanu never heard of "separate but equal" being struck down--and he's not even trying to make it "equal."

7. I have what will probably seem like a hopelessly muddled and self-contradictory view of discrimination law, by the way. I believe that:

A) There should be no laws prohibiting discrimination by private entities, such as individuals or corporations, even if they are in the business of public accommodation. That is, yes, a bar or hotel or store should be able to exclude anybody on any basis--even the most vile, such as race. They almost always shouldn't do it, but they should have the legal right to make that choice. That is not because I endorse racial (or other) discrimination, but because, primarily, I place an enormous value on private property rights. (Biting tongue so as not to go into full rant on this. Suffice it to say that Rand Paul had it right recently, and I was disappointed that he backpedaled on the point (though he didn't actually retract it).)

B) However, if there are going to be anti-discrimination laws on the books, then they should be vigorously enforced. This is especially true when it comes to enforcing them in ways that are unpopular, and not what those enacting the laws had in mind. Using such laws to challenge women getting free or discounted drinks at a bar, or free or discounted entry into hotel swimming pools (both of which are very common in Vegas) is precisely the sort of thing I have in mind. What's good for the goose is good for the gander, as they say. (And letting men gander is the main motivation, isn't it?!) One of the most effective ways of getting bad laws changed or repealed is to have them fully enforced.

8. Oh, PokerNews, is this really your best work? From the very first live update of the event today:

"Over the next three days, our bloggers and field reporters will be relieved of the stench that comes with every male-dominated tournament field, as the women of poker take to the felt for the 2010 WSOP Ladies No-Limit Hold’em Championship."

That's how you start--by talking about how women smell better than men? That's as much of an embarrassing face-palm moment as Harrah's giving out decks of lavendar playing cards as gifts (as they did last year).

9. The next paragraph is just as bad, though for completely different reasons:

"Last year's event drew 1,060 of the world's finest female poker players...."

Uh, no, it didn't. It may have drawn 1060 female players, and it may have drawn many of the world's finest ones. But the sentence includes every participant in the tournament within the category of "the world's finest female poker players." I watched some of them play. Trust me--that term does not accurately characterize some of the ones I saw. (See my post here.)

10. Several people reported via Twitter that Harrah's security guards were harrassing and intimidating men who signed up--requring them to submit to being searched, for example--in ways that women were not subjected to. This is, of course, appalling. Frankly, I hope those who were at the receiving end of such treatment sue Harrah's, prove that this was done purely on the basis of gender, and win a big, fat judgment.

If Harrah's is going to claim that it has the right to do this as a condition of entering the tournament, but applies the requirement selectively only to men, then legally it's going to have to say that it would also have the right to apply that requirement only to blacks or Asians, for example, if it wanted to do so.

Imagine how many people in the WSOP and security departments would lose their jobs if it became publicly known that they harrassed racial minorities that way in an effort to dissuade them from entering a poker tournament. Then imagine how much Harrah's stock value would fall when mutual funds, retirement funds, etc., came under pressure to sell it off, with Harrah's acquiring a foul reputation for its own private version of apartheid.

Really--how stupid are the people in charge of this corporation?

11. Soon after I sat down in the cash game (maybe 2:30 p.m. or so), I heard an announcement over the PA system. There is apparently a daily rundown of news given to the players. Today, a female announcer (no idea who it was) informed the players about who had won bracelets in the last 24 hours, what events were going on today, etc.

Among the announcements, though, was that Shaun Deeb was playing in the Ladies' Tournament, in drag. (See his story and photo here.) She wanted to make clear that he was doing this because he had lost a prop bet, and he had pledged that any money he won would be donated to some unspecified female-oriented charity. She added, "So please don't give him any grief about being here."

Let's make clear what is implied here. First, by omission, she suggests on behalf of Harrah's (because this woman was clearly speaking for Harrah's) that it is OK to give all of the other men grief about their participation. Again, just consider the obvious racial parallel to realize how shockingly wrong and self-defeating this is.

Second, she announces that Harrah's corporately thinks it's OK for some men to be playing in the women-only event, if their reason is good enough. And, by implication, Harrah's reserves the right to determine what constitutes a good enough reason.

Putting this tidbit together with the previous one, we get this picture: If you are a male and register for this tournament, Harrah's representatives will apparently quiz you as to your motivations (after taking your money). If you pass their little test (for which there are obviously no published or set standards), they will let you go unharrassed, and even publicly praise your participation. If they don't like your reasons, on the other hand, you will be searched, threatened with future exclusion, and watched for any rules violations with a scrutiny that is not given to female players, so that they have a pretext for disqualifying you from the event, while keeping your money.

Hey, Harrah's--how about throwing in a little backroom flogging while you're at it. After all, it's private property, and you can do whatever you want, right?

12. I understand from a PokerNews video that the bracelet for this event is different from all the others of 2010: it has little pink diamonds on it. Join me in collective eye-rolling here.

13. The same video reports (and I heard this in person at the Rio, too) that two tables decided to do restroom breaks en masse so that nobody would miss a hand.

The stupidity just never ends. That decision meant that everybody involved spent several times as long away from the table as they would have otherwise--while the clock was running. Particularly in a shallow-stack event like this, time is a precious commodity. You can't afford to be dilly-dallying around while players at the other tables are accumulating chips by the minute.

This event apparently gathered two groups of nine people in which nobody was bright enough to figure out that they hurt rather than helped themselves with this move. *sigh*

13. My original reason for thinking to write a post on this subject was a Twitter friend asking why on earth any men would enter, even if it's technically allowed. That was the approach I was first planning on taking: a list of possible reasons one might have. The more obvious ones include easier route to a bracelet and money (Kathy Liebert is one who doesn't mind admitting that fact; she tweeted, "I do like the ladies event. It is an easier field than the open events because many of the women haven't played much"), meet women, get publicity, lost a prop bet, etc.

I was then going to expound on one possible reason that I suspect is the primary motivation for only a small minority: Trying to effect change. Imagine, I had thought of saying, if they got 1000 women entering but 3000 men. What would that force Harrah's to do? If you're a principled opponent of single-sex events, isn't that a legitimate goal?

I'm not taking that tack now because F-Train's post persuaded me that it's wrong. I like his general proposal for other ways that one could and should go about trying to get things changed, if one is pure of motive.

14. I have somehow gotten this many words out without addressing the usual arguments about consistency: If you're against the women's event, are you also opposed to the seniors' event? Well, yes, though less so, for one reason: It's one from which prospective players are barred only temporarily, not for life. Everybody will be eligible for it sooner or later. Heck, even I will be eligible for it next year. (Ugh.) That makes it less onerous, in my view.

What about the employees' event? That's a kind of odd one. If it were solely for Harrah's employees--who, I understand, are ineligible to participate in open fields--it would make sense as some compensation. But they open it to all casino employees. I don't really see the point of it. It's not like being a casino employee puts one at an intrinsic disadvantage for playing poker. If I were in charge, I think I'd eliminate it.

Although rarely mentioned in discussions of women's events, there is another type of tournament that one has to take into account if one is going to try to achieve logical consistency. (I strive to, but often fail, and I'll admit in advance that this whole subject is one on which I probably haven't made it.) There are special events for people with certain physical disabilities, most notably the National Deaf Poker Tour. Hey, Mr. Smarty-Pants, isn't that discrimination, too?

Yeah, it is, as are the seniors' and employees' events. But they have something in common that still distinguishes them in one important respect from the women's events: They were not started and are not continued because of a belief that those invited are, on average, not up to snuff to play in open fields. I said I won't go into the hackneyed arguments about ladies' events, and I won't, but you just can't get around the historical stigma problem. Even if current organizers disavow any such belief, everybody knows that that's how and why the practice began, and it taints the victory.

To the best of my knowledge, nobody has ever thought that, for example, deaf people have less poker talent or ability, on average, than those without that handicap. But they do have particular pragmatic difficulties that others don't have to deal with. I can understand why they would want to have an occasional tournament where, first, they are on equal footing with their opponents in terms of the nuts and bolts of the game, and, second, they can easily engage in the social aspects of poker that are much harder when they have to resort to lip reading, an interpreter, or the chance presence of a player who knows sign language.

(I was at the Orleans once while a deaf poker tournament was going on. It was fascinating to watch, though I felt a little self-conscious about it, and tried to be discreet. I was genuinely interested in how they made all the pokery things work that we usually rely on our ears for, but at the same time I didn't want to make them feel like they were a freak show there for my entertainment.)

That said, if the WSOP proposed to begin a bracelet event for which only the deaf were eligible, I'd have serious misgivings about it. This obviously applies with equal force to any other specific type of physical handicap for which one might envision a special poker tournament--but if there currently exist any others, I don't know of them.

15. Hey, speaking of male interlopers in the women's event, how about this guy skulking around?

Oh, never mind--that's just B.J. Nemeth, one of the best photographers at the Rio year after year.

Whew. I'm all typed out. This has got to be one of the longest posts I've ever done, and it has worn me out even though I have barely touched on some of the arguments that one might expect me to have tackled. I guess I'll just have to leave those for somebody else, or at least for another day.

Addendum, June 12, 2010

Nicole Gordon (aka Change100) has a particularly thoughtful and well-written op-ed on the whole subject, at PokerNews, here. Other new bloggentary available at Table Tango, Tao of Poker, and CrAAKKer.

Addendum, June 13, 2010

Yet more interesting perspectives here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.


A.J. said...

Then imagine how much Harrah's stock value would fall when mutual funds, retirement funds, etc., came under pressure to sell it off, with Harrah's acquiring a foul reputation for its own private version of apartheid.

Really--how stupid are the people in charge of this corporation?

Considering Harrah's Entertainment doesn't have publicly-traded stock as a private corporation, I'm not really sure at all what point you're trying to make.

Pete said...

About your point #7. I agree in principal that private property rights as well as the first amendment guarantee of free association shopuld permit private discrimination upon any basis.

However . . . . this only works when the government recognizes those rights all around. Since the government will not let me just open a casino they have created bars to entry to the industry which complicate matters.

To give an example imagine that in a small town there is only one restaurant and they decide they will not serve any non-white customers. While I abhor that policy I would fully support the right of the owner to do so. And I would expect that soon someone seeing the potential money to be made will open a restaurant that would serve those excluded from the other restaurant.

But if the town government passed laws that would prevent anyone else from opening up another restaurant . . . . say y creating zoning laws that so limited the locations of new restaurants.... and by requiring new restaurants to meet ridiculously expensive standards to open that effectively limit competition. By protecting the business of the only restaurant owner the givernemnt now effectively is participating in his discrimination.

I think this relevant to the casino situation

WSOP Floor Supe said...

As usual, a very well thought out, well written post.

I can only take exception to your proposal of eliminating the Casino Employee Event.

You are failing to realize that this is the ONLY chance the real "working people" will EVER have to win a bracelet.

I know lots of dealers, floor staff, waiters, bartenders, etc, etc, that would trade their souls for the chance to win a coveted and elusive bracelet(s). But the reality is they have to work at the WSOP and thus inelibible for any event EXCEPT the employee event. Or, they cannot take more than 2-3 days off work, they cannot afford the buy ins at the WSOP for a different event, (all over $1K except the employees event), they work at another Casino in town and have to live a real life, with bills that need to be paid and all the other things that real working people deal with on a daily basis.

What real working person can realistically take more than a week or two off work without losing wages, or worse. Let alone taking that time off and risking very real "living money" in a 1k "donkament" with 2500 other hopefuls.

The employee event gives all the working folk who wander over to the RIO with the small $500 buy in a chance at a bracelet, a life altering, but not life changing cash, a way to see the way out from behind the bar, the table, the spinning wheel, or whatever personal hell you experience for 8-10 hours a day.

The poker world is a strange and wonderful ride for those of us running tournaments, working the floor, dealer chairs, and all the other spots needed for a successful event. It is full of riches, sad stories, characters, excitement, and a way to earn a living.

All of us wish we could be sitting at the table with a fat contract that pays our buys ins and travel, or had backers and could play without worry about food and rent or were good enough to play for a living (dam you grump!!!) but we don’t, so we show up every day, hand out the chips, deal the cards, and try to make YOUR poker/casino experience the best that it can be, we are professional, we are efficient, and without us, there is no poker/casino as we know it, there are only the machines that blink lights at you.

Eliminating the employee event from the WSOP would only send a message to the people who make Vegas possible that Harrah's and the poker world in general just do not give a shit about them.

Cardgrrl said...

Why is it okay to shame some people some times, and not other people other times?

In the past, you've had no problem holding others (who you feel are doing something stupid or wrong) up to public scorn. And that's even in cases where you were not directly affected.

The women cheering the bustouts were expressing their scorn for the men who crashed their party. I'm not arguing whether the party should have happened or not. I'm not even arguing that cheering the bustouts wasn't impolite.

But for a guy who passes pretty harsh and public judgment on a regular basis, your telling the Ladies that they Need to Be Nice seems off.

Maybe its okay to be mean as long as a) you're right and b) you don't explicitly break any rules of etiquette bequeathed to you by your Mom, but not if you're angry because some guy was a jackass.

For what it's worth: I think that that only open events should be bracelet events. There could be some other form of recognition for the Ladies and Seniors events.

hylen said...

"Rand Paul had it right recently . . ."

Words not to live by.

Grange95 said...

Great post. I have a couple of areas of contention, but the inestimable Cargrrl already beat you up over one of those points, so I am left with ...

The Ladies Event bracelet has pink diamonds. So what? Who cares if it has pink diamonds, purple horseshoes, or green clovers? The tournament is already a one-off special event, why does the special bracelet merit an official Poker Grump eye roll of doom? Perhaps that particular criticism was a bit petty.

Josie said...

IMO I don't understand the need for a woman's event anyway. 99% of the field I play against is male. Why would I want to lay a huge buy in on a game I'm not used to/comfortable with.

I believe the men want in because they naively believe it's easy money. It is not.

I played one women's only event and swore i'd never do it again. Not in my comfort zone.

Wolynski said...

Tempest in a teapot - if the ladies want a tournament, why not? If men want to enter it, why not?

However, when I was looking for the winner's photo after the event on various poker sites, some of them had it wrong and one site printed a photo of a hot babe instead of the winner, saying they'd rather print a photo of a hot babe - probably didn't have one of the winner. If Eric Seidel wins a bracelet, they should put up a photo of Patrick Antonius - only fair.

Poker_Guy said...

It's a shame I guess that people can't just "live and let live". So there is a Woman's tournament, and a Senior's tournament (which I qualify for), and the Casino Employee tournament..Big deal. The sad loss of sportsmanship and respect is truly discouraging.

Why care if they have a ladies only tournament. I would love to enter the Senior's tournament just for nothing else than getting away from all the WSOP punks (OK there are some older WSOP punks), but the comfort range I would feel playing this game is the same that most others have said about the ladies playing this event. Playing "your own" might just allow the next real superstar to make her mark.

Anyway, everyone has their opinion, but I wonder if it isn't a little like Derek Jeeter going back to T-Ball to show that he has the right to play where he wants?

Live and let live people. Not everything is an attack on liberty and free speech...