Storied History of Women at the World Series of Poker

Women have been underrepresented at poker tables since the game first caught on in the 19th century, and nowhere is this more evident than at poker’s grandest spectacle, the World Series of Poker. Even in 2014 women make up only 5% of the field of major tournaments, and because of this, coupled with some bad luck, WSOP success has eluded them over the years.

Still, progress is being made, and accomplishments logged, as you’ll see below.

First woman to play in a WSOP tournament

The earliest female entrant in a World Series of Poker tournament I could find was Bonnie Baez, who made a final table in a preliminary event in 1974, pocketing $1,000 for her 4th place finish in the $1,000 No Limit Hold’em tournament.

This is Baez’s only recorded cash.

It’s possible a woman competed before Baez, but there are very few official records from this era, and unless you made the final table and cashed, your entry is likely lost to history.

First bracelet

The first woman to win a World Series of Poker tournament was Jackie McDaniels who won the Ladies Seven Card Stud Event at the 1977 WSOP, and $5,580 in the process. Like Bonnie Boaz, McDaniels’ win in 1977 is the only tournament score on her resume.

Another candidate for “first” bracelet was Starla Brodie, who came out on top in the Mixed Doubles tournament, along with partner Doyle Brunson, in 1979, making her the first female bracelet winner in a field that included men and women.

Unlike McDaniels and Baez, Brodie was considered one of the top female players of her era, and is considered a trailblazer for women in poker.

First Open-Event Bracelet

It took 13 years for a woman to triumph in an “open” WSOP tournament, and one would think it would have opened the floodgates for females in poker. Alas, women have little success at the WSOP since Vera Richmond became the first female poker player to triumph in an open-field WSOP tournament at the 1982 WSOP.

Richmond won the $1,000 buy-in A-5 Lowball tournament, and $38,500, the only tournament cash of her career.

First woman to compete in the WSOP Main Event

In modern times women make up roughly 3-5% of the World Series of Poker Main Event field. This may seem like an alarmingly small percentage, but consider for a moment how much improvement this actually is. Barbara Freer is credited with being the first female participant in the WSOP Main Event, and that didn’t happen until 1978.

Freer cashed six times in WSOP events between 1979 and 1996, and won a bracelet in the 1979 Ladies Championship, a $400 buy-in Stud tournament at the time.

There are scant details of entrants from this era of the WSOP, but Freer is believed to have been the first, with Irish Poker Open Champion Colette Doherty famously playing in the 1980 Main Event, after Terry Rogers brought the winner of the event to Las Vegas to play in the World Series.

First Woman to cash in the Main Event

Almost a decade after Barbara Freer broke the glass ceiling for women, another woman took the next step.

In 1986 Wendeen Eolis became the first woman to cash in the World Series of Poker Main Event. Eolis finished 25th in the tournament, receiving what amounts to a refund on her $10,000 buy-in, and more importantly, a place in poker history.

It was another three years before another woman, Carmen Valenti, made the money at the 1989 WSOP Main Event, and the next instance occurred in 1993, when both Marsha Waggoner and Wendeen Eolis cashed, finishing in 19th and 20th place respectively.

Again, poker’s gender gap may seem pathetic in 2014 (where 282 women played in the Main Event), but just 20 years ago, not in 1955 but 1995, you would have trouble rounding up enough female entrants to fill a single poker table.

Most Open Event bracelets

Vanessa Selbst is quickly making the case that she is the best female poker player in the history of the game. Selbst is also widely considered to be one of, if not the, best tournament poker players, man or woman.

Selbst’s resume includes three “open” WSOP tournament victories. The only other woman with more than one victory in an open WSOP tournament is Jennifer Harman.

First woman to make the Main Event final table

The grandest achievement by any woman at the World Series of Poker remains Barbara Enright‘s 5th place finish in 1995. Enright, already the possessor of two WSOP bracelets from the Ladies Championship, could have placed even higher, as it took a pretty bad beat to send her to the rail – a shortstacked Barbara lost to a 6/3 suited holding pocket 8’s.

Close calls

Almost 20 years later Enright remains the only woman to make the WSOP Main Event final table, but there have been a number of close calls over the years, and it’s safe to say that women have been the victims of variance in the World Series of Poker Main Event over the years, considering they have one final table and four 10th place finishes.

Here is a look at the close calls for women in the Main Event over the years:

  • Carmen Valenti finished in 13th place in 1989
  • Barbara Samuelson finished in 10th place in 1994
  • Susie Isaacs finished in 10th place in 1998
  • Annie Duke finished in 10th place in 2000
  • Gaelle Baumann finished in 10th place in 2012
  • Elisabeth Hille finished in 11th place in 2012
  • Kathy Liebert finished 17th in both 1998 and 2000

I’m a firm believer that the next big Poker Boom will be spurred on by a woman winning the Main Event.

*For this column I relied on a number of resources (some contradictory I might add) such as, All In: The (Almost) Entirely True Story of the World Series of Poker, and the official WSOP media guide.

About the Author

Steve Ruddock

Steve is a seasoned veteran of the online gambling industry, having written about it from every possible angle in his many years as a freelance gaming writer. Based in Massachusetts, Steve especially focuses on regulatory and legislative news coverage pertaining to the U.S. market.