Carolyn Gardner won her first bracelet in the 1983 Ladies Championship 7 Card Stud Event. With only a single bracelet to her credit in a $500 event and a little over 60K in career earnings some may wonder why she is on the list. What made her bracelet so historic is that she was the first African-American person to win a bracelet.
Before Phil Ivey started collecting bracelets and David Williams finished second in the 2005 Main Event, Gardner was the first African-American to break the color barrier for Word Series bracelets.
Gardner got her start when poker was still in smoky back rooms tucked away from view. Poker was a primarily a man’s game, more importantly, a white man’s game. Poker’s old guard was not known for their political correctness; undoubtedly she had to suffer from prejudice for being an African-American.
Through Gardner’s accomplishment and the success that has been built on by today’s poker stars, poker has become more diverse than ever. Today’s poker tournaments are more reflective of American society. Across today’s tournament fields you will see people of every nationality, age, religion, and color imaginable.
Gardner still competes in tournaments today. She is a staple every year at the Ladies Championship Event. She took center stage in 2005 by singing the National Anthem to start the WSOP.
Being the first to break the color barrier is never a simple task. The blatant racism that Jackie Robinson faced, the hate mail Hank Aaron received, and all the threats that have been made against President Obama are indicators of the struggle she must have gone through. Gardner faced challenges as being woman of color in a male dominated world that most of us could never imagine.