Stateline, NV (November 14, 2009) – Ladies-only poker tournaments have a long and rich history. They have been included on the WSOP schedule every year since 1978. Since 2005, most WSOP Circuits have included a ladies-only poker tournament as part of their schedules. The vast majority of these events have proven to be successful. Turnout for ladies-only events easily justifies their offering at most Circuits.
The first ever ladies-only tournament on the WSOP Circuit was held at Harvey’s Lake Tahoe back in May 2005. So, the Tahoe stop has crowned more ladies champions (six) than any other Circuit venue.
Now -- another first. Harvey’s Lake Tahoe has crowned a male winner in a “ladies-only” poker tournament.
How is this possible, you may ask? The WSOP isn’t a political organization and can’t be expected to get involved in debates about sexism, discrimination, or other polarizing issues which may be applicable to poker tournaments. While the WSOP makes a sincere effort to promote women in poker and attempts to offer exclusive tournaments designed to increase female participation in the game, but officials generally do not turn away those who want to play in the event, based solely on gender. In short, the WSOP hopes that by offering and supporting ladies-only poker tournaments and providing an event for which there is considerable interest (by women), others (namely men) will respect and understand the spirit of competition.
Alas, there is some controversy as to whether “ladies-only” tournaments are really necessary in poker. Those who object, including some women, correctly point out that poker is a gender-neutral game. That means women are equally capable of playing and winning, just as men. Detractors also point out that holding ladies-only events demeans women in poker (their view), by suggesting that females need an exclusive event.
However given that the WSOP wants to promote more women in poker and is eager to meet player demands, based on the popularity of tournaments for ladies at many WSOP Circuits, its irrefutable there is a strong demand for their inclusion. And so, ladies-only tournaments are expected to be an offering at most WSOP Circuits so long as there is a demand for these events.
Perhaps then it was inevitable that somewhere, someway, and somehow, a man would enter the ladies championship and manage to win. That dark day (for women) finally arrived at a WSOP Circuit event when Greg Sessler, a 22-year-old student at UC-Davis won the latest Ladies Poker Championship at Harvey’s Lake Tahoe.
This year’s ladies championship attracted a strong field of 96 players, generating $27,396 in prize money. The top nine finishers collected payouts. All the action took place on a Saturday afternoon and evening inside the poker room and special events area, which is part of this year’s only WSOP Circuit stop in Northern Nevada.
Sessler, the winner, has previously won a few smaller buy-in events, including the Mega-Stack Series held at Caesars Palace earlier this year in Las Vegas. But this was his biggest live tournament win to date, following several big cashes in tournaments played online.
Sessler, who is studying communications and film in college, justified his participation into the ladies event by saying that this was his first and only day off in two weeks. He badly wanted to play in a poker tournament, and the ladies championship was the only one-day event within driving distance of his home. For the record, there were four men who entered the tournament.
The reaction to these men from women was generally favorable. However, when three of the four men busted out, the women broke into spontaneous applause and cheers. It’s almost unheard of for an entire room of players to clap (gleefully) when others bust. But that’s what happened on three occasions in this tournament.
But it didn’t occur a fourth time, as it was Greg Sessler who got the last laugh.
In his defense, Sessler took the catcalls and criticism well in stride. He openly spoke of becoming the first ladies champion and stated this victory was the poker highlight of his life. Sessler collected $9,932 in prize money.
“Me playing in this tournament really had nothing to do with trying to take advantage of the ladies or thinking it was a softer field,” Sessler stated afterward.
“If (poker pro) Jennifer Harman would have come and played in the ladies event, she would have been much tougher competition than me. I came here because I only had one day, and I really like the structures and the payout. This was the only tournament I could play.”
The final hand of the tournament came when Mimi Kalem tried to bluff and steal a round of blinds and antes pre-flop with Q-6 suited but ran into Sessler’s monster hand – appropriately enough pocket queens. Kalem flopped a six and had a chance to put a bad beat on the wicked male intruder. But the cards ultimately fell in Sessler’s favor and Kalem was unable to strike a blow for global sisterhood. Kalem, a teacher from Cameron Park, CA received $5,308 as the runner up.
Finishing in third place was Corinn “Princess” Ignatieff, from Templeton, CA. She is the owner of a comedy club. Princess played well, but took a bad beat on her final hand and had to settle for a $3,715 payout.
The fourth-place finisher was Candy Alexander, from Cameron Park, CA. She works as an executive director. She once organized a poker tournament for charity which raised $20,000. Alexander collected a nice payout in this tournament totaling $2,626.
Linda Peverini finished in fifth place. She is a retired teacher from Clovis, CA. This was her highest tournament finish ever.
The sixth-place finisher was Tera Brown, from Austin, TX. She is an airplane pilot. Brown learned to play poker from her grandmother, and once played against Doyle Brunson.
Persia Bonella, from Hayward, CA finished in seventh place. She is a research associate originally from the Philippines. This was Bonella’s first time to make a final table appearance in a WSOP Circuit tournament.
Rebecca Burnside took eighth place. She is a human resources director from San Francisco. This was Burnside’s best finish ever in a WSOP Circuit event.
The ninth-place finisher was Rose Erhart, a small business owner from Ione, CA. She initially started playing poker after receiving an invitation from Harrah’s to play in their monthly freeroll poker tournament.
With 17 events now completed at this year’s WSOP Circuit at Harvey’s, the tournament series has attracted more than 2,600 entries and has awarded more than $1.3 million in total prize money.
It’s peculiarly ironic that Greg Sessler won the 2009 Ladies Poker Championship at Harvey’s Lake Tahoe holding two ladies in his final hand – pocket queens.
Indeed, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. Perhaps the only consolation prize proponents of ladies-only poker tournaments can take from the horror show of a stag male crashing the party was the fact that Sessler’s victory came at the unbearable late hour of 5:45 in the morning, inside a nearly vacated tournament room. Except for a few baffled onlookers, there was no cheering section for the college kid from UC-Davis.
Which now begs the question – if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?