WPT women nearing breakthrough win

28 November 2006

Women have won seven World Series of Poker bracelets in open competition. But they have not won a World Poker Tour championship.

When Kathy Liebert and Thiti "Mimi" Tran finished in the top five of this month's Foxwood World Poker Finals Main Event, it was the first time two women had reached a WPT final table.

"This is a watershed moment in poker and the WPT," WPT CEO Steve Lipscomb said. "Women, though smaller in number, are proving that they are the total equals of their male counterparts."

And even though neither woman won, the question about when a woman champion will emerge is changing from if to when.

The Numbers Game

World Series of Poker Champion and WPT announcer Linda Johnson says the lack of a woman champion is a numbers game. More men enter WPT events, typically comprising 85 to 95 percent of the field, Johnson said.

"If you look at this tournament (Foxwoods) where less than 5 percent of the field (were women), yet women make the final table, you have to assume (a championship) is coming," Johnson said. "If you like stats, the percentage of women who make the money compared to the percentage of women who enter the tournaments is about the same. The men can't make that claim."

Money and Family play a role too

Following the WPT costs money. Liebert, one of the few players -- male or female -- who follows the tour around, says it can cost more than $300,000 a year when adding up buy-ins, travels costs, and living expenses.

Most players, like Jennifer Harman, playing regular cash games in their home casinos and only play tournaments when one of their local casinos host a big one.

Harman lives in Las Vegas and plays regularly in mixed-cash games at the Bellagio.

She also plays in Las Vegas tournaments - including WSOP, WPT, and Professional Poker Tour events- but rarely ventures away from home.

Harman's habits ring true for most professionals, which makes players like Liebert a rare commodity.

"I've met a lot of nice women on the circuit and I'd love to see more of them play," Liebert said. "Instead of having a good old boys club, we could have a good old girls club."

Family concerns also restrict participation by women. Both Johnson and Liebert said many women have more interest in their partners and children than they do in playing every WPT event.

Men have the same distractions, but Johnson said since the men greatly outnumber the women, it's more likely to find a single man with the time, money, and willingness to play full-time tournament poker.

Liebert agreed, saying the fact that's she's single helps her to focus on her tournament career.

"This is my job," Liebert said. "I am a No-Limit Hold'em tournament specialist, so I play in the biggest No-Limit Hold'em tournaments in the world."

Television exposure invaluable

Johnson said television exposure has been a key component in bringing women to the game. She called Liebert and Tran inspirational and said final tables that feature successful women naturally draw more women to the sport.

"Mimi (Tran) was by far the most aggressive player," Johnson said. "I want to be her when I grow up. These two (Tran and Liebert) are great role models for women looking to break into tournament poker."

Who will win?

"I think Mimi (Tran) has the best shot at winning one of these things," said Clonie Gowen. Gowen, one of the WTP's top women player's, likes Tran's style. "She is so aggressive and such a great player. Mimi is my pick."

Liebert is also considered a favorite.

Her career tournament earnings now total $3,692,896 and she ranks 27th on the WPT all-time leader board.

Other women to watch include Harman, Gowen, Isabelle Mercier, Joanne Leui, Evelyn Ng, Jennifer Tilly, Cyndy Violette, and Vanessa Rousso.

How much does it matter?

Many players insist that being the first woman to win a WPT championship doesn't matter.

Liebert said it's the media that makes a big deal out of "the first women to do this, or the first women to do that." She cares more about sustaining her career and lifestyle.

"It's $1.7 million for first place," Liebert said when asked what was important to her.

Tran says she plays against other poker players.

"I think we all have the same chance, male of female," Tran said. "I play poker. I don't care who I beat, I just want all the chips."


Mucking McLane

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