Thanks to televised poker tournaments, dedicated poker channels, online poker, and even shows like Las Vegas, poker has found its way into mainstream sport and entertainment, to become the world's most popular card game.
“Poker isn't a seedy backroom game anymore,” says John Paul Waites of corporate poker-themed event company, Full House Events, which has lately been seeing substantially more women around its poker tables. “With card rooms in major casinos like Montecasino and Emperors, poker has become more acceptable, and a lot sexier.”
The result is that women are taking to poker by storm, and are proving they can be every bit as good as the boys.
On top of the entertainment factor, and the adrenalin rush of winning, what's so appealing about poker is that it's not exclusionary. While women have made huge inroads into the business world, some of the networking channels favoured by the old boys clubs are less than inviting.
Take golf, the businessman's outdoor answer to the negotiating table. Yet golf presupposes that you have a set of clubs, the ability to knock a ball about, and the desire to march across acres of lawn for the entire day.
With poker sweeping through corporate South Africa, women are at last finding a networking solution where they can really enjoy taking on the men. “Poker is becoming the new golf, certainly for women,” says Waites. “While the guys are off on the greens, we're hosting female execs in the game reserve for an African Bush Poker Experience.”
The great thing about poker is it is extremely easy to set up, and surprisingly easy to learn. It doesn't take much before you're able to sit at the table with seasoned players.
Even a novice can give the good players a run for their money. A good hand, smart decisions and careful reading of your opponents can mean you also have a shot at taking the pot. And unlike golf, where strength can be a factor, poker is a truly level playing field.
Waites confirms that in South Africa, women are turning up more and more at the poker felt. “Three years ago, you wouldn't have seen a woman at the card tables. Now, we get roughly a 60:40 split between men and women at our poker-themed events, and women have featured at the final table at every one. They usually come in as complete novices, but they take to the game really fast. With some guidance from our mentors, they're soon able to hold their own against, and even beat guys who have often been playing since their teens,” he says. “Women tend to have the gift of natural intuition and subtle skills that allow them to work out the playing style and body language of their opposition very quickly," says Waites.
And while poker is growing as a business networking tool for women, it is also taking off socially. Forget shuttling in the beer and chips when your man brings home his mates for a night of cards. Get your own poker evening going.
The girls' poker night is a trendy new take on the old book club excuse to get together with friends over a glass of wine.
Getting started is simple. You need a deck of cards, playing chips (try www.megapoker.co.za
), and the basics of the game. A good place to pick up the necessary, if you don't have a poker-savvy person about, is to tune in to DStv's dedicated interactive poker channel and watch the poker tournaments. The players' cards are shown on screen, and poker pros comment throughout, so you can see who does what, and then hear why they did it.
Alternately, poker sites like www.piggspeak.co.za
, let you play for free, which is great practice. Or google “how to play poker” and you'll be swamped by the advice available online.
South Africa has yet to produce a local version of America's Annie Duke, the most successful woman at the World Poker Series (poker's equivalent to the Rugby World Cup). She paid the mortgage on her first house with poker winnings, and has won over US$2-million in poker tournaments.
But the way local women are taking to the game, it's surely just a matter of time.