Poker: Turning the battle of the sexes into a game

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The Independent Culture
WOMEN are no longer considered accessories to be brought to the poker table, but as equals seated at it. One of the best female players of the game is June Field, editor of the magazine Card Player.

At a recent testimonial honouring her editorial achievement, held at the Bicycle Club - a vast poker palace close to Los Angeles - June recalled that her aim had been to give poker a positive image, to erase its 'negative, back-room, cigar-smoking stigma'.

However, there is not much danger of that happening, I am glad to say. Poker will always keep its low- life glitter, because of its image of daring and danger. Cowboy movies have instilled the saloon-bar image of poker as a man's game. Now that women are considered equals at the poker table, the only criterion is a talent to play.

I once put forward the theory that as poker depends on the swashbuckling 'masculine' attributes of courage, aggression and bluff, it followed that women who assumed such qualities would, to that extent, be denying their essential 'femininity'. I was assailed as a fogey and heretic for advancing such a sexist view.

It is obvious that women can be as tough as men at the table, and retain or revert to their essential nature away from the game. This is not to say that sex cannot enter into poker. A woman at the table can alter the chemistry of the game. All is fair in love and cards.

If a woman can exploit her sexuality by a certain smile, a look, a little flirting, to put a male opponent off his game, she is entitled to do so. Any man who responds, in the spirit of the occasion, should be even more on his guard. The object on both sides (one must assume) is to win the pot.

The original first lady of poker was in fact an Englishwoman, Alice Ivers, born in 1851, who became known in the mining camps of Colorado as Poker Alice. A female player in those days wore long skirts and always managed to look ladylike.

Alice, however, took the precaution of packing a Colt .45, and could use it if she had to. Asked if she ever lost much, Alice gave a sharp reply: 'I never seen anyone grow humpbacked carrying away the money they won from me' - delivered in a clipped British accent.

Playing in a small game not long ago at Laughlin, in the southern tip of Nevada on the Colorado river, I found myself seated next to a gamesome lady - 70 years old if she was a day - berating her luck that she could not catch a pair of aces.

I offered her the trite old poker saw: 'You've got to live right to get aces, Ma'am.' She looked at me over her spectacles: 'Then I guess I'm never gonna git 'em.'

Poker is not a man's game any more. It's a person's game.