"Women and gambling are the worst vices," playwright Carlo Goldini (1707-1793) prudently observed. "Although you have to forgo women with the coming of old age, the addiction to gambling pursues you to the very grave." In our own day these two pursuits may perhaps be combined, thanks to the graduation of so many women poker players to the top level.

Women made quite a mark in the World Series of Poker at Binion's Horseshoe in Las Vegas this year. Linda Johnson, publisher of the magazine Card Player, won the limit seven card Razz (lowball) tournament, worth $96,000, Maria Stern of Las Vegas took first place in the limit seven-card Stud event worth $140,700, (preceding her husband's victories in two other events), and women in general scored well.

And why not? Once women came to be treated as equals at the table rather than sweet little things indulged for males' amusement, they were bound to prove their worth. "Men who are playing poker tend to be pretty macho, except for the very best players," explains Annie Duke, one of the most successful players in Vegas. I have seen Annie, just turned 30, arrive at the card room with her baby daughter of a few months on her hip, then hand her over to the care of her (non-playing) husband. "Guys who can't stand to be beaten by a woman, overplay their hands," she says.

One estimate is that of the group of forty or so professionals who make at least $100,000 a year at poker, three are women. One of the leading money winners is Barbara Enright, a former cocktail waitress, now a youthful grandmother, who won a World Series tournament last year, following a fifth place in the previous World Championship. (She drives a Rolls.) Below that level, a huge number of women play poker for profit. According to Cissy Bottoms, a regular at the Mirage, winning has little to do with gender. "If you have the talent, it's not going to matter to anybody who you are. If you don't have the talent, you're not going to survive."

In sum, sex and gambling do not go together. But that is not to say that one may not follow the other.