The Top 3 Female Poker Players4 years ago
It may seem that poker is a male-dominated game, we picture tournaments and casinos being testosterone-fuelled environments mixing loud braggarts and hooded youths with suave and sophisticated gentlemen such as myself!
But the reality, nowadays, is that there are many women involved in poker – and the best of them are very, very good players indeed!
Let’s take a look at my favorite three – the ones who have proven they can mix it with the most aggressive and the most artful players in the modern-day world of poker, both on and off the felt.
There is little doubt or discussion amongst true poker fans: Vanessa Selbst is far and away the best female poker player of the modern era.
Her tournament skills have placed her in the 23rd spot on the all time money list, having been as high as 20th – and there is a very good chance that she still has many years of top-flight play ahead of her.
Last year saw her take down the $100K Super High Roller Celebrity Shoot-out in Las Vegas – a cool $1million was her prize – and for most players such a sum would be the pinnacle of their career.
Selbst, however, had already scooped bigger prizes: she pocketed $1,823,430 for winning the short-lived Partouche Poker Tour’s $7750 Main Event at Cannes’ Palm Beach Casino back in 2010, which saw her finish ahead of the best European players of the day in a field of some 743 runners. Phil Laak was the next best American in 15th spot.
It’s not only about racking up the money though. Selbst became the first – and to date the only– female player to win three WSOP bracelets in open fields when she lifted the $25k Mixed Max event in 2014. Her previous bracelets were earned in the PLO $1500 and 10-game mixed $2500 events which she won in 2008 and 2012 respectively.
The recently-married poker sensation turns 32 this summer, her birthday falling on the opening day of the Main Event – a co-incidence which some might consider a lucky charm, as, if there is one woman likely to have the skill, luck, and nerves to take down the coveted Main Event bracelet, then Selbst is that person.
Indeed, if she hadn’t taken some years off from poker to gain a Yale University Law degree (graduating in 2012) there’s no saying how much more she might have achieved by now.
Speaking of the 2016 WSOP, Selbst is involved in a curious prop bet, as described here on PokerTube by Florian Gheorghe last month.
During a Poker Central podcast streamed on Twitch.tv, Selbst revealed to the poker world her true side: she’s very rational and doesn’t like to gamble. When she enters a tourney, she thinks she’s going to lose and she doesn’t make crazy prop bets… usually! Yet she accepted a bet from over-confident poker player Urbanovich. The Polish player put $10,000 to win three World Series of Poker gold-bracelets in his first appearance in Las Vegas at 200-to-1 odds.”
Of course, $2 million would put a dent in anyone's bankroll, even if they have tournament earnings of $11,728,256!! Selbst, naturally for a poker player, has a plan B should the unthinkable look likely.
If he wins two bracelets, I’m just going to sell all of the action for like 30-to-1 or something. Basically I’m laying 7-to-1 that he’s not going to win two bracelets. If he wins two bracelets, there will be like five events left in the summer and I’m going to be like: ‘Ok I want to sell you 30-to-1 that he’s not going to win in any of the five events left.’ People will snap it up and I’ll lose like $60K or something.”
Sensible thinking from a very sensible lady, one who who has no obvious airs and graces about her, unlike some of the big names in the game. Overall she has the respect of most poker fans for her obvious talent, hard-work and results, not to mention her charity work and outside interests which see her mixing with people from all different backgrounds.
What her Peers think of her
This is often how you can judge how good a player really is; do her peers respect and/or fear her game? Well, when Jessie Sylvia reached the final table of the WSOP Main Event back in 2012, it was Vanessa Selbst he chose to coach and mentor him – his eventual 2nd place finish pulling in a ridiculous $5,295,000.
As writer and poker player Shawnee Barton pointed out a few months later in a piece she penned on the female superstar of poker:
Sylvia is no celebrity-novice-wanna-be poker player (a reference to Annie Duke coachingBen Affleck to a minor victory) he is a respected professional cash game player. And the WSOP main event final table is no ordinary achievement—it's theSuper Bowlof poker, which makes Sylvia's choice of a mentor much more significant.”
As far as female poker players go, Selbst is number one and seems set to stay that way for the foreseeable future at least.
Biggest tournament payday
$1,823,430 (Partouche Poker Tour $7750 Main Event, 2010)
Married to Miranda Foster (2013)
July 9, 1984, Brooklyn, New York, USA
Massachusetts Institute of Technology & Yale Law School
In order to balance out the skewed effect which ‘recorded tournament winnings’ have on such lists, I’m going to have Jennifer Hartman up here at my number two spot! It would be ridiculous to miss her because of her focus on cash games rather than the tournament earnings everyone else is ranked by.
Harman will be 52 this year, and she is a true poker legend – being inducted into the Hall of Fame late last year for “her sustained success and longevity in the biggest games available… paralleled by only handful of players,” according to the WSOP.
Part-time tournament millionaire
Apart from her cash game successes, which we’ll get to soon, Harman has won $2,707,477 in tournaments world-wide, with almost $1million of her career earnings coming from the annual WSOP biggie in Las Vegas.
Not too shabby for a woman who had once declared in an interview that she had “
no plans to become a professional poker player. "
Her story is actually pretty crazy. Here's how she tells it: "I wanted to move out of Reno, and I decided to go to L.A. and got a job as a bartender at this Japanese hotel downtown. I was working there for about three days, and I ran into a friend from Reno at the grocery store in L.A.”
He told me I had to go down to the Bicycle Club and play poker because these games were amazing. I went down there and immediately quit my job after five days and started playing poker. But, I never thought it about as my profession. I was just having fun playing poker and I would get a job later."
The Reno-native first hit a 6-figure payday at the 2000 WSOP, taking down 1st place in the $5k No Limit Deuce to Seven Draw for $146,250, which gave her the first of two WSOP bracelets –the second coming a couple of years later when she lifted the title in the $5k Limit event.
In sickness and in health
At one point, she had to accept a hiatus caused by her continuing kidney problems (a genetic problem which saw Harman losing her mother and sister when the 6-time nominated Hall of Famer was still a teenager).
However, she still managed to be part of the consortium which was put together to accept Texan businessman Andy Beal’s massive $multi-million poker bet (read about it in the fascinating book “The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King: Inside the Richest Poker Game of All Time.”). For the record, Harman about broke even in her stint against the billionaire ‘maths expert’.
The biggest game in town!
Preferring the high-stakes cash games to tournament play, Harman is a long-time member of the ‘Big Game’ in Bellagio’s Bobby’s room, where the biggest names in the world regularly play $1000/2000 blinds -and sometimes higher! Of the $4k-8K she has said, "Yeah. It's way too high. It's a big game; a lot of great players play in it. You always have to be on top of things and focused,” stated Harman.
Harman's claim to have never been staked in such a nose-bleed level of game speaks volumes about her skill – and likely earnings – from these games. As Mike Sexton wrote back in 2008:
After all, how many people in life do you know actually have to go to work and bring $100,000 to $300,000 with them to buy in to a $2,000/$4,000 poker game?”
Off the felt
Jennifer Harman has proved to be a TV favourite, coming across as an extremely likeable,, well-spoken, and charming, although given her life story it would be excusable if she had harsh words or bitterness to share. With the exception of allegedly being behind some of Daniel Negreanu’s attacks on Annie Duke, it would be a rare thing to find a negative comment from or about Harman.
She also involves herself in a lot of charity work, and ‘helped pave the way’ for almost all other female players in the game today. Her one wish in life, should she be granted it? “If I could make a wish and change one thing in the world, it would be no more wars!” and this pretty much sums up Harman’s character away from the tables.
As the only woman to have ever broken through into the highest-stakes cash games, and proved she could more than survive, Harman is absolutely one of poker’s best-ever female players.
Total Tournament Earnings
Biggest tournament payday
$383,840 (2nd place, 2005 Rio Poker Festival $10k NLHE event)
Divorced (from Marco Traniello)
November 29, 1964, Reno, Nevada, U.S.
Although there are other women who have a claim to sitting higher on the list than Liv Boeree, it’s my list - so tough shit! Seriously, however, some of the world’s leading ladies over the years play very rarely nowadays – and not at the level of their finest days at the table.
Kathy Liebert and Annie Duke are famous (infamous also in Duke’s case) and excellent players – both having proved their expertise many times –but as they have little or no public results over the last few years, I’d rather focus on those women who are still in the public eye.
So, Olivia ‘Liv’ Boeree – who describes herself as a ‘poker player, TV presenter, and adventurer’ – and who sits in 17th spot in the all-time English money list for tournament players is the final female player in my top 3.
An annual affair
When she won the EPT Main Event in season 6 at San Remo, it came as a huge shock – her results up to that point being decent but nothing overly special. Every year since, however, she has stood out with at least one decent result – showing that she is still able to compete at a very high level.
Last year’s 3rd spot in the €25K High Roller at EPT Barcelona was rewarded with a tidy €391.000 ($ 449,383) lifting her total tournament earnings to almost $3million.
So where did it all begin for the former model? It’s a modern story for a modern girl. Ten years ago she chosen for the Ultimatepoker.com Showdown TV show, one of five contestants who received coaching from the likes of recently departed poker legend Dave ‘Devilfish’ Ulliot and Annie Duke.
Following this, she improved her game at the Gutshot club in London and then took on reporting duties for Challenge TV at the EPT and WSOP. The rest is a tale of small cashes, learning the game, and then the biggie in San Remo which propelled her into the highroller's club.
In the spotlight
Liv’s own website states:
I'm pretty obsessed with numbers, games, rationality, and sustainability. I'm a big fan of being outside, preferably in wild terrain. I also like to wear odd costumes whenever possible.”
An astrophysicist graduate, Boeree certainly has the mental capacity to play great poker. Add to this an undeniable beauty, and you’ve got a perfect media profile for the game. Except, she wasn’t always as popular a girl as she is now, admitting that after her big win she thought she was ‘the hot shit’, and acted accordingly.
Going through changes
Nevertheless, people grow up, and Boeree certainly has – her charitable work changing her outlook on the world as well as her personality. As Lee Davy wrote on Calvinayre.com:
In my opinion, the change in Liv has been brought about because of her relationship with the effective altruism movement. As she became more involved with people who put the needs of others before their personal needs, so did she. Yesterday, she was a super successful poker player who wanted to be even more successful and famous. Today, she wants all of those things, but because she wants to leverage that fame and fortune to reduce suffering in the world. Two different energies.”
Add to the mix her love for fellow poker pro Igor Kurganov, and you have a successful player, a media darling, a PokerStars pro, and a hard-working charity champion. Not too shabby and worthy of our poker respect.
Total Tournament Earnings
Biggest tournament payday
$1,698,300 (€ 5,300 Main Event, EPT6, San Remo, Italy)
In a relationship with Igor Kurganov
18 July 1984, Kent, England
Physics and Astrophysics, Manchester University
So there you have it folks, my top 3 female players. Disagree? Think Annette Obrestad, Vanessa Rousso, Annie Duke, or some others deserve a place more? That’s what the comments section is for! Don’t worry, I can take some healthy criticism and disagreement!
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