“Poker Queens”: Part Celebration, Part Dream, Part Recruiting Tool5 months ago
One of the side effects of being under stay-at-home orders, as many of our readers are, is that we suddenly have more time on our hands for music, books, TV, movies, and similar entertainments. Plenty of new poker and gambling-related works are available right now, often at specially reduced rates, and among them is director Sandra Mohr’s new documentary, “Poker Queens -- Glamour, Glitz, Guts and Glory. They’re all in.”
The premise of this 80-minute documentary is clear enough. “With a backdrop of the glitz and glamour of high-roller Las Vegas,” the documentary’s home at pokerqueensmovie.com tells us:
“‘Poker Queens’ highlights the victories and explores the struggles of women in the world of professional poker. Women only make up about 7% of poker players today, and very few succeed as full-time players. Yet some women clearly stand out… for their beauty and skill in the game. This is their story, and their quest for the top prize in the world of poker.”
From there the viewer is taken on a virtual tour of poker’s pinnacles of achievement, notably circling in on the game’s biggest tourney, the World Series of Poker Main Event. Though female participation in poker is sparse enough as is, women have been even more scarce in the WSOP Main’s finals. No woman has ever won the WSOP’s most sought-after prize, and only one, Barbara Enright, has even made the main event’s final table.
“Poker Queens” then starts to tackle the “why” question, exploring the hurdles many women face. The focus then shifts to poker’s traditional image as a man’s game; no girls allowed, and when they are, it’s often only as sex objects.
Then why should women get involved? Because they can, is Mohr’s answer, even if they have to change the rules a bit to make the playing field more level. The movie drives home the point for much of its run, checking in with a couple of dozens of poker’s most successful players, looking for insights as to how they achieved that success.
The list of female poker pros who took part in this effort is truly impressive. Jennifer Tilly and Liv Boeree get top billing, but they’re joined by many others, including Jennifer Harman, Loni Harwood, Kelly Minkin, Gillian Epp, Kathy Liebert, Esther Taylor, Angelica Hael, Linda Johnson, Jan Fisher, Susan Faber, “Sia Layta”, Kristy Arnett, Kayla Voogd, Lexy Gavin, and Muskan Sethi. A handful of men give brief interviews and insight as well, including Daniel Negreanu, Joey Ingram, Elliot Roe, Steve Blay, Jeff Boski, and Ryan Depaulo.
It turns out that many of today’s most successful female players have a hyper-competitive streak, though that applies to many of the best male players as well. Applying that trait to poker, however, is the far more difficult process, especially in this male-dominated game. Some of the best tales in the film come from its most venerable women, including Johnson, Fisher, and Harman. Most everyone has something important or interesting to add, even those whose thoughts can be boiled down to:
“C’mon, women, you can do this, too!”
However, a documentary such as this needs more than just interviews to keep the viewer entertained. Mohr, a skilled filmmaker, adds to the presentation with clips from many events where women have succeeded in taking down major titles. Also mixed in is the “Sia Layta” tale -- this is Mohr herself as her alter ego, under which she experiments with playing in the big boys’ games.
Mohr, for those who don’t remember, is the woman who was going to play in the 2019 WSOP Main Event as a man, after doing this in poker events and games herself. Disguised as a man, she claims to have enjoyed greater poker success than in any of her two female roles, one as herself (an attractive brunette), and the other as “Sia” come to life as a “girly girl” in a long blonde wig. “Sia Layta” seems to be pronounced like the first half of “See ya latah, alligatah!” Alas, Mohr doesn’t answer that question….
More germane is that Mohr’s plans to cross gender lines and play as a man never came to fruition. Instead, the plans ran headlong into the WSOP’s longstanding “Phil Laak Rule”, which bans players from disguising their appearances to the point of being unidentifiable to their true identities. Oddly, while the film shows Mohr at least considering a legal challenge, it didn’t explore the Laak-originated rule itself, enacted after he disguised himself as an old man. And in doing so, it might have missed a possibly entertaining segue: Laak’s longtime girlfriend is none other than “Poker Queens”’s leading star, Tilly, who likely could have offered some interesting takes on the whole Disguise-a-Laak scheme.
In holding to its aims of celebrating womens’ greatest achievement in poker, “Poker Queens” has to shy away from some other areas of the game where female participation has improved, such as ladies-only games. And in promoting the glitz and glamour -- which is great as eye candy, of course! -- the film has to skip over one of life’s unfortunate truths: Since women on average have less discretionary income than men, they’ll always be something of a minority in a pastime such as poker.
The film’s plans to be able to celebrate a woman winning one of the WSOP’s major open events also failed to materialize in 2019. The only woman to win an open bracelet in 2019 was North Carolina’s Sue Faber, who took down the special “Salute to Warriors” tournament in the WSOP’s last days. Beyond that, Mohr’s hopes for a truly breakthrough, bracelet-claiming, dominant performance by women will have to wait at least one more year.
Overall, “Poker Queens” is an entertaining view. It’s a bit uneven; its seams show a bit and it drags a bit in spots (pun not really intended), but women and men alike can enjoy Mohr’s effort and aims. “Poker Queens” is also available at a reduced price for purchase or rental via Amazon Prime, the documentary’s primary release outlet. With its attention to poker’s high life and with a healthy dash of dreams, it’ll be an antidote for some to poker’s current quiet times.
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