The Stories and Strategies Behind Some of Poker’s Most Famous Female Players


While gambling used to be all about heading out to a casino or arranging a get-together with friends to play cards late into the night, the pastime has been completely transformed in the last couple of decades.

Source: “Vanessa Selbst” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by World Poker Tour

Top female poker player Vanessa Selbst in action.

Take online gambling, for instance, an industry which has become a major force in recent years and has grown to mind-boggling levels. According to research, the global online gaming market had an impressive volume of nearly $38 billion in 2015, yet it is predicted that this will rise to almost $60 billion by 2020.

It is not just online where the world of gambling has changed, however, as the profile of major competitions and tournaments has also grown massively in the past decade or so. Among the most famous is undoubtedly the World Series of Poker (WSOP), which, every year, brings together the biggest names in the game to do battle in relation to major sums of money.


So, just how has this rise in the popularity of games like poker happened? While there is no doubt a range of factors behind it, the growth in online versions of the games is sure to have had an impact. Poker players of all skill levels now have a chance to dip into the game when it suits them, with many online sites like 888poker offering people the chance to play a range of variations of the game including Texas Hold’em poker and others, not just on laptops but also on smartphones and tablets.

Poker has simply never been as widely available and this is shown by the fact that, back in 2008, it was estimated that a total of 20 million people were playing the game online for money. Fast forward to the present day and that figure is likely to have skyrocketed.

Breaking through

One of the offshoots of this growth in online poker play is thought to have been an increase in the number of women playing the game, with some studies estimating that a third of online players may be women. However, this statistic is in stark contrast to what is seen in real-world tournaments. According to the Las Vegas Sun, the WSOP Main Event in 2014 had a gender split of 24 to 1 in favour of men, which seems to indicate that poker is yet to shed its traditional image as a male-dominated game.

However, while they may be in the minority, many of the female players who have broken through into the real-world scene have shown they comfortably have what it takes to compete with whatever their male counterparts can throw at them. Here, we take a look specifically at four female competitors who have taken the poker world by storm and the various strategies they have used to make major money.

Vanessa Selbst

When it comes to discussing the best female poker players in the world, there is surely only one place to start. Brooklyn-born Vanessa Selbst is the only woman to be ranked number one in the Global Poker Index and is the owner of three WSOP bracelets. Now 33, she is thought to have earned more than $11 million in winnings over the course of a career which actually came to an end earlier this year. She confirmed her retirement in January and is believed to have moved into the world of hedge funds by joining Bridgewater Associates.

In terms of the style which served her well through her career, The Atlantic once referred to Selbst as “arguably the most aggressive player in the game” and it is fair to say she was a competitor drawn to attacking opponents.

Vanessa Rousso

While Selbst’s earnings put her in a league of her own, Vanessa Rousso’s winnings of more than $3 million also more than adequately demonstrate that she is a force to be reckoned with. Born in New York but with dual citizenship for both the US and France, the 35-year-old began playing poker in 2005.

Vanessa Rousso discusses game theory and its links to poker.

In terms of her approach to the game, Rousso is a strong advocate of the benefits of game theory – the concept of using maths and science to analyse behaviour and, in turn, try to predict how individuals will react going forward. The concept is best known for its use in economics and politics, but Rousso’s success has undoubtedly shown it has a role to play in poker too.

Liv Boeree

Few poker players are likely to have as interesting a story as to how they ended up playing the game than Liv Boeree. The university graduate from Kent in the UK had been applying to appear on game shows when she was selected to take part in a reality TV series where she and others were taught how to play poker. This kicked off an interest in the game which led her to become the only female player to hold both WSOP and European Poker Tour titles. Now 33, she is thought to be worth in the region of $4 million.

Source: “Liv Boeree” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by World Poker Tour

Professional player Liv Boeree assesses the competition.

In terms of strategy, she has spoken a lot about the benefits of her science background and also used a newspaper column to call for the teaching of rational decision-making in schools – adding that, as a poker player, she had seen how costly poor decision-making can be.

Mimi Tran

While the three players above are all from the same generation, Mimi Tran is a great example of how women have been involved in poker in some way for a number of years. Now 57, she has amassed earnings of an estimated $1.6 million since she started playing the game back in the late 1980s.

When it comes to her approach to the game, the Vietnamese-American player is known for having a preference for many years of playing high-stakes cash games but she has gone on to get involved in the tournament circuit. She was taught how to play the game by Barry Greenstein, a three-time WSOP event winner.

Incredible talent

The list above not only highlights the incredible talent that female poker players possess but also the fascinating stories of how each of them has gone on to become a success.

While men may continue to dominate the scene, the continuing growth of interest in the poker scene across the world suggests that many more women may soon be about to break through and compete at the very highest level. A fascinating few years are undoubtedly ahead.

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