“There’s always next year”
My next piece will be a trip report from the recent International Poker Open (IPO) in Dublin, but before that, I want to focus on what was in many ways the big story of the festival. Once again the ladies punched well above their weight, but the real story was that most of it came from what is in many ways poker’s most forgotten demographic, senior ladies.
An indomitable character and fierce competitor, she plays very much against type
I first met Helen Henry several years ago at a tournament in the Bonnington when if I remember correctly she wanted me to sign a copy of my first book. Since then I’ve gotten to know her better by playing with her a few times. An indomitable character and fierce competitor, she plays very much against type, despite being the friendliest person at the table. Originally from Cambridgeshire, she told me once she relocated here for the love of her life, her Irish husband.
I finally met “the husband” this weekend. I’d played with Helen the day before in the High Roller, and after she told me she was back for Day 2, she said: “Don’t look so surprised!” She then introduced me to her husband with the words: “He’s one of these professionals.”
As I played my final small side event, Helen was on the final table of the high roller behind me. She had qualified for the event by winning a local poker league, but that didn’t stop her from turning down a deal heads-up when her opponent Nicky Levene offered, saying she wanted the trophy.
Unfortunately, there was to be no trophy for her. As she walked away I congratulated her on the result and said I was sorry she didn’t manage to secure the trophy. With a twinkle in her eye, she answered:
“There’s always next year.”
Chip Race tourney
For the second year running, David Lappin and I sponsored a side event. Our sponsorship took the form of a free copy of ‘Endgame Poker Strategy: The ICM Book’ for everyone who made Day 2. An impromptu book signing broke out when I went down to check the books had been left out, and the ladies still in seemed particularly pleased.
Manal (photographed above) and Susie both cashed. When Manal bust in 9th, that left the legend that is Annette O’Carroll as the last lady standing, as she so often is. I first met Annette O’Carroll in Citywest in August 2009 when we both made the final table of a €300 ($319) side event. My recollection is she had almost all the chips and was playing a much more aggressive style than the one her stern headmistress appearance would suggest. This read was confirmed by my good friend Fergal Nealon who pulled me aside at a break for a word to the wise:
“Don’t be fooled by her oul wan act. She hangs around with all the best young players down in Sligo and soaks up all the strategy talk. Unlike the rest of her generation, she knows the game moves on and she moves with it.”
She had almost all the chips and I had almost none of them so after a couple of early confrontations where she put me in an ICM coffin, I decided the best plan was to lay low and let the rest of the table who were “playing for the win” punt off to her. It was the good old ladder-to-second-and-then-hope-to-get-very-lucky strategy I would repeat six years later against Upeshka da Silva at the World Series of Poker. On both occasions, I managed the ladder-to-second part but not the then-get-very-lucky bit.
calling everyone “honey” and generally charming or shaming them into not playing back
After busting the high roller I max late regged the Chip Race event and found Annette at the table in full school mistress mode, using her usual tactic of “butter them up then devour them.” She was calling everyone “honey” and generally charming or shaming them into not playing back at her.
I didn’t last long, but Annette bagged up a big stack for Day 2, which she marshaled all the way to headsup. She overcame a chip deficit to prevail, and in her moment of victory, there was an outpouring of love and delight from the rail.
An emotional win
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to hang around to share in the celebrations with her, as my wife was waiting impatiently outside to drive me home, and she’s the only woman on the face of this earth I’m even more scared of than Annette. I did however ask her what the win meant to her and she replied:
“It’s emotional. I was not there in 2022 as I was just after surgery and recovering. Last year was marred with numerous frequent medical challenges. Thank God all were manageable and I am well. I am acutely aware many go through serious medical challenges and don’t have such a good outcome.
I have had to put the bucket deep into the well and draw on whatever enduring resilience I could scoop up. For the last year I played little poker and missed a lot of key events. I missed the challenge, the camaraderie, the banter, and the craic. So I am filled with gratitude to be back at the tables, and adding a win on top of that is magic.
with the grace of God and a bit of good luck I have emerged victorious”
The win is pulsating. It’s about being vibrantly alive. It’s validation and confirmation that I sometimes get it right. It’s primitive. It’s being in battle and emerging victorious and so too I humbly acknowledge the bullets I dodged and the splash of good luck when needed. Not unlike my health story. I have battled. I have dodged bullets and with the grace of God and a bit of good luck I have emerged victorious. I am well, I am vibrantly alive… I am buzzing.
And the icing on the cake was the fact that it was the Chip Race trophy. We go back a while. I have huge admiration for the work ye do. Your knowledge, your skills, your professionalism. In addition to that ye quietly coordinate and grow a community. I have been quietly chuffed to have been asked twice before to contribute to your podcasts. In the presence of huge global names and superstars of the poker world I have genuinely felt in the presence of giants.
So you ask what does the trophy mean? In a small field in a small town, I won a small trophy but I have it… it’s on my shelf and I’m enormously proud of my trophy. It’s my validation. It’s my confirmation that on Sunday and Monday last I dodged a few bullets, got a little luck, and got a lot right.
The forgotten demographic
I’ve written in the past about how I think the poker industry is missing a trick in marketing almost exclusively to younger people. There’s general agreement that poker also doesn’t market successfully to females while paying lots of lip service to getting more women playing.
Young males (under 25) outnumber young females by more than 100 to 1
It’s irrefutable that females make up a disappointingly low proportion of the player pool. Women typically make up 3% of the WSOP Main Event field. That simple statistic is a little too simple and hides a more nuanced comparison by age. Young males (under 25) outnumber young females by more than 100 to 1. Other age groups are equally depressing until you reach over 40s when the gap starts to close. By the time you get to the over 60s men outnumber women by only 10 to 1.
According to the general consensus, the main reason for this is that even in progressive societies, the burden of child-rearing still falls predominantly on women, so it’s only after their children are reared that most women can even think about devoting a lot of time to poker. This argument is supported by the fact that online (which doesn’t require players to travel or commit to long days at the tables) the gender gap is much less across all age groups.
From this, it should be clear that efforts to market to senior females should potentially be more fruitful than swimming upstream to try to attract more younger females. Yet little or no marketing is done to this demographic: they are in many ways the forgotten ones in the poker world. I can’t think of a single older female the industry promotes widely as an ambassador, yet it is the stories of successful older females like Helen and Annette that have the most potential to attract more women to the game in my view.
Or in the words of Annette herself:
“Butter them up then devour them.”