I played in a women’s Texas Hold ‘Em poker event at Foxwoods this weekend. I played well but I often felt as though I was fighting against my upbringing as a woman. Let me explain.
A good poker player keeps her opponents guessing as to what hand she might be holding. This means that a good poker player sometimes has to bluff. If you only play good hands and always fold your bad hands, your opponents will know that they need to fold when you raise. As I played this weekend, I worked hard to pick my moments to bluff. It’s hard to keep raising and putting pressure on an opponent when you are holding a bad hand. It feels like it’s not nice behavior. It’s even more difficult when your opponent calls your bluff and you have to tell everyone that you have nothing. It feels like lying. And it feels bad to be caught. But in poker, it’s actually helpful to be caught lying (bluffing) because if you can force yourself to bet the same way as you would have with a great hand, your opponents will be kept guessing as to what you actually have in your hand. This means that you’ll sometimes win hands when you don’t actually have the cards to beat your opponent because your opponent folds the best hand. I struggled not to feel badly every time I was caught bluffing even though I know (intellectually) that getting caught bluffing improves my ability to win future hands. I think women are brought up to be “nice” in a way that men are not. This means we struggle more with feeling guilty if we get caught bluffing which I think means we probably bluff less often.
Playing against all women is really different than playing with men. There are a lot of men who never believe a woman has a good hand. This makes it really hard to bluff because they will call you every time. Bluffing is most effective if you can sometimes get your opponent to fold a good hand. I never bluff a whole lot but when that tool is taken away, you’re much more reliant on blind luck to win. It’s hard to win if you rely solely on blind luck.
Thinking about the differences between men and women poker players made me search for books that I might be interested in reading on the topic. Here are a few that I found that I want to read:
I am currently Professor of Digital Media at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. I am also the current Coordinator of General Education at the University. I am interested in game studies, digital literacies, open pedagogies, and generally how technology impacts our culture.