by Grace Magee, © College of Saint Rose, Class of 2021
As I mentioned at the end of part 1, Grace was a student in my class on cyberculture where she talked about poker being her favorite game. In this guest blog, Grace explains how she came to realize poker is not a man’s game and how women can enjoy and thrive playing this most famous of all American card games .In the final installment, I will talk about women in contemporary poker through the experiences of Annie Duke and Molly Bloom.
When I was a little girl, playing with Barbie dolls was an essential part of my childhood. It shaped the way I viewed beauty, style, and my own personal identity. I viewed myself as a Barbie doll, mostly because my mother always said I had “Barbie’s hair” but also because as a young girl, Barbie was my most famous woman to look up to. At a young age I was not taught to develop physical strength, play sports, or take on any male dominated activity sphere. However, my mother always encouraged me to be determined and always be true to myself.
My self-perception quickly changed when my brother Thomas was born. I grew up around two sisters, therefore most of our toys were made for girls. The birth of my brother was life changing for me. He became my playmate and my best friend. The biggest change resulting from Thomas’ birth was the difference in my selection of toys. I went from playing with dolls to playing with hotwheels. I loved them both, and Thomas never saw a difference playing cars, Legos, and football with a girl as opposed to a boy because that’s all he knew. Thanks to my little brother’s comfort playing games with me I did not question my femininity, and I felt it was okay for me to enjoy playing with his toys. This stage of my childhood has shaped me to be the person I am today.
In high school I was an athlete and had the most pull ups out of the girls and boys swim team. Still, I loved watching hockey, and most of all, I loved playing poker. However, poker was not always something I thought I would enjoy. Poker was more symbolic than a real game to me. Ever since I was little, my grandfather would go to the casino for hours and play Texas Holdem. As a kid I didn’t really know exactly what he was doing, except that I knew it was gambling which meant I wasn’t allowed to participate. I saw poker as more of a characteristic of my grandfather’s identity than something a young girl like me could enjoy. However, around my junior year of high school, I finally became curious about my grandfather’s passion. I asked my mother if she knew how to play poker. She responded with an ashamed “No,” and explained that, “I was never allowed to learn, my father said it can be a dangerous game and doesn’t want to pass it on.” As a teenager, I had no idea what that meant, so I decided to ask the poker player himself. At the dinner table I asked my grandfather, “Poppy, can you teach me how to play poker?” His response was no. He explained to me that he never taught my mother because he didn’t want to pass on his great skill of poker. Poker, he told me, is a dangerous game because of its potentially dangerous outcomes: gambling addiction, financial debt, etc. Always, the clever teenager I was , I told Poppy that, “I won’t gamble, let’s just play for fun, no real money.” Surprisingly, he said “okay.” That moment became the start of some of the best moments in my life.
Learning something that was such a significant aspect of my grandfather’s life, I felt special and honored. My grandfather’s reason for not teaching my mother was not so much about gender, but about safety. Since playing with him, I came to learn that Poppy and my grandmother would play all the time. Poker was a tradition for them—now it has become one for me. I won’t lie, at first, I was not a good player. I relied mostly on the poker handbook and occasionally showing Poppy my cards to see if I had a good hand. It was fun and, gradually, I started to pick up some of the strategies my Poppy plays. I can’t give away his secrets, but I can say that if you think he’s bluffing, he probably is not, so fold your cards. As the years have passed, I’ve gotten better. I know all the hands, the rules, the ways some people like to cheat, and other poker games besides Texas Holdem. My family and I play poker all the time, and it has become one of our favorite games. My stepdad is a dealer at a casino, so we now have professional poker chips, a fancy poker table, and an awesome dealer for blackjack. Unfortunately, when I leave home, I rarely play. It is hard to find peers of mine who know the game, and those who do are mostly men and probably wouldn’t invite me to their Friday poker nights. I have come to realize that poker is still not perceived as a woman’s game and many people would be surprised that I can play. But I can confidently say that I will challenge any man to one game, and I will prove to them that poker can be a woman’s game.