Thursday, March 24, 2011

Queen amongst the Kings

While poker gains popularity rapidly in India, it is still a game that is male dominated. We ask Simrit Tiwana, an active female poker player to give us her account of being one of the few women in the circuit.

Poker it seems is a man’s game. Women should be busy baking a pie in the kitchen instead. Or putting on makeup.  Or watching Sex and the City . Or raising babies. Or something to that effect. 

It’s a Sunday night, and I am playing poker at a friend’s house and I happen to be the only woman on the table that night. Two men I don’t know walk into the room to join the five of us seated at the table playing. I will call them Mr. Gold chains and Mr. Numbskull. They probably went to do their graduation at some university in America or Europe and picked up the game there, and have come to try their luck and possibly show off their superior poker skills (At this point I would like to add that all men think they are extremely good poker players. In fact, the worse the poker player, the better he seems to think he is)

Mr.Gold chain does a double take when he sees me. He scratches his head and eyes me doubtfully. Then I can see him come to the conclusion that I am probably the wife or girlfriend of one of the men seated at the table being allowed to play to amuse myself and be humoured( Hah! Let’s see how well he reads a poker hand if he can’t even figure this out!) . He smiles at me condescendingly while dismissing me as a non threat and starts to focus on the boys again, probably thinking I will lose two or three buy ins and quit after losing them. Numbskull can’t even bring himself to look me in the eye and say hello. It’s as if we are in the nineteenth century again where women should be drinking tea in the parlour room while the men smoke cigars and discuss politics in the study. Yet, for the next ten minutes his eyes dart towards me repeatedly as if trying to figure me out when he thinks I am not looking. All I can do is smile to myself .Why is it considered so wrong for me to be playing poker? (Or at least a serious game of poker)

Leaving pro's aside, men seem to think that women are not very good poker players. If internationally the perception of women is as very tight players who hardly ever bluff, in India it is generally perceived that we have absolutely no idea what we are doing at all. Within this stereotype is yet another perception that if a woman does indeed play poker she should be a slightly butch heavyset kind of tomboyish girl in a hoodie who wants to be one of the boys. If I enjoy wearing makeup, carrying designer bags and dressing up nicely, why can’t I also enjoy playing poker? How much brute strength does it take to lift up two cards, or in case of Omaha, four? If women can be neurosurgeons, why can’t they be poker players?

Another school of thought believes that it is somehow wrong and indecent for women to play. I have had other women stare at me openly and rudely as they sit by and watch the game. (You know the kind that follows their husbands around during Diwali parties with all the stacks of 'Baby’s' gambling money tucked away in their Judith Lieber bags).  I have had been asked in hushed whispers- But what do your parents say? Why are you doing this? As a well brought up girl from a good family, should you be doing this?  Its not strip poker people! 
When I say raise I mean the stakes not my skirt!!!

I do agree that it does get a little bit uncomfortable at times with the sexist remarks and the swearing, but then for us girls its no different from what we experience in the workplace as attractive young women.

Women usually keep their cool during crunch times and make logical decisions. We also tend not to lose excessively and set limits to play within our means .We girls have a natural aptitude for catching lies and bluffs. Any man who’s ever been in a relationship knows exactly what I am talking about. We are also gifted liars and have a natural poker face. We have been bluffing our own mothers into believing we spent the evening at our best friend’s house working on a project and not out with the bad boy from school since we were fifteen years old. We make the men in our lives believe that they are strong magnificent creatures we truly couldn’t survive in this big bad world without. We can bake cakes, iron our hair and send work emails while messaging our best friend at the same time. What makes you thing we can’t make you believe that the deuce pair in our hand is actually pocket aces?

I do not claim to be a brilliant poker player. Not even close. I still chase my flush, I hate to fold an over pair and sometimes I do make terrible calls. What I do believe is that I and many of my other girl friends do have an aptitude for the game and we are learning every day. But what Mr.Gold chain and Mr.Numbskull learnt that night is if I do check raise you all in on a paired board, then your nut flush is usually no good against my full house.

In the mean time I am happy to let all the men stick to their perceptions of how women play poker long as I get to keep most of their money at the end of a game.

By Simrit Tiwana 

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