Back in 2006, the year Selbst shoved her way onto the scene with that infamous 5-2, Jennifer Harman, a cash game pro currently featured on TLC's reality show Sin City, took women players to task for failing to raise their game to the level needed to compete with top male players. "At this rate it'll be a couple hundred years before we're winning half the events," Harman said.
For a while, though, it looked like online female players would make quick work of Harman's depressing prediction. Women, like Selbst and Anette Obrestad, a Norwegian poker wunderkind who began playing online at 16 and won the WSOP Europe main event at 18, were learning, thriving, and teaching online and then transferring their skills and confidence to wins in live poker tournaments. In fact, author and poker historian James McManus estimated in Cowboys Full that 30 percent of online players in 2009 were women, as compared to just 5 percent of live tournament players.
But on a day known to poker players as "Black Friday," the Department of Justice shut down online poker in the United States. It was the biggest poker story of 2012—and the ban threatens women's recent rise in poker. Now that online poker is outlawed in the U.S., there is a fear that the growth and acceptance of American women players will stall without a convenient, non-gender-biased place for them to nurture their games. Selbst is also concerned, explaining, "A lot of women feel that it's still an intimidating and unfriendly environment at the [live] poker table, and I can't say that I don't agree in a lot of circumstances."
Many women players, including me, do in fact share Selbst's concern. A couple of weeks ago, I was playing Pot Limit Omaha at a Southern California casino, and a male player at the table sneezed grossness all over me. When he didn't apologize I said, "You realize that sprayed all over me, right?" He sneered back, "That's what she said." After that, I did my best to empty his pockets. By the end of the night, he left exasperated, saying, "I quit. I can't beat this game—no, I just can't beat her." I'm a poker veteran—and this wasn't the first sexist comment directed at me at a casino—but if it had been my first experience at a live table, I don't think I would have known how to respond. And wanting to avoid more abuse, I doubt I would have ever come back to that casino.
While Selbst might be worried about the overall progress women are making in poker post-Black Friday, she feels great about her current game. She's playing a full schedule this year, beginning with $10K, $25K, and $100K buy-in events in Australia and the Bahamas. Then she'll return to the U.S. to play the LA Poker Classic again in February. With that kind of pace, she could very well rack up enough victories to achieve gender parity among poker champions all on her own, and mentees—from both genders—will no doubt keep paying big bucks for her coaching expertise.