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Representation matters. Professional poker player Kristen Bicknell said as much during an interview with Online Poker Report. Her words will likely come across as feminist to those who prefer the status quo, and not far left enough for others.
As one of the top female professional poker players, Bicknell first took the risk of speaking out in March. That was days after amateur poker player at celebrity influencer Dan Bilzerian sparked controversy with a misogynist comment directed at poker pro Vanessa Kade.
Since then, Bicknell’s gotten engaged, played more poker and answered repeated questions about her March 25 tweets.
Bicknell says that she sees more women entering the game these days. She herself reached No. 11 on May 23 at the Super High Roller table of the 2021 WPT Online Series, on Partypoker, for whom she is a sponsored pro. However, she says there’s still more work to be done. Even now, women make up only single-digit percentages of the field in most poker tournaments.
Partypoker and its parent company Entain – mainly known among US gamblers for owning half of BetMGM – notably sponsors many female poker pros. Nonetheless, there’s still a dearth of representation in the industry as a whole.
For instance, the most notable woman to have advanced in the latest World Poker Tour Online main event is Yuan-Yuan Li of Canada. She’ll find herself surrounded by a sea of male names when Day 2 begins on May 31. WPT itself has been around since 2002, but took 15 years to produce its first female champion in an open field main event.
Those sparse images of women at high stakes final tables are the main reason Bicknell thinks it’s important that she plays live poker. It’s also why 2017’s highest-ranked live tournament female poker player chooses tournaments over the anonymity of cash games.
Even so, with live play on pause during the pandemic, Bicknell returned to her online poker roots. She got her start in the online game in 2006, while still living her home province of Ontario and remains an important figure in Canadian poker.
Over her career, she has won nearly $1 million more in online tournaments than she has in person, at $6.1 million versus $5.2 million. The National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) found that only 33% of online bettors play poker. Meanwhile, nearly two-thirds of poker players prefer in-person play.
Bicknell is still early in her career. At 34, she’s younger than the median age NCPG found for poker players, which is 37. She hopes to leave a legacy that helps women achieve equality in poker. A huge part of that is simply being a woman, visible to other women and helping them envision themselves doing the same.
Playing poker isn’t all she thinks about, though. On May 9, she tweeted of her engagement to fellow pro Alex Foxen, who has won more than $15.2 million.
Below are Online Poker Report’s questions to Bicknell and her unedited responses.
My first memory playing poker was when I was taught by a group of friends when I was in university. We played throughout the whole evening and things got intense. I fell in love with poker instantly.
I was excited by all the options online provides; especially the massive tournaments. The convenience of playing at home is great, as well.
There are pros and cons to both. If I had to pick, I’d pick live poker. All the physical elements like the chips, the cards, being able to pick up on live reads really add to the excitement of the games.
It’s hard to tell, but I would say overall there has been a small increase in the number of female players participating in recent years.
I think it’s very important to maintain gender-neutral marketing and for live casinos to try and make it as welcoming to women as possible. For example, I’d like to see employees like waitresses or massage therapists dressed modestly; just creating an environment that doesn’t cater to the feeling of poker being a “man’s game.”
It is very important! I always try to conduct myself in a way that I believes represents women well and I’m very motivated to achieve success to try and normalize women succeeding in poker. To me, that’s where the greatest impact is. If I was only trying to make money, I’d most likely play cash games, but I do like the idea of leaving some sort of legacy in my poker career, and that seems to happen more with tournament poker, as it’s in the spotlight.
I’ve just been so thankful that we have been able to have many great series take place online, but it’s been a great shame to miss so many live events. The online experience has improved, with all the choice of games we now have to play, and I’ve really enjoyed watching and commentating on the streams of the major partypoker series, as well. With real-name tournaments, it really adds to the entertainment of knowing the big name players you’re watching.
I believe this is counter-productive to achieving equality. I do believe men and women are equal at the poker table and if we want it to be a co-ed activity, then it should be exactly that. I wouldn’t be in favor of men’s-only events, so on that premise, I do not think ladies-only events help to move a needle forward or generate a feeling of real equality.