Poker League of Nations Blazing Trails for Women in Poker
One of the biggest challenges facing the poker industry is the under-representation of women in the game, and specifically, in open events — poker events open to both men and women. It is well-known in the industry that women represent somewhere around five percent of open tournament fields, and are even less represented as the buy-ins go up.
What is less obvious is how to correct the imbalance, and how to get more women playing at higher levels of tournament poker. Within the past year, Poker League of Nations (PLON) has established itself as a major organization leading the push to increase these numbers in a very direct way.
“We want to be more than 4.8 percent of the fields."
If you ask PLON co-founder Lena Evans, the only way to really grow the poker community is to engage more women in open events.
“We want to be more than 4.8 percent of the fields — and 3.8 percent by the way, in the WSOP Main Event.
“We are the only organization doing this in earnest — not only hosting ladies events, but actually putting women into open events,” Evans explained.
Origins of PLON
PLON was the brainchild of Evans and Maureen Bloechlinger, two ladies who bonded through traveling and playing poker. They started a small group of women last fall to share information and resources on poker events and the like. In spring of 2018, however, the vision and mission of the group grew into something much greater.
“We decided we needed to make a real concerted effort to engage more women, because we’re traveling, and we’re not seeing as many women as we would like to see,” Evans said.
A serial entrepreneur and lifelong philanthropist, Evans tends to go full throttle when she gets an idea in her head. The growth of PLON from around 300 members in April to its current state of more than 3,000 members shows the commitment to the mission she and Bloechlinger embarked upon last spring. And the group is only gaining more steam, with members in 25 countries and counting.
PLON is at the forefront of industry discussions regarding promoting women in the game, and to this end, several of their representatives attended the WPT Women's Summit held in Los Angeles last month that addressed ways to increase female participation in poker. It was there that PLON members posed with WPT Vice President of Global Tour Management Angelica Hael (pictured above).
Defining the Barriers
To change demographics in any field, the first step is dissecting the causes of the under-representation, a topic discussed at length during WPT's summit. Why are so few women playing in open poker tournaments compared to men?
While proposed reasons have included everything from an unwelcoming environment at the tables to lack of time due to familial obligations, it’s clear that many factors lead to fewer women than men making it into bigger buy-in tournaments.
“We know that the No. 1 issue is bankroll – it’s not harassment, it’s not the environment.”
Though social factors are issues that Evans believes need attention, PLON’s preliminary research results from a survey administered to hundreds of female players tell a different story. According to PLON’s research, the main barrier keeping more women from playing in bigger buy-in events is money.
“We know that the No. 1 issue is bankroll – it’s not harassment, it’s not the environment,” Evans said.
Bloechlinger elaborated: “For most players – not only women — a $10K buy-in is a huge hurdle. Lena Evans and I wanted to create a real uptrend for women by creating opportunities for them to play in open events that would otherwise be impossible within their bankroll criteria.”
Enter Staking Satellites
The two PLON founders’ solution for what they see as the main issue holding women back in poker was simply to find ways to help deserving women get into open fields for cheaper. While most women don’t have the roll or aren’t willing to pony up four-figure and five-figure buy-ins for poker events, most are willing to risk a couple hundred to take a shot in a satellite.
Using an ambassador system where appointed PLON members host private satellites worldwide for local tour main events, with PLON's support, they began directly opening the floodgates to getting more women into the bigger buy-in fields. And with PLON’s staking model, all satellite participants are guaranteed at least a sweat in the event they are competing to enter.
“Our staking satellites not only provide women with the funds to play, but there is the added sense of community behind her, railing her along the journey.”
“Our staking satellites not only provide women with the funds to play, but there is the added sense of community behind her, railing her along the journey,” explained Bloechlinger. “Using the PLON staking model, players retain an investment percentage of the winner. If the player goes deep, the PLON community also wins.”
The “built-in support system,” as Evans calls it, is part of the draw for the dozens of women who have already participated in PLON satellites. As one of the two ladies who won a WSOP Main Event seat through PLON’s staking satellite, Evans explained:
“I truly appreciated having the support of the PLON community behind me, as I went deep into Day 3.”
Though Evans busted before the money, the experience was a glimpse into the impact that PLON could have on the gender percentages of future Main Event fields. She explained that sending two ladies to the Main Event was only the beginning.
“Next year for the WSOP Main Event 50th anniversary, we plan to send 50 ladies.”
“Next year for the WSOP Main Event 50th anniversary, we plan to send 50 ladies.”
Caren “CJ” Josephs, PLON's WSOP Circuit Foxwoods Main Event satellite host and winner also appreciates the support aspect of PLON’s model. “It’s just great that the PLON staking initiative exists in order to have women supporting one another to continue to be represented in this male-dominated game.”
That support seems critical for increasing the numbers of women in the game, especially coupled with the concrete opportunities being provided by PLON. Another PLON Ambassador, Kathleen Twomey, who hosted the Ante Up Thunder Valley Main Event satellite in Northern California and participated in a PLON WSOP Main Event satellite, had this to say of the group:
“I am so proud and honored to be part of PLON… PLON is providing amazing opportunities for women to play in larger buy-in events, and I for one am looking forward to the many opportunities coming up this year.”
While PLON’s staking satellite efforts thus far have focused mostly on feeders to WSOP Circuit Main Events in the $1,500 to $2,000 range, Circuit High Rollers in the U.S. and Canada, and Ante Up Tour Main Events, they plan to add more tours and more countries as their reach continues to spread.
According to data collected during registration of the 2018 WSOP Main Event, the 300 women who entered represented approximately 3.8 percent of the total field of 7,873. Based on those numbers, if PLON reaches their goal to send 50 ladies to the 2019 WSOP Main Event, they would boost that total by 17 percent. It could also make quite a splash by drumming up far-reaching support from all the PLON members who have a piece of the action.
“The success of Poker League of Nations is a direct result of the kindness and generosity of our volunteer community members.”
In addition to their staking satellites, PLON recently announced the introduction of the Poker League of Nations Founders Fund, which is a privately seeded staking vehicle that provides tournament backing for PLON members, to be determined at the sole discretion of the organization’s founders.
According to the PLON founders, “The success of Poker League of Nations is a direct result of the kindness and generosity of our volunteer community members.”
For that reason, they have established the Founders Fund “in order to recognize, reward and empower women who have played an integral role with personal involvement and efforts to operate and build the PLON community in a substantive manner.”
In line with the staking model, the idea with the personal staking initiative is to have a percentage of any winnings resulting be reinvested back into the fund to promote further support of other PLON women. Their first recipient was Jacqueline Britton, who recently competed in a Venetian event backed by PLON, and Evans and Bloechlinger plan to announce a new winner every few weeks.
To find out more about PLON and their initiatives, you can check out their website, visit the open group on Facebook, or request to join the closed group on Facebook to become a member and get more involved. Also check out PokerNews' Sarah Herring’s interview with Evans during the 2018 WSOP below.
Lead image courtesy of PLON; article images courtesy of WPT.