Poker players on the East Coast may have played with Cate Hall at the tables. Others might be familiar with her outspoken tweets and famous blog post about sexism and misogyny in the game. WPT fans might know her from two final tables during Season 14 and finishing runner-up for the Player of the Year.
Hall is not a longtime poker player, though. She spent her college years obtaining a degree in biochemistry from the University of Arizona and then a law degree from Yale University. After working as an attorney in the Washington, D.C. area for several years, she departed the profession in pursuit of something to satisfy her competitive drive.
Living in D.C., Hall frequently drove to casinos like Maryland Live! to play poker, but dabbling soon became an all-consuming determination that led to a decision to play the game on a full-time basis in July of 2015. She started as a cash game player but recently changed her focus to tournaments.
Already, Hall has accumulated more than $500K in live tournaments to date, with the majority of it coming from several WPT cashes, the most significant of which was fifth place at the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic for more than $291K.
As she heads to Las Vegas to dive in to the 2016 World Series of Poker, Poker Update caught up with her to ask about her poker and life decisions, as well as if she feels that her interactions regarding sexism in poker have made a difference.
Poker Update: You graduated from Yale in 2009 and worked at a law firm until July of last year. I know you discovered poker at Maryland Live! and learned to play there, but what really drew you to the game?
Cate Hall: I think I was drawn to poker because I’m extremely competitive and somewhat egotistical: I envisioned poker as an activity that allowed you to bet money on your ability to outthink other people, and I thought I’d do well at that if I tried hard enough. The way I view the game now is somewhat different — I think hard work is a lot more important than intelligence — but it’s only become more interesting to me as I’ve improved and slowly begun to understand bits and pieces of how the best players think about the game.
Poker Update: Most people who thrive on the competition in poker had some kind of sports or gaming background. Is that the case with you?
Cate: I’m about as unathletic as is humanly possible. I did sink the better part of a year into World of Warcraft when it first became popular, but I imagine real gamers would scoff if I tried to claim that as a “gaming” background. I’ve always been deeply (those who know me best might say “insanely”) competitive, but in the past I’ve mostly channeled that into school and my career.
Poker Update: When you became a full-time pro, what would you say was the most important factor in being about to make a living, i.e. patience, educating yourself, etc.?
Cate: I think the most important determinant of success as a professional player is discipline, which takes many forms: the discipline to play within your bankroll, regardless of how you’re feeling about your game; the discipline to put in hours studying, even when it’s so much easier and more fun to just play; the discipline to remain attentive at the table, even when you’re bored and fatigued; etc.
And the cool kids said I wouldn't use calculus in the real world pic.twitter.com/jozuMc8xjs— Cate Hall (@catehall) May 12, 2016
Poker Update: What prompted you to transition to tournaments? Was it a firm decision or was it a gradual change?
Cate: I decided to start devoting more time to tournaments last fall basically in an effort to get myself a platform to talk about some of the issues I care about — primarily effective altruism and sexism in poker. If you’re a cash player, no matter how good you are, you’re basically invisible to the poker community; tournament results are just so much more conspicuous that you’re much more likely to have people care about and listen to you if you do well in them.
Poker Update: Looking at your relatively short poker journey thus far, it almost looks fast and easy. Can you talk about some of the stumbling blocks you encountered in your career so far?
Cate: My first year as a pro has gone extremely well, but I’d say my baseline state is still one of profound uncertainty and self-doubt. In some ways, it’s more challenging that things have gone very well: I’m aware enough to understand that I’ve been on the right side of variance, and that I’m overdue for some reversion to the mean. I’ve worked hard and feel I’m continuing to improve pretty quickly, but I honestly have no idea what my results will look like or should look like in the future, and I have some anxiety about having this sort of meteoric rise and then just bricking everything for the rest of my career, which could easily happen.
Poker Update: Considering that you’ve been very outspoken about the sexism in the poker world, did you find a difference in the level of it when you moved from cash games to tournament play?
Cate: I think the amount of sexist banter in a game is roughly inversely proportional to the skill level of the average player. So there’s not a clear difference between cash and tournaments, but there is one between, say, mid- to high-stakes cash and low buy-in tournaments. Because tournaments are heavily marketed to a general audience, and cash games rarely are, there’s an added problem with tournaments where they sometimes use advertising that is heavily geared toward men and presents women as sort of mindless sexual objects and observers of, rather than participants in, the game — the WPT and the Royal Flush Girls are probably the worst in that regard.
Poker Update: On that same topic, do you feel that your ability to communicate so well on Twitter and via your now-famous blog post has changed hearts or minds of male players?
Cate: I’m not sure how many hearts and minds I’ve won over. There are some people who’ve told me they see a problem with the way women are treated in the poker community, when they didn’t before. On the other hand, I sense there are people who have reacted defensively to the idea that women are sometimes mistreated in poker — because they think they’re being personally attacked, because they haven’t actually seen the problems I’ve spoken about and don’t believe they exist, etc. It’s pretty hard to know whether, on balance, what I say is helpful or just causes people to dig in more, and that’s especially true because I’m not always the most diplomatic person on Twitter and can rub people the wrong way — something I’ve become a bit (but not a lot) more sensitive to and careful about as time has passed. It’s especially hard to know whether you’re having a positive or negative effect when you’re getting feedback through social media, where the trolls tend to be a lot louder and more persistent than the people who agree with you.
*I tweet about sexism in poker*— Cate Hall (@catehall) February 7, 2016
"Get a life, this is all u ever talk about"
*I tweet about literally anything else* pic.twitter.com/eMfryyP82W
Poker Update: You have had some amazing success on the WPT, making two final tables in a relatively short period of time and just missing another last month. Is there something in particular that suits you about the WPT?
Cate: I’d like to think that the slow structures of a lot of WPTs benefit me, because they generally benefit better players and it would be nice if that were true of me. In reality, it’s all just statistical noise at this point. And probably the single factor that has led me to do well primarily in WPTs is the fact that they constitute a large proportion of the major events I’ve played.
Poker Update: I heard that you had an amazing rail at the WPT Seminole $3.5K, and I see a lot of support via social media for your deep runs. Do you enjoy the support, or does it put additional pressure on you to do well?
Cate: Having support is always nice, and on the scale of an individual tournament I don’t think it really adds pressure to have people rooting for me. I do think that all the attention I received from my final table at the Bellagio Five Diamond and then leading the WPT Player of the Year race — even though I totally soaked it up — contributed to a pretty bad case of imposter syndrome for a while, and led to me lacking confidence in my game and just generally being a bit of a head case during the California swing of the WPT. Once I fell seemingly insurmountably behind in the race, I felt a lot less pressure to do well, and I think my play improved appreciably.
Who wants to be on my rail Wednesday? pic.twitter.com/gYl65N83V4— Cate Hall (@catehall) April 19, 2016
Poker Update: Are there ever times in poker that you hit a downswing or get generally frustrated and think about going back to law?
Cate: I have downswings somewhat regularly and get frustrated very regularly, but I have never seriously considered returning to law, except as a last resort. I don’t think that I will be a professional poker player for very long — unless I absolutely crush this summer and next season, I’m planning to move on around next fall — but I don’t think I’ll ever be a lawyer again. I became a lawyer, like many lawyers, because it was a way to make a lot of money without needing to have a plan or a purpose in life. Once I saw law for what it was — a default option — I couldn’t continue to waste my life doing it.
Poker Update: Is it safe to assume that you’ll be at the WSOP this summer? What are your plans for the next few months other than that?
Cate: I’ll be in Vegas for the WSOP and other events for the entire summer, from the end of May to mid-July. I’ve spent a good portion of the last couple months just studying and preparing for the summer, so I’m really excited to have the chance to spend a lot of time playing again. I have no idea what I’ll do after the summer — I’m toying with the idea of putting everything I own in storage and hitting the road for the next year, but I’ll probably wait to make a decision on that until the end of the summer.
My goal for poker for the next year: Get good enough that my time couldn't be better spent elsewhere. Will probably fail, but trying is fun.— Cate Hall (@catehall) March 21, 2016