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Uncomfortable truths about a group or culture are best brought to light by those willing to speak out against them from the inside.

Kristy Arnett did just that when she posted a video blog entitled “What’s Wrong with Women in Poker” to her YouTube channel this week in which she excoriates the poker community for not doing more to combat a pervasive culture of sexism against women. It’s a powerful and heartfelt condemnation of a dark corner of the game that is all too often ignored or explained away as a necessary or inevitable evil:

Speaking from the position of authority she has earned as a ten-year veteran of the industry, Kristy gave a candid and impassioned plea for the community she clearly loves to do some serious soul-searching.

Debate on Sexism Rages Following Phil Hellmuth Tweet

Kristy jumped into the fray on the heels of a Twitter controversy that erupted after mysogonistic comments were posted about a photo of Phil Hellmuth with poker player Samantha Abernathy:

Several male players opined that Abernathy – who has a sponsorship deal with a poker-themed clothing company – was only signed for her looks, and not for any special talent or dedication she has to the game itself.

 It wasn’t long before other members of the community – both male and female – quickly responded. Their comments centered around examining the unique vitriol that seems to be reserved for women who find successful sponsorships within the poker world.

A Harmful Double Standard 

Shane Schleger took to his blog to wonder aloud how anyone could think that good looks alone are sufficient to hold down a sponsorship. He also questioned the double standard of requiring Abernathy to prove her dedication to poker – an assertion that he says he himself was never asked to make during his time with Team PokerStars.

Cate Hall also responded in an extremely well written piece for PokerWomen News. Appealing to the community’s pragmatism, she points out that women make up a significantly smaller portion of the poker playing community than of the population generally. Citing that anomaly, she argues that pervasive sexism is the biggest contributing factor behind it. She concludes that the culture of sexism is therefore not only unjust but also -EV because it keeps tons of potential new amateurs away.

Poker Players Willing to Work Hard Can Still Get Ahead

Sponsorship dollars are hard to come by right now in the poker world. Rightly or wrongly, there is undoubtedly a simmering bitterness in certain sectors of the community that corporate support for talented players is not what it used to be. That well of frustration undoubtedly played a role in instigating criticism of Abernathy.

Kristy addresses this phenomenon by noting that something being harder does not mean that it’s impossible. She points out that Jamie Staples and Jason Somerville – both caucasian males – recently signed deals with PokerStars.

Echoing Schleger’s observation that poker talent alone is not enough, Kristy correctly notes that although both Staples and Somerville are good players, they also work hard to be entertaining and engaged with the community as well.

Her message to aspiring poker celebrities is clear. Instead of “whining and crying about how it’s not fair” that poker sponsorships are rare in the current climate, they should be proactive in working towards the things they want, and not worry about the things that are out of their control or attack others because they are jealous of their success.

Speaks from the Heart

In our cynical age of social media and “gotcha” moments, it is refreshing to see someone willing to be honest and real to a mass audience the way Kristy did. No doubt she felt compelled to speak out based on her own stories of confronting sexism when she got her start in the industry. Even though poker is to some extent a niche activity, the game’s personalities still enjoy considerable celebrity and that spotlight can shine hot and bright on sensitive subjects such as this.

The immediate impact of her video may not cause a change overnight, but just keeping the conversation going about the need to do better is important. Making the game comfortably accessible to players of all backgrounds needs to be a priority. Given the huge contributions women make to poker every day, it’s time for the community to do more to make sure that sexism at the tables is no longer tolerated.

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Bradley Chalupski

Bradley Chalupski made his first deposit onto an online poker site in 2009 and has been paying rake and following the poker scene ever since. He received his J.D. from the Seton Hall University School of Law in 2010.

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