During women’s history month, it’s great to recall that poker wasn’t always a man’s sport—and if the World Series of Poker is any indication, women are more a part of the sport than ever. But before them, there were these ladies: badass poker players who made a name for themselves.
“Poker Alice” Ivers
1851 – 1930
Alice truly earned that nickname over the course of her lifetime, dealing cards and winning games all over the American West. Originally from Devonshire, England, her family moved stateside in 1863. By 1880, she was out west in Colorado, and a year later she was married. Her first husband Frank was a poker player, and so she started to join him at the table.
When he died in a mining accident a few years later, Alice decided to make a living through her considerable poker talents, which sustained her to the end of her life, across the United States and through two more husbands. She dealt cards all over the country, and at one point even owned gambling dens of her own. Her old age was no less exciting; she spent time in jail after shooting a man in self-defense and suffered raids on her saloons. Through it all, she kept on playing poker and smoking cigars until her death in 1930.
When Mayme and her husband moved to Las Vegas in 1911 to follow the railroad industry, they didn’t expect to make the desert town a permanent home. While her husband worked the rails (and later became a whiskey runner during Prohibition), Mayme opened a soda shop called the Northern Club. The name was a nod to the old Northern Saloons of the west, where gamblers like Alice Ivey probably hung out. Either way, the soda shop was also a gambling hole of sorts. Five card games were legal in Vegas at the time: stud, draw and lowball poker, 500, and bridge, and the Northern Club let people play all of them.
Finally, in 1931, gambling was fully legalized in the state of Nevada—partially to help the state recover from the Great Depression, which was in full swing at the time. Mayme, as the owner of the Northern Club, applied for the gambling license and received the very first one the state ever issued. Pretty nifty to think that there would be no Bellagio, no Caesar’s Palace, no MGM Grand without Mayme Stocker getting there first.
1949 – Present
Barbara Enright is one of the poker greats from the more recent era. She started playing poker at a young age. In her twenties, while holding down three jobs, she realized she was making more money playing poker for fun than she was at all of her jobs combined. She took it up full-time and her career took off.
In 1995, she became the first woman to reach the final table of the World Series of Poker, finishing fifth. She went on to win three WSOP bracelets (the most of any woman in the sport) and an open event at the WSOP. Oh, and she was the first woman to be inducted into the World Series of Poker Hall of Fame—the same year as Phil Hellmuth. Speaking of Hall of Fames, Barbara is the only poker player to be in three of them: the World Series of Poker Hall of Fame, the Senior Poker Hall of Fame, and the Women in Poker Hall of Fame. Not bad for someone whose career is still going strong.
Fine, you caught us; we’re not sure whether Annie was an avid poker player. But it’s worth noting that one of her famous sharpshooting tricks was shooting a playing card full of holes before it hit the ground. Since she lived and worked in Cincinnati, Ohio for part of her life, it’s likely some of the cards she shot up were manufactured by the US Playing Card Company.