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Film Review: “Poker Queens”


‘Poker Queens’ is a great look at women in poker

Women are rarely seen at poker tables, or any card gambling tables in general, but there are many of them out there who make millions a year from these card games. Poker Queens, a new movie out on Amazon Prime Video, takes a look at some of the most successful female poker professionals, and the challenges they’ve faced along with the success they’ve had.

The movie follows five poker players and has their stories intertwining, along with interviews with each of them. It sets the stage for what is the current situation regarding female participation in professional poker, with stats showing that women make up less than 7% of all pro poker players. There still exists a very old-school and backward mindset among many players and organizers in the game towards having female players, and all five women detail their experiences with men who have openly discouraged them from making a name for themselves in poker. The movie does extremely well in showing the five women as smart, intelligent, likeable and generally good people – it manages to bring out each individual’s personality and does not reduce them as eye candy for the men, or even as being ‘one of the guys’ to be able to blend into the male-dominated space that is pro poker. There is a memorable scene as well where a female poker player plays a hand that a fellow male player at the table dismisses as ‘light’, saying it was about ‘ego’, which is a very revealing comment, if quite ironic at the same time.

The director, Sandra Mohr, is an accomplished poker player herself, while some fans may recognize Jennifer Tilly, who is an actress along with being a highly regarded professional player. Loni Harwood has been called by some dealers as the best poker player they have ever seen, while Kristen Bicknell is one of the best players in the world as well. All of this shows that the women featured in the movie, as well as female poker players in general, can have the same level of skill and desire to play the game as men, and even more in some cases. Another interesting facet of the movie is how the director goes undercover herself in order to make it into an exclusive online vip casino or an otherwise restricted venue. In fact, there is another sequence in the movie where Sia Layta, one of the female players shown in the movie, dresses up as a man and enters a game, with the result that her winnings almost triple, showing the unconscious and perhaps even conscious bias that can exist against women in the game. There was even a controversy around this, with the World Series of Poker threatening to forfeit Sia’s $10,000 buy-in and ban her from the tournament if she showed up for it dressed as a man. Mohr also talks a little about her struggle in terms of being able to finance this very movie, which shines a light on the struggle that women in general face, both in poker and movie producing, and the wider world as well.

There has been literature published which shows that women and men play the game completely differently, with statistical anomalies which have no explanation other than the difference in gender. The movie talks about this a little, but this bears diving into and needs more research, and it can only help to make the sport more competitive and interesting. Poker Queens does a great job at showing the female experience in a male-dominated arena, and it is a must-watch for poker fans, especially men, to be able to understand an experience different to their own.

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