Review: Poker Queens

Poker’s popularity has never been higher; the poker boom of the early 2000s has ensured a legacy which remains in place to this day.

The pinnacle of every poker player’s dream is an appearance at the fabled World Series of Poker, the most prestigious tournament in the world. It’s held in Las Vegas and has never had a female winner.

All that might be about to change with the rise of the female poker player and the feature-length documentary Poker Queens as it looks to explore their history as well as their future. Starting with the tale of Alice “Poker Alice” Ivers, it is both a historical film and one that examines an ever-changing future.

The documentary features a host of names from the world of female poker, including Kristen Bicknell, Jennifer Harman, Loni Harwood and Sia Layta, the poker player who Calvin Ayre reports disguised herself as a man to compete in the WSOP. As the quest to be the first-ever female WSOP heats up, these are the players looking to rewrite the history books.

Women traditionally have made up around 5% of poker players and this documentary is setting the pathway for that number to increase. It portrays the players as strong and dominant, driven to succeed in a male-dominated market and acting as an inspiration to aspiring players.

Many of the players began their career online – Harwood learned the ropes watching her father play online poker. That’s a common route to the felt of Las Vegas and as the years have progressed, poker has looked to reinvent itself. Platforms have strived to become more inclusive and adaptable to changes. USA Today’s long-form article on PPPoker notes how the app was designed to allow players to create their own private social clubs, making it easier for players of both sexes and differing skill levels to learn how to play before progressing.

Whilst playing in their homes is one thing, getting out into the real world of the WSOP is something entirely different for the female players featured in Poker Queens. Using interviews, personal video from player vlogs, dramatization, reality footage and up-close tournament play we get a proper taste of the life and struggles of a female poker player.

It’s inspirational at times and director Sandra Mohr told Poker News she felt it signalled the start of women taking back the power in poker. “Women are just now starting to take back their power. It’s going to be amazing to see the change in the years to come.”

As well as the personal journeys of the players, the documentary looks to dispel some myths around poker in an effort to inspire other women to take up the game. There’s a clear growth market for the game to expand into with female players and this documentary could do for them what Rounders did for the game generally back at the turn of the century.

If slightly abstract documentaries are your thing, check out our review of the 2016 film Classic Kutz, the story of one barber and his journey.

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