A year ago, I had the privilege to be a houseguest in the lovely home of Jean Plante, whose daughter is LPA Board of Advisors member Linda Johnson, a Women in Poker Hall of Fame (WiPHoF) inductee.  During one of our past-midnight conversations, Jean shared with me that she had not been very pleased with her daughter’s decision to quit a secure, good-paying job at the post office to move to Vegas to become a professional poker player two decades ago.  

How do you think Jean feels about the decision now?  Since Linda’s move to Vegas, her list of accomplishments has steadily grown and include being the studio announcer for the World Poker Tour; a gold bracelet winner at the World Series of Poker;  World Poker Tour Boot Camp instructor; board member of the Poker Players Alliance; former owner of Card Player magazine; co-founder of World Poker Players Conference, World Poker Industry Conference, the Tournament Directors Association; co-owner of Card Player Cruises; charter member of the Professional Poker Tour; and now an inductee in the Women in Poker Hall of Fame. 

The Women in Poker Hall of Fame is the brainchild of Lupe Soto, the founder of Ladies International Poker Series (LIPS).  The inaugural induction ceremony took place on February 2, 2008, at Binion’s, where close to 200 guests celebrated the induction of Linda Johnson, Susie Isaacs, Barbara Enright and Marsha Waggoner—all four of whom have made contributions to the world of poker in significant ways.

“The significance (of WiPHoF),” master of ceremonies Mike Sexton told me, “is that it shows that women do play—and have played—a vital role in the growth and expansion of poker and that for those who succeed at the highest level, there is a place for them which will give them everlasting recognition and appreciation in the poker community.”

When I asked Lupe how she came up with the idea for the WiPHoF, she told me, “After spending a few years meeting and learning about some of the amazing women in poker, I realized there was no venue to honor them for all their great accomplishments and contributions to the poker world.  I knew that if I had an interest and fascination about them, others would, too.” 

According to Lupe, the thought process began when Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  “I’m a huge baseball fan and became interested in the process of induction when ‘Mr. Padre’ was being considered for induction,” she remembered.  “It was also the same time when I was researching women in poker.  That is when it hit me:  We need something like this for these great women in poker!  So I started to talk to a few key people in the industry, who thought it was a great idea, too.  Then when I saw Barbara Enright get inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame with a simple press conference, I knew then that we were on the right track to create a fabulous event for everyone in poker to be able to attend, participate and witness history.”

What is the impact of WiPHoF?  Susie Isaacs, who won back-to-back Women’s Seven-Card Stud championships in 1996 and 1997 to earn her two WSOP bracelets, explained how she felt about the WiPHoF to me, “Vera Richmond was the first woman to win a World Series of Poker bracelet in an open field event in 1982, but the poker-playing public is not aware of that. They believe that Barbara Enright was the first woman to win an open field event. Why? Because men hated Vera and tried to keep her out of the record books. Poker remains, for the most part, a man-controlled portion of our society. The WiPHoF has done a lot to rectify that.”

The author of five poker books and a novel, Susie also finished in 10th place in the WSOP Main Event in 1998, just missing the final table.  Since then, Susie has cashed in dozens of other WSOP and non-Series tournaments, including placing in the top five percent of the field in the WSOP Main Event in 2006. As a member of the inaugural inductee class, “I am honored beyond words. I thought there could never be a feeling of pride and accomplishment like that of winning a WSOP bracelet, but this runs a close race,” Susie said.

The final two inductees, Barbara Enright and Marsha Waggoner, also have impressive credentials. Barbara owns three WSOP bracelets and is highest female finisher in the WSOP Main Event:  5th place in 1998.  In addition, Barbara has over $1.2 million tournament wins and cashes.  Marsha Waggoner, too, has over $1 million in poker winnings.  A member of the Senior’s Poker Hall of Fame, Marsha has cashed more than 80 times in tournaments.

After welcoming remarks from Mike Sexton, the celebration began with a salute to female poker pioneers by Margie Heintz, the first woman to deal a WSOP event, and Diana Donofrio, who has been involved in the world of poker for over two decades.  Then following Lupe’s presentation—which focused on the rise of current successful female poker professionals—each inductee was introduced by WiPHoF board members Suzanne Carter, Maureen Feduniak, Allyn Shulman and Karina Jett.

The highlight of the ceremony, besides the warm-hearted appreciation speeches by the inductees,” Mike acknowledged, “was the speech by keynote speaker Jan Fisher.  She was terrific!”  According to the induction-worthy candidate Jan Fisher, the highlight for her was “perhaps all the ‘old school’ who turned out for the event.  I think I could name 90% of the audience, and the mean age was 45+.  It really felt like the true poker world came out for this one, not the kids of today with sunglasses.” 

Jan added that, with the sheer number of family and friends who flew in from all over the U.S. and Canada to honor the women, “This is a true testament to how well-loved these inductees are.”  One of the out-of-town guests was professional event planner Gyla Whitlow, who flew in from Houston to volunteer her services as the producer of the magnificent slide show, which was exhibited on stage throughout the entirety of the ceremony.

“The ceremony was first-class all the way,” Linda said.  “I know that Lupe, the Board of Directors and other volunteers worked extremely hard to make this afternoon very special.  The Women in Poker Hall of Fame will continue to showcase women who have made great accomplishments in poker and will inspire women to be the best they can be in poker.”

When I asked Jean how she now feels about her daughter’s chosen profession, she announced, “I am so thrilled that Linda is one of the inductees!  I am glad that she is getting recognized for her role in the many improvements which have occurred in poker rooms all across the U.S., including the better treatment of dealers and players, uniform tournament rules, no-smoking card rooms, to name a few changes.  Linda has devoted herself to making a difference in the poker world she loves.  I am gratified that she has been so successful and received a Hall of Fame award.”

Attending such a historical event was an honor for me, my close friends and poker contemporaries.  Listening to the inductees, we newer players in the poker world were grateful that so many positive changes have occurred in the poker rooms across the country in the last couple of decades.  The inductees have had to deal with all sorts of abuse, yet have managed to stay in the business for as long as they have.  Their perseverance and leadership have paved the way for the new generation of poker players.  Congratulations and a huge thank-you to the inaugural class of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame! 

Women in Poker Hall of Fame
Honoring the Four Queens of Poker

by Lucy Kim

Photos courtesy of the World Poker Tour

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