Image credit: Playground Poker
Correction: If Zajmovic wins, she will be the first WPT champion in an open event, not the first WPT main event winner. Apparently this distinction matters to some.
Update 4: She won it!
Update 3: Eric Afriat has busted at 10:20 PM EST, leaving Zajmovic heads-up for the title and her spot in history for those of us that don’t consider celebrity invitational events legitimate.
Update 2: As of 7:45 PM EST, play is down to four players, and Ema Zajmovic is back in first place, narrowly ahead of Eric Afriat.
Update: As of 6:45 PM EST, the Main Event is down to five players, and Ema Zajmovic has in fact made her second straight final table in Montreal. She is currently third in chips, behind Eric Afriat and Tam Ho. Afriat was trailing in the chip counts when this article was written, and was the sole WPT Champion still in the running; his recent surge may bode poorly for Zajmovic’s chances.
The semi-final – or perhaps final – day of play at PartyPoker.net WPT Playground is underway. Ten players remained in the field at the start of play, and two have fallen as of this writing. Starting the day at the top of the chips counts was local Quebecker Ema Zajmovic, although she has since dropped to second behind Tam Ho. Her name is likely unfamiliar to most readers, but her stack makes her a strong contender to make history with a win.
Statistically improbable, even at a sausage party
It’s unfortunate that we rarely get to report big wins for women players, but unsurprising because there are so few in the game. I’ve heard the number thrown around that women make up about 3-5% of the field in most tournaments, and that jives with personal experience. It feels a bit less than 50-50 whether a woman is at the first table I sit down at in a live event, and rarely are there two or more.
Even with that fact understood, it’s one of poker’s more notable anomalies that the World Poker Tour (WPT) has yet to see a woman win a Main Event. The WPT has been running for 15 seasons, with at least 10 and sometimes more than 20 events per season. For comparison, most summers the World Series of Poker (WSOP) sees at least one bracelet won by a woman, but the WPT’s dry streak is equivalent to three consecutive WSOPs without one. Meanwhile, the now-discontinued European Poker Tour (EPT) only ran for 13 seasons, yet had a two-time woman champion in Victoria Coren Mitchell.
It’s not that there haven’t been plenty of opportunities to end the streak, either. In last year’s Season XIV alone, there were six appearances by women in the final six players: two by Cate Hall, who came close to taking Player of the Year as well, plus Mina Greco, Lu Zhang, Diana Svensk and Maria Ho. It’s hard to believe, then, that the WPT has managed to cheat those kinds of odds for so many years running.
That brings us back to Ema Zajmovic herself, who you definitely would not have picked as a likely candidate prior to the current season, and probably not until today. Her LinkedIn profile lists her as a communications specialist with a focus on social media. Until recently, her poker career had consisted of a handful of four-figure cashes in minor events, plus a $15,000 min-cash in the 2016 WSOP Main Event.
That changed at the last in November, the last time the WPT came to Montreal. That’s when she first she made the official final table of a Main Event. She was second in chips that time, just behind Mike Sexton, who went on to what was an historic win in its own right. Unfortunately, she finished 5th, but that was good enough for CAD $102,010, more than quadrupling her combined wins up until that point.
Assuming she can avoid any huge disasters until a few more short stacks bust out, she will have gone back-to-back in Montreal, and matched Cate Hall’s final table performance last year. Once there, her odds look fairly good, as the competition seems manageable by WPT standards. Although there is one former champion remaining in the field – Eric Afriat – he’s currently seventh in chips. Meanwhile, other recognizable names like Carter Swidler and Jean-Pascal Savard are likewise well behind Zajmovic. Her competitors at the top of the chip counts are scarcely more experienced than her in events of this magnitude.
Today, or tomorrow?
The WPT Playground Main Event was originally scheduled to conclude tomorrow. Because it is not being televised or live-streamed, however, the players will have the option to play on, potentially down to a winner. That’s looking likely, as play began just two hours ago, and two have fallen already. Only two more eliminations are required for the official final table to be set, and half of the remaining players have less than 25 big blinds.
This article will be updated as play progresses. Stay tuned, or follow the action yourself on the WPT website.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.