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I was a fresh, wide-eyed, blonde lawyer in the ’80s when men saturated the field of law. Before I go to court, I practice how to address the court.
“good morning sir.” “Hello, judge.” “morning.” I was nodding, nodding my head, trying to look the part. The first time I went to court, I was so nervous, I stated that on behalf of my client, I was applying to disqualify my client’s psychiatric evaluation because I definitely hadn’t authorized it!
Holding a stack of cases, the judge smiled and looked over his reading glasses. “Looks for the record, attorney?” he said.
I forgot to say my name and who I represent. And everyone in the courtroom knows that. Well, that was the first humiliating day.
I learned the ropes quickly. I also came to notice that there is a club of which I cannot be a member. It was the first good boys club. The group made up of judges, bailiffs, prosecutors, defense attorneys and even guards are all men. They talked about sports, and told jokes in a low voice when a woman entered the room and talked about the man. It was a close-knit club from which women were excluded.
Since my brother and I were raised by my parents, I was used to being the only female in the room, so I wasn’t too fazed by the dynamic. I must confess though, being in my twenties, it was dreadful when the judge was demeaning, or one of the male opponents indulgent. However, it was a challenge that I embraced.
An older female attorney, whom I greatly admire, took me under her wing. At 5’1”, with long, stringy hair and a fierce look on her face, she was dynamite on wheels. “We just have to work harder and be more forthcoming than the boys, so go hit some and don’t get offended by their shenanigans,” she quips in a gruff voice befitting a chain smoker.
It would be about 10 years as an aggressive young lawyer, scratching and getting my way, when one day I realized I had somehow become part of this elite club. Crude jokes were told in my presence. I had a kind of respect from the judges that they would sometimes quietly ask me my personal opinion on a legal matter in which I was not involved. Basically, you’ve arrived.
Going from law to poker was an easy transition. As many women may feel intimidated, I actually went through that uncomfortable pressure in the ’80s, so I’ve had plenty of experience to argue with.
In my twenties, my blood boiled when a judge was patronizing in a way he would never speak to his male counterpart. I wanted to scream. I wanted to give this asshole a piece of my mind. Instead, I took my time and worked harder. I would give my oral arguments several times in my car on the way to the trial, repeating myself over and over until the words would come easily. The more you work at anything, the better it gets.
Now, nearly 40 years later, that adage still rings true. Work hard and keep learning. This is what Barry and I still do. And if someone is bad at the table, let it roll off your shoulders. Someone’s bad behavior at the table is their problem. It reflects something about them and I have nothing to do with it.
So, when I make a move on my hand and an opponent asks me if this is the only play I know of, I just smile, shrug it off, or make a joke of it.
What I also do is support anyone at the poker table who is being bullied, especially if it is a woman being bullied by a man. When this inappropriate behavior occurs, it is important that strong personalities, both men and women, intervene. I think it will be a while before most women feel comfortable at the poker table, and the job of those who care, is to get involved when something goes wrong.
The poker ladies who came before us must have been killer ball players. Take Alice Evers Tubbs from the Old West.
Born in Devonshire, England in the mid-nineteenth century, her headmaster father wanted a better life and took her to the United States when she was still very young. Settling in Virginia, the family sends Alice to an elite boarding school for young women where she learns the social graces and cultural rituals of the upper class as preparation for entering society.
Then in her teenage years, the family moved again, this time to the silver rush in Leadville, Colorado, (hence the town’s name.) Alice soon met a mining engineer by the name of Frank Duffield and when she was twenty, they married.
Gambling was a way of life in the mining camps of the Old West and Frank wouldn’t be left out. He regularly visited the many gambling halls of Leadville, and his pretty young wife came and watched. Well, you watched it done. The young woman did not miss a thing and soon afterwards sat down at the table. She was very good at both poker and faro, another popular game at the time.
A few years after their marriage, Alice’s mining engineer, Frank, is killed in an explosion. Alice was a widow without any means of support. It didn’t take long before Alice started traveling to play poker and was given her nickname “Poker Alice”.
She was described as a beautiful woman with bushy brown hair, blue eyes and a small 5’4 frame. When this lovely lady entered a gambling hall, all decked out in the finest present-day costumes, she was greeted. In fact, it attracted men who were looking for a challenge. Poker wasn’t good for business.
Sometimes she made so much money, she’d have to take a trip to New York to model there and come back to show off her new digs. It reminds me of something I did many years ago, of which I am now terribly ashamed.
When I first started playing poker about 35 years ago, I traveled to Las Vegas and played at Bellagio. I scurryed off on a relatively small game and quickly went up about $3,000. I picked up my winnings, smiled and said goodbye, left the table and proceeded to spend the money on a nice black leather jacket.
Nothing wrong with the story yet, right? Well, I don’t know what I was obsessed with, but I went back to the table to show off my new jacket, and then thanked all the men sitting at the table for a nice gift. I thought I was hysterical. shrink! Back to Alice poker.
As the years passed, she is said to have begun to smoke a thin black cigar, while sporting her ornate gowns and haute couture with a killer smile. And under that ruffled dress? Yes, a .38 revolver. And it wasn’t just for show.
She moved to Deadwood, South Dakota and played poker with a painter named Warren G. He didn’t mind because he was smitten with her. (As an aside, Barry and I visited Deadwood a few years ago and I’m annoyed I didn’t know about poker alice at the time!)
One evening Tubbs was busy with his hand when a drunken miner looked at Tubbs’ pile of chips, walked up behind him and quickly drew a knife. Before anyone had time to react, Alice pulled out her .38 poker and shot the attacker. As he lays bleeding on the floor, Alice is arrested for the murder. In the end, she was acquitted.
Alice went on to poker, marrying Tubbs, and they had seven children. She was the happiest she had ever been, and for 34 years, with her gambling earnings and his paintings, they supported the family. In 1900, only six percent of married women worked outside the home, usually when their blue-collar husbands were unemployed. Of the wives who have children at home, very few work at all. Poker Alice was the exception.
In 1910, Tubbs was diagnosed with tuberculosis and eventually died of pneumonia. Once again, a heartbroken Alice is asked to eke out a living on her own. She hired a man to take care of her house and began to travel the gambling halls.
The man she hired takes a liking to her and repeatedly asks for her hand in marriage. Finally she gives in to his predecessor and they get married. He died three years later, leaving her alone again. (So many bad tunes!)
Alice has lived out the rest of her life at poker as the major she always was, but the poker legend, charm, and inspiration lives on. In 1987, the story of Alice of Poker was made into a movie starring Elizabeth Taylor, George Hamilton, and Tom Skerritt.
There are plenty of women in poker who have come after Alice’s poker game to make her mark and pave the way for others. I celebrate each and every one of these important women from the past, present, and also stars to come.
In future articles, I will continue to pay tribute and spread information about the successes of women in our field. I invite you to share your stories with me at [email protected].
Aline Jaffrey Shulman is a 40-year veteran criminal defense attorney. As a constitutional law expert, she has testified before the North Dakota Senate regarding online gaming. The Card Player Poker Venetian Tour Main Event Champion has racked up over $1.6 million in career tournament winnings, including a World Series of Poker bracelet after topping a whopping field of 4128 in the Senior Tournament. The former Poker Player Alliance board member was inducted into the Women’s Poker Hall of Fame in 2014. Schulman is currently writing a book about her experiences as a woman in a man’s world. You can find her on Twitter @employee.