Exploring the GGPoker FLIP Women’s Championship tempest

Haley Hintze
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Posted on June 1, 2022 3:04 pm EDT

(Author’s note: Opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the owners and publishers of Poker.org)

Last weekend’s $100,000 Guaranteed FLIP Women’s Championship on GGPoker turned out to be a mildly controversial affair when it turned out that the event wasn’t a ladies-only event at all, much to the consternation of some of the women who turned out and perhaps even signed up on GGPoker in order to play.

There was a problem, however. Part way through the tournament, it became clear that large numbers of men were participating in what was clearly designated as a “Women’s Championship,” much to some female players’ consternation. DMs began flying among the tourney’s female participants, and at least one of them, European player “KaboomPoker” took took the issue to Twitter:

As it turned out, at least two of GGPoker’s own male brand ambassadors had played in the tourney, including Hristivoje “ALLinPav” Pavlovic, who is part of GGPoker’s Team Upswing. Pavlovic was flippant at first in response to Kaboom, then a little bit more contrite in follow-ups.

Bringing up Baby Bilz

Yet the incident had other repercussions. In reporting on the episode, Brit writer David Lappin castigated GGPoker rather thoroughly, while also noting that in the wake of her Tweet, responses to KaboomPoker included “two death threats and one rape threat” in DMs. I don’t know KaboomPoker’s identity, but I do know a highly regarded pro who knows her personally, and I have no doubt the threats were made. And Lappin, a knowledgeable, sincere, and opinionated writer, is one whose thoughts on all this have to be seriously examined as well.

Lappin is right, of course, that GGPoker has systemic issues that have to be addressed. He again brings up the lingering Dan Bilzerian situation, referring to the highly misogynistic, self-styled “King of Instagram” who’s given GG a years-lasting black eye. Lordy, Bilzerian must have great business lawyers and an ironclad deal to still be getting money from the site at this juncture.

However, bringing up Bilzerian in the context of this FLIP Women’s Championship mess rather misses the point. The problems with the FLIP Women’s Championship not really being a ladies championship have to do with GGPoker’s own lack of programming architecture to even differentiate between genders, along with promotion and marketing of the event by FLIP’s founder, Daiva Byrne, that created a misleading impression with at least some participants, who thought that this was indeed a ladies-only event. Calling this a “Women’s Championship” is misleading, too. That one’s entirely on GGPoker. There’s plenty of blame to spread around.

One of the problems with the recent FLIP Women’s Championship being open to all is that at this point in time, GGPoker doesn’t even have programming in place to track gender or differentiate event entries based on that. That seems amazing and incongruent in this day and age, but that’s the reality. GGPoker was designed to be a a highly tech-savvy competitor that went after the juicy heart of the available global online-poker market. Virtually all of GGPoker’s early development and funding went into technical and game development, and precious little went into social-based marketing of the type that would help prevent these blunders.

It was probably a rationalization during GGPoker’s formative years that even worrying about “gender” was antithetical to the generic nature of online poker — if you’re at a keyboard, and if you’re not interacting via chat with other players — then what difference does your gender make? It’s not a position that allows for considering other viewpoints, or the reasons why other types of people might want to play online, but it is an argument that someone might be willing to accept. And also, GGPoker is South Korea-based, where gender roles may be less… modern… to use a dangerous word, than in Europe or some other countries, and as can be seen among within the U.S.’s own tech industry, for example, such latent sexism is everywhere.

In other words, self-rationalization and a focus on technical priorities could create a feedback loop that among other things, not only leads to running a huge online site without even the capability to select on gender, but could also lead one to think that signing Dan Bilzerian is actually a good idea.

The result, when it inevitable goes kablooey, is that you dig yourself a big crater of an image and have to find ways to try to repair that and catch up with the rest of the world. That led to GGPoker bringing in FLIP’s Byrne in the wake of the worst of the Bilzerian/Vanessa Kade fiasco. Byrne accepted an admittedly tough task in signing on a GGPoker’s Outreach and Community Advocate, as Poker.org’s Jon Pill reported last year. Byrne also serves as a GGPoker affiliate — signup code “FLIP” (this actually adds to the recent problem) — and is an aggressive marketer, which is both good and bad.

Byrne’s blunder compounded the situation

Before examining Byrne’s miscues regarding the recent FLIP championship, I want to state that I don’t think anyone involved in this was guilty of evil intent. Sometimes, in the heat of promoting and marketing an idea, people develop tunnel vision. They fall in love with a concept and don’t fully consider or recognize all the potential problems that can occur. Marketing folks are particularly susceptible to this disease. Add in a lack of communication, and what you end up with is a situation such as the FLIP event, where a lot of women were dismayed at how it all played out.

To begin with, a $100,000 guaranteed event with a $25 buy-in that’s only open to women is ridiculous on its face. One female pro with knowledge of the situation, and who does not want to be identified for this piece, told me, “You need to live under a rock to assume that $100K for a 25 buy-in would only be females. Not enough players for that.” Yet when questioned, she also admitted that newer players would not necessarily be cognizant of that fact. “That is true, yes. As someone new to poker you would not know.”

This is precisely where Byrne dropped the ball. GGPoker’s FLIP Women’s Championship event was set up just a week earlier, and she promoted it repeatedly on her 7,000-plus member FLIP Facebook group. GGPoker even tossed in 25 seats to the tourney to help Byrne promote the event, which is great, although free seats are somewhat like those trial memberships to fitness clubs: the actual cost to a site giving them away is close to nothing, and if they produce new signups, that’s where the long-term profit and goals emerge.

So Byrne promoted the event, with several prominent mentions of her affiliate code, but with nary a single mention of the fact that the FLIP Women’s Championship wasn’t a ladies-only event at all, but rather just a plain old $100K event with a $25 buy-in that had a “Women’s” title slapped on its virtual marquee. It turns out that in the group, a couple of months earlier, it had been mentioned that GGPoker doesn’t actually have the set-up to run ladies-only events. That existed, but it was nowhere near good enough.

FLIP’s membership has more than doubled in the last year, and it’s a safe bet that a lot of newer members didn’t realize that a $100K guarantee wasn’t realistic for a ladies-only online event. Here’s a screenshot from the FLIP FB group illustrating this, after the event was announced:

Byrne, who is also the group’s moderator, could have chosen at any time to respond to this discussion and correct the misconception. She chose not to. Only afterword, when the consternation flowed, was the issue acknowledged:

This is a problem. Combining the tasks of leading a group designed to promote women’s interests in poker while simultaneously attempting to generate revenue via signups leads to possible conflicts of interest. It doesn’t even matter if any generated signups go to promoting FLIP or to Byrne herself. It’s the process that’s flawed in a way only overly focused marketers seem to manage. The extent to which it’s misleading and deceptive is open to interpretation, but to anyone who signed up to play this, believing it would be a women’s only event, it amounts to a bait-and-switch.

Leading advocates of women’s interests in poker have to be better than that. It’s not a contest or a competition nor should it be a profit source. It’s a long, slow uphill climb. Episodes such as this are counterproductive and leave a sour taste.

Byrne speaks to Poker.org about event

Byrne offered a quote to Poker.org regarding the misconceptions about the GGPoker FLIP Women’s Championship. “Every FLIP event to date has been an open event, including this one,” she noted. “GGPoker does not collect gender information on players at registration, so all tournaments are open by design; perhaps this should have been made more obvious to all players, and it is something I’ll ask them to fix in the future to avoid any confusion. In previous open events, GG has awarded various prizes to the top finishing FLIP player(s), so that members of the community have something special to play for in addition to the standard prize pool. I’m sure we’ll do the same in future series.

“FLIP has worked with GGPoker on a wide array of extremely positive initiatives for women in poker in the last 14 months, the community continues to grow quickly (doubling in size since the partnership began), and together we’ve provided numerous exciting opportunities for FLIP members including a WSOP Ladies event package, regular Tournament ticket giveaways, community Freerolls, a FLIP stand-alone live event, and other bespoke prizes. Also, we’ve given multiple female streamers coverage and support -so they are better represented & supported in the game.”

All those good deeds, plus the ability to do much more, are precisely why such backsliding is dismaying. Byrne’s comments regarding GGPoker’s current gender incapabilities are of course relevant, but fixing that is easier said than done. It’s true that GGPoker really does need to rethink certain aspects of its approach if they’re to be taken seriously regarding women’s outreach. I have several contacts at the site, and I believe they really want to do better. However, “wanting” does not always equal “doing”. To actually address the problem takes both technical and marketing expenditures that GG hasn’t, it seems, been willing to date to make.

Getting better in a gender-responsive sense amounts to more than just slapping band-aids on a gaping wound. GGPoker actually needs to make the programming fix, then devote some customer-service hours to flagging female accounts and/or asking women to submit proof-of-gender documentation, if they want to play in ladies-only events. But will GGPoker make such an investment?

Featured image source: Facebook / FLIP