Women Business Execs Learn When to Hold and Fold 'Em

Forget about cocktail parties and spa meetings.

ByABC News
December 10, 2012, 7:21 AM

Dec. 10, 2012— -- Beth Bronfman, the managing partner of View, a New York advertising agency, never knew whether to hold 'em, fold 'em, or do anything else with 'em. In fact, poker was never on her radar until she was invited to a women's poker networking event in Manhattan.

"I figured I'd go, even though I had never played poker before," Bronfman told ABC News. "It sounded fun."

On December 3, Bronfman joined forty other high-powered financiers, lawyers, artists and fashion executives at the Maserati showroom in downtown Manhattan for an evening of full houses, straights and lots of schmoozing.

The evening was hosted by Alexandra Lebenthal, the CEO of Alexandra and James, an asset management company for high net worth investors and her former business partner, Michelle Smith, the current CEO of Source FA, a boutique wealth-management firm. The two have been hosting quarterly, women-only poker nights since 2010 as a way of bringing clients together while attracting new ones.

"It's a chance for women to do something fun, meet people, and learn a new skill," Lebenthal told ABC News. Poker, she believes, is actually quite instructive business tool: "It teaches you how to negotiate and how to read other people, something many women need to learn," she said.

"It's so much about strategy and risk-taking and smart risks," said Smith, who has been playing for about four years. "There's something about not playing every hand, not feeling like you have to play every hand, that resonated for me. You shouldn't play 80 percent of your hands, and the 20 percent you do play you should play well."

Ellen Leikind, the founder of Poker Prima DIVAS, who runs Lebenthal and Smith's events, agrees. A former marketing executive for Fortune 500 companies, Leikind quit her job about a decade ago and began playing poker, a game she had learned as a child. She attended poker tournaments, and was distinctly aware that she was one of only five female players amid a sea of testosterone.

"I thought to myself, 'This is golf all over again'," Leikind, the author of Poker Woman: How to Win at Love, Life and Business Using the Principles of Poker, told ABC News. "Golf has traditionally been a men's sport. When I was in the corporate world, I'd go to sales meetings and the men were on the golf course making deals and getting promoted, and the women were at the spa, where there was no action. Some women held meetings in spas, but in a spa you're having a massage by yourself. The biggest camaraderie was when you were standing in the dressing room together."

Poker, on the other hand, provided a great opportunity for networking, but women were mostly excluded from the game. So in 2004, Leikind founded her company and has since hosted poker events for women at 40 corporations, including Pfizer, Hearst, and Morgan Stanley. But her focus is not just on the game itself, but also the strategy and negotiating skills that go with it.

Maryann Morrison, founder of the Women's Poker Club and Woman Poker Player magazine, believes that women are better poker players than men, because women tend to have a stronger sense of intuition and are more detail-oriented.

Also, "men still have a hard time thinking women will bluff them at the poker table," she said. "You get some young girl coming in and the men think she's really sweet and innocent. A woman who knows her game and knows how to read people well will do really well."