Women-Only Poker Tournament a Bet on Career Advancement

"It's all about relationships, and women excel at that," one player said.

ByABC News
July 11, 2016, 5:17 AM

LONDON — -- “If it takes poker for women to realize that they are stronger together, then let there be more poker,” entrepreneur Georgie Benardete said, halfway through a recent game.

Benardete was one of 55 CEOs, entrepreneurs, artists and businesswomen from various industries invited to play at a women-only poker tournament in London last month.

The event was organized by Heidi Messer, a New York entrepreneur and investor who first launched the tournament in her Manhattan apartment a couple of years ago.

Messer saw the power in the unspoken connection between powerful men in business — created through golf, fraternities or sporting events — and decided it was time for women to have the same.

“It’s a social event,” Messer told ABC News, “similar to [the annual Allen & Co.] Sun Valley conference crossed with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett's bridge game.”

“There are lots of women here that I’ve heard of but never met, so it’s nice to be spending some quality time together,” Sarah Shields, executive director and general manager at Dell U.K. sales, told ABC News.

Poker is about calculated risks, and for Messer, like many others at the tournament, it's a metaphor for business. "If you don’t push yourself, test strategies, you won’t win, and you also have to learn a lot about your opponents," Messer said.

Shields added: “Having something that's fun, that takes a little bit of skill, a little bit of luck and practicing the skills in business.”

Players were given cheat sheets on how to play poker, along with a $130 initial buy-in. The prizes for the winners included a Hermes Birkin bag, a Baraboux bag and an Everpurse bag. All winnings were donated to Taproot Foundation, a nonprofit that connects similar social change organizations with skilled volunteers through pro bono service.

Candidates for the next games are already being selected, for tournaments in New York and in Hong Kong.

Little by little, organizer Messer hopes to share the idea that in return for participating in a powerful network, women will gain significantly in their careers.

"It's all about relationships, and women excel at that," said Benardete, a co-founder of online shopping platform Orchard Mile. "It's about creating an ecosystem of people that inspire you and who you inspire."