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Big Hand for a Little Lady

Cyndy Violette belies the stereotypes and Makes Sexism Pay in the macho world of High-stakes poker
Michael Konik
From the Print Edition:
Ernest Hemingway, Jul/Aug 99

(continued from page 1)

"I knew then that I could probably make a career out of poker," she recalls. "And even if I couldn't, I was willing to try. I guess you could say I took a gamble."

After her dazzling tournament debut, Violette never went back to work. She moved permanently from the dealer's side of the table to the players'.

When Violette began gambling in earnest, in the mid-1980s, the big seven-card stud games, her specialty, were $30-$60. Armed with a modest bankroll cobbled together from months of winning sessions at smaller stakes, Violette beat the game. (Beating a casino poker game does not mean winning each time you sit down; it means consistently winning more during your profitable sessions than you lose during your bad ones.) Then $75-$150 games started popping up in Las Vegas. She beat those, too. These days, $150-$300 stakes are not uncommon in the biggest poker rooms. And it is not uncommon to see Cyndy Violette, with a stack of chips towering before her, beating those games, too.

You can't miss her at the table. She's the one who's about six inches shorter and at least 100 pounds lighter than the other gamblers betting, raising and folding. And probably the only one who wears a brassiere.

Men have always been the primary obstacle between Cyndy Violette and high-stakes poker success. Most of these fellows occupy seats across from her on the green felt ring. It was one who didn't who almost put her out of the game.

That would be Violette's ex-husband. Soon after cultivating her advanced poker skills, honing both her mathematical and psychological arsenal, young Cyndy fell in love. Her beau was someone who gambled himself, someone, she thought, who understood a poker player's lifestyle. She married quickly, in 1987, and followed her groom to Washington state, where she assumed she would be a sometime homemaker, a sometime poker player, and an all-the-time wife. This, she soon learned, was not an assumption her husband shared. In fact, she didn't play a single hand of cards for two years, per her husband's wishes. Eventually, this involuntary exile from poker proved unbearable--she needed to play.

"I was forced into early retirement," Violette says. "At first it didn't bother me. I was happy being a mom and a wife. But eventually I got the itch."

She scratched it with successful appearances in 1990 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and the Bicycle Club in Los Angeles. At Caesars, she won $62,000 in the Super Bowl of Poker, a presitigious poker tournament held at the time, and earned $60,000 at the Bike, which then spread a $75-$150 stud game.

"I realized then that my marriage was pretty much over," she says.

After her divorce in the early '90s, Violette visited Atlantic City, which had recently legalized live poker. "I virtually lived at the Taj Mahal for two months," she says, wide-eyed. "The games were good, so good. A lot of people had only played poker in home games before they came to the casino. They really didn't know what they were doing. And on the other hand, there were others who didn't care about the money. For them it was all irrelevant. The higher the limit, the less they cared."

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