When Your Friend Wants to Play the WSOP Ladies Event ...

“Going to play the ladies event. Proceeds go to charity. A battered women’s shelter or to help homeless women. Tony Hartmann and my idea, what ya think?”

The text came at 7 pm on Monday, from a good friend who is definitely not a lady. I was concerned.

Tom Hammers Poker Ladies Event

Tom Hammers, considering his options. (Image: Chris Wallace/CardsChat)

Tom Hammers, 50, is the most recent man to try his luck in the WSOP Ladies Event. I know Tom isn’t afraid of controversy, but I was worried that he would catch some serious heat. And he doesn’t back down from a fight. I would hate to see a big controversy over something that he was just doing for fun, on a whim. 

“You’ll definitely catch hell from some people,” I replied. I knew that wouldn’t stop him, but I wanted him to be ready for it. There have been some really strong reactions to men playing ladies events in the past. There are only two ways to change Tom’s mind — convince him that what he is doing is morally wrong, or convince him that it would be a disaster. I couldn’t come up with an argument for either that would be strong enough to sway him.  

There are certainly arguments against a man playing the ladies event. Many were presented online in tweets and op-eds all over the poker world, which is why I wanted to write this article. Because people who have never met the man are attacking him and making assumptions about him, mostly so they can fill a page, get a few clicks, and place themselves on the moral high ground.

I saw people who have never met the man, who have no idea how he behaves toward women, vilify him. Some are probably just being paid by the word and could care less about the real story and the man behind it, others just wanted attention for being on a certain side with their “hot take.” I guess that’s the modern age — opinions and clickbait everywhere, with search engine marketing that means more to a company’s bottom line than truth.

This year there were 644 entries in the Ladies Event, and all but one of them paid $1,000 to enter. Tom paid $10,000 because the entry fee is technically $10,000 with a $9,000 discount for ladies. Whether this is exactly legal is questionable, but it hasn’t been challenged in court, to my knowledge. A similar situation where a country club wanted to be men-only and charged women 10 times as much to join would likely be shot down, according to the attorney that I married in August.

The decision to change the buy-in has worked fairly well so far to keep men from playing the event. Only one other man that I could find, Tony Robertson in 2016, has paid the $10,000 to play since the change in buy-in was made in 2013. Robertson endured jeers and lost quite a bit of money on prop bets when he failed to bag chips at the end of day one, and no other man has been willing to pay the price since.

When Tom told me he was going to play, I remembered how many people were angry when Shaun Deeb played in 2010 with about 10 other men. This incident likely played a big part in the change to the buy-in structure a few years later. Deeb was roundly criticized and changed his approach quickly, even posting a long explanation video and changing out of drag and into his normal clothing.

The problem is that I know Tom. He wouldn’t back down if he was treated the way Deeb was, and I was afraid there would be a firestorm of controversy surrounding him. Because if you don’t know Tom — and if you don’t understand him — you can take him the wrong way. And he probably won’t care if you do. I knew right then that all I could do was share some of who Tom really is and help people understand him, and why he played an event that even he himself has said should generally be for ladies.

Paved with good intentions …

I waited for his reply and tried to concentrate on the game I was playing.

“It’s for women’s charities,” he texted, as if that would settle the matter. Because for him, it would. If your intentions are good, then he doesn’t see a problem. 

We went on to discuss how some people would be unhappy about his decision, no matter what he did. We’re good friends, but we sit on opposite sides of the political spectrum, and I knew there would be some anger from folks on my side. The hyper-woke crowd can be vicious and Tom was not going to offer them the apologies and contrition necessary to calm them down. Tom is an intense Type-A personality who works constantly. He’s mercurial, proud, generous, and unbending. He would tell them to go to hell. 

Tom is also a regular in cash games and tournaments around the country. He can often be found in the $40/80 mixed game at Canterbury Park in his home state of Minnesota. He has more than $300K in lifetime tournament winnings. His wife Sherry plays as well and has more than $160K in lifetime tournament winnings. Their poker success, combined with some good investments over the years, has allowed them to be generous with local charities. They support a veterans tournament in Minnesota (their son Jaxon is a US Marine), homeless advocacy, and other causes.

You may have read about both of them playing the $25K HORSE event this year at the WSOP. Sherry was the only woman in the event and decided to play after Tom encouraged her to do so. I played it as well, as I usually do with big mixed events, and I noticed something funny. Half of the players were Tom’s friends and the other half were asking me who he was. At one point, I was seated next to Phil Hellmuth and Tom dropped by with a bottle of Fiji water for each of us. He does that. You’ll never be thirsty if Tom is around. Phil gave me a look that said “You know Tom? Who are you?”

After seeing the controversy on Twitter about his appearance in the Ladies Event, I asked him to do a quick interview. I wanted to know a little more about what a guy who I know to be an upstanding gentleman was thinking, and why he chose to play. He did the interview from the airport while Sherry was still in the event. Tom busted a few hours into day one. 

Meet Tom Hammers

CW: Hey bud, thanks for the chat. 

TH: Anytime buddy. 

CW: Let’s start at the beginning. How and when did you decide to play the Ladies Event? 

TH: It wasn’t planned. I was having dinner with my best friend Tony Hartmann and it just came up. He liked the idea of playing it for charity. An hour later, I was buying in and headed over to my table.  

CW: What was the reaction of the women at your table? Did you get the sense that some of them were really unhappy to see you? 

TH: They all seemed fine. Everyone was cordial and friendly, and I made sure they knew that I was there to have fun and donate some money. I took some good-natured ribbing, as you should if you’re a man playing a ladies event, and everybody had a good time. Ask any of them — I was as courteous and respectful as a person can be and we all had fun. 

CW: What do you think about the criticism that was leveled at you on Twitter? 

TH: I think it’s understandable. I can see how someone would say that you should just donate, but I thought it would be fun just to play. I wanted to try something new. I didn’t want to make a big deal about it and didn’t realize it would be such a big deal. I wasn’t trying to be a jerk or make a point about ladies’ events or anything.

CW: But I did warn you …

TH: You did. And I knew there might be a few people who didn’t like it. But a ton of people have played ladies events and those guys didn’t pay 10-times the buy-in like I did, or offer to pay the buy-in back for anyone they busted, or give the money they won to charity. If they really didn’t want anyone to play they could have made it a million dollars for men, but I figured with all that extra money going to the prize pool for the ladies, they would be happy that I jumped in. I even bought drinks all night.

Offering to buy drinks as usual…

Not everyone was a fan.

And many were asking this question.

But supporters chimed in to defend his character.

CW: What about the people who ask why you didn’t just buy 10 women into the event? 

TH: We actually bought six ladies in, including my stepdaughter Jordan, who is getting pretty good and really enjoys the game. And I thought it would be fun to play it myself. 

CW: What have you thought in the past about people playing the Ladies’ Event?

TH: When it was just the same amount for the buy-in, I don’t know. I kind of thought that a ladies’ tournament is a ladies’ tournament and it’s really not for us. It wasn’t my intention to bust anybody or make anyone feel bad or uncomfortable.

I like ladies’ tournaments, I think they’re great.

You’ve never heard more “I’m sorry” than in a ladies’ event. It’s a lot more friendly than an open tournament. I like being around people who are having a good time. It’s a good vibe. And ladies’ events are the first exposure a lot of women have to poker tournaments. If we want more women in poker, ladies’ events are the way to make that happen. 

Hammers family

The whole Hammers crew on the 4th of July. (Image: Twitter/2stinkykings)

CW: Your wife Sherry played the Ladies Event, too, right? 

TH: She didn’t just play in it —  they’re in the money now and she’s still in. Sherry can really play. This is her first cash in a ladies’ event, but she’s cashed in a ton of other stuff, and she plays mixed games really well. Great stud player. 

CW: You know I’ll be there rooting for her if she makes the final table. What else are you planning to play this year?  

TH: Right now, I’m headed back to Minnesota to pick up my dog and take care of some things around the house. I’ll definitely be back to play the Main Event and maybe a few other things. And I’m hoping that Sherry makes the final table of the Ladies Event so I can fly back and cheer her on. 

(Ed. note: Sherry finished 63rd for $2,163)

CW: You and Sherry both played the $25K HORSE event at the beginning of the series, which was mentioned on a few poker news sites. Tell me about it. 

TH: Well, neither one of us had played anything like that before and we thought it would be fun. And it was fun. We had a good time. Sherry is a good mix player and I play those games all the time, so I figured we weren’t just dead money. I cashed in the $5K HORSE a few years ago and I talked some strategy with you before the tournament too, which I really appreciate. I didn’t get any cards, but that’s life. Sherry had a good time and got to play with a bunch of big-name players. She’s really charming at the table and those guys loved her. 

* * *

And with that, our interview was done and Tom was on his way to get on a plane. It’s an odd thing, interviewing a friend that you’ve known for so long. It feels so impersonal, so manufactured. Our conversations are usually so casual. But I thought it got the point across and showed some of who he is in his own words, and that alone would add to what I, and many others, have said about him publicly.

Would I enter the Ladies Event myself? No, I’ve never understood it. But I also know Tom and I know that he was friendly and courteous and generous with all the ladies at his table, and would never have made any of them feel uncomfortable. I also wouldn’t drink some of the things he drinks, nor would I vote the way he votes. But he’s a good friend and a good man, generous to a fault.

As I see the haters pile on, I wonder if Tom did the right thing. But he really doesn’t care what those people have to say. At the end of the day, his life is great and he has a ton of family and friends who love him, and this will all bother him less than it bothers me. He doesn’t concern himself much with what people think outside of the people he loves, and that’s probably a good way to go through life. I’m aware that Tom has his detractors, but that’s okay. I have a few myself. And as Tom says, “To hell with em, we’re having a good time and not hurting anybody.” 

Tom and Sherry Hammers

A day at the ballgame. (Image: Courtesy of Sherry Hammers)

Written by

Chris Wallace

Professional poker player, HORSE world champion, author.

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