Big Wins for Kyna England and Monica Vaka on the Live and Virtual Felt

  • Kyna England won the MSPT Winter Poker Classic Main Event in Minnesota for $186,709
  • Monica Vaka won the iPoker IPF Main Event for €98,570
  • The law of small numbers means that results by women are likely to be streaky in nature
  • Nonetheless, these results are the highlights of a purple patch for women in poker 
Woman on a mountaintop
Recent wins by Kyna England and Monica Vaka in lesser-publicized poker tournaments point to a bright future for the game. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

The future is bright for poker

The future is bright for poker. Online poker just had its biggest 18 months post-Black Friday and wherever live poker has been allowed to return, it is being met with enormous demand. This renewed hunger for poker is, perhaps, most clearly in evidence not by the latest hyped-up Pokerstars Series, nor by the size of the huge fields in Vegas, but rather by looking at the turnouts in the more off the beaten track locations. 

obliterated the venue’s previous highest attendance

Case in point, the Mid-States Poker Tour (MSPT) Winter Poker Classic Main Event in Minnesota just obliterated the venue’s previous highest attendance with 1,042 entries generating a record prizepool of $1,009,240. After two days of play, the breakout star of 2021, Poker Power’s Kyna England, emerged victorious to claim the top prize of $186,709. 

Meanwhile, on the online felt, the iPoker IPF €500,000 ($563,073) Main Event attracted 2,431 players across 13 starting flights. The tournament was taken down by Unibet Poker’s Norwegian ambassador Monica Vaka who won €98,570 ($111,347). 

The law of small numbers 

Another indication that poker’s future is bright is that these tournaments were won by women. In fact, social media has responded to these results with tweets suggesting “women are on fire.” Of course, only a curmudgeon would begrudge such celebratory exclamations, but is important to remember that achievements by women in poker are unfortunately always subject to the law of small numbers. 

The law of small numbers is a form of cognitive bias that says that people underestimate the variability in small samples. A term coined by Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, it refers to the tendency to draw broad conclusions based on small data. In their paper “Belief in the Law of Small Numbers,” they stated:

people view a sample randomly drawn from a population as highly representative”

“We submit that people view a sample randomly drawn from a population as highly representative, that is, similar to the population in all essential characteristics. Consequently, they expect any two samples drawn from a particular population to be more similar to one another and to the population than sampling theory predicts, at least for small samples.”

I highlight this not to rain on the parades of women in poker today but rather to remind observers to apply the same logic during a drought of big results for women in the game. According to the Global Poker Index, women make up approximately 6% of the world’s poker players. Making short term judgements from such a small sample size is a fool’s errand and this cuts both ways. 

Kyna is a star

For Kyna England, this MSPT win is the icing on the cake of a phenomenal year. Back in March, she came third in the MSPT Riverside Main Event for $73,782. She followed that up in July with another bronze finish in the huge WPT Venetian $5,000 Main Event for a whopping $448,755. 

I just believe that if you want to get better, you will”

In her post-match interview, England was elated, saying: “This is my first significant win and I’m extremely proud of myself…During the pandemic I started teaching through Poker Power and throughout quarantine I made it my mission to study and get better. I sharpened-up my game to teach the other ladies and I just believe that if you want to get better, you will.”

VegasSlotsOnline News spoke to England’s Poker Power colleagues Jen Shahade and Xuan Liu, who were both excited about the result but also pointed to the importance of having good teachers and role models. “Kyna is such a star,” Shahade said, “as a champion, and as a teacher bringing more women to the tables.”

Liu was in total agreement: “Kyna always shows up as her authentic self. She is one of Poker Power’s fearless, outstanding teachers who leads by example and often plays by her own rules.”

Unibet Ambassador Vaka was in control 

VegasSlotsOnline News also reached out to Vaka who streamed her huge score on her Twitch channel:

“With two tables left, I had the biggest stack and so I was able to put big pressure on the player who was second in chips. That allowed me to get an even bigger chip-lead by the time we reached the final table. It felt good because I have prepared myself for situations like this with a lot of ICM study.”

There was one point when I lost the chip lead, but I still felt like I was in control, and I didn’t get nervous.”

Despite one big setback on the final table, Vaka’s focus was razor-sharp. “There was one point when I lost the chip lead, but I still felt like I was in control, and I didn’t get nervous,” she said. “I was simultaneously deep in games on Unibet but maintained my concentration well and, in the end, I managed to knock out most of the players on the final table on the way to my biggest ever result.”

Vaka also had nice home-turf cashes in the Unibet Open (14th) and the Unibet Online Series €100 ($113) rebuy/add-on (23rd) but her almost wire-to-wire performance in the IPF Main Event was the standout result. “My kids come first but I still have a passion for poker so a result like this means a lot,” concluded Vaka.

Airtime for inspirational people is good for the game

Sometimes the law of small numbers will generate streaks and there is no doubt that these results by England and Vaka are the highlights of what is certainly a purple patch for women in poker. In the past week, Christina Gollins won the Bicycle Casino’s $50,000 Event for $24,955. There were also three women on the Run Good Series ProAm final table with Danielle Anderson, Ebony Kenney, and Lisa Teebaggy coming 2nd, 4th, and 7th, respectively. 

Such periods of success combined with good fortune bring with them a challenge for the poker media and at this point, I want to break the fourth wall and say how I personally feel a tension whilst writing articles of this nature. 

On the one hand, it is important to push back against that nonsense Dan Bilzerianesque attitude that “women can’t play poker.” On the other hand, over-coverage of achievements of women in poker, while well-intentioned, can have two negative offshoots. Rightly or wrongly, the perception of positive discrimination is interpreted as unfair by some. It is also the fact that the disproportionate celebration of a woman’s individual achievement is a mild form of infantilization. 

As a podcast host, I stopped asking the “woman in poker” question a long time ago. It was lazy and I think it sometimes added to the problem of thinking of women in the game as a monolith. That is not to say that specific issues cannot come up either organically or because there is an important issue to discuss. That is not to say that there aren’t subjects that affect women specifically. It just became the priority on “The Chip Race” to tell human stories first and avoid the pitfall of pigeon-holing any guest into a particular demographic. 

Ultimately, that tension is for people like myself to accept, embrace and ultimately live with, because giving airtime to inspirational people like England and Vaka is good for a game that is still so lopsided in its representation.