Monday was a strange day at the 2021 World Series of Poker. Besides Phil Hellmuth’s inglorious F-bomb blowup at the final table of the Seven Card Championship going viral, there was another strange tale going on simultaneously. A middle-aged man from Minnesota, Thomas Hammers, entered the Ladies Event.
There are direct reports on this as well — and lots of opinion and commentary, too. But I’m not going to do a rehash of that, as you can find it elsewhere. What I’ll offer instead is something of a first-person tale of how it all unfolded. I was literally right on top of the story, even more so than I was with the Hellmuth blowup.
For me it all started with this tongue-in-cheek photo from PokerNews’ lead photographer at the WSOP, Hayley Hochstetler:
She was playing it up for yucks, what with the photo of Shaun Deeb there at lower right. As many of you know, Deeb played in the Ladies Event on a lark about a decade ago. It was one of his infamous Deeb trolls back then, though he’s matured beyond that these days.
I was in the WSOP’s media room when I read Hochstetler’s Tweet, and I figured it was a joke. However, that was the shirt Deeb was wearing on Monday, and I knew it because I’d chatted to him briefly earlier in the day. Because of that, and even though it was still almost certainly one of Hayley’s occasional trolls, I figured I’d walk down to the Brasilia Room, where the Ladies Event was running, just to be sure.
I’d already done a lap or two of Brasilia hours earlier, saying hi to many friends and grabbing a few photos. This time, I did a quick walk-through: no Deeb. Nor were there any other men playing that I could see. I also checked up at the late-registration table to see if any men had signed up; I wasn’t absolutely, totally, completely done on checking the Deeb angle; he could have registered and busted already.
But no men had played at that point. I was just standing there in the middle of the Brasilia Room with my camera and phone, thinking about what I could cover and write about that day. It was already past the dinner break, the Hellmuth story also hadn’t erupted yet, and I was idea-dry.
And all of a sudden, from right behind me, I hear a loud, deep, male voice calling to a nearby tournament director, saying something like, “I’m here to play this event.”
Hammers appears in Brasilia
I turned around, and there’s a largish man there, wearing a mask, and I didn’t know at the time it was Hammers. The mask covered his beard, and he’d played in several events mask-free before that. I wasn’t the only writer confused as to who this was, at least for a short while. But anyhow, the man (who turned out to be Hammers) was approached by the tournament director, who seemed, well, a touch incredulous. I won’t name the TD, though I know him well.
This TD, though, looked at Hammers’ registration slips and noticed something odd: It seemed that Hammers originally paid only the $1,000 and not the $10,000 men are normally charged when they decide to play the Ladies Event. For those of you unclear on what happens in the Ladies Championship, the official entry price is $10,000, and women then receive a 90% discount. It’s the only legal way to dissuade most men from playing, by making it far more expensive for them. It is not legal for the WSOP to simply ban men from playing under Nevada law.
It’s all because men playing the Ladies Event became something of a lark back in the Deeb days, when a few dozen men over the course of several years did the same thing. So the WSOP had to find a different solution, and it’s worked… mostly.
Anyhow, here comes Hammers with his seat tickets and the wrong buy-in due to the cashier’s error. I’ll paraphrase a couple of quotes here; I don’t have them exactly.
The TD asked, after looking at Hammers’ seat tickets, “Did you pay the full $10,000?”
Hammers said something like, “No, but I’m happy to.”
The TD then said, “Okay, come with me.” And they exited the Brasilia Room together and went back to the main registration room down the hall. Hammers didn’t get to sit down immediately because of the clerical error. And whether the TD made any attempt to dissuade Hammers from playing as they went to get the buy-in corrected, I couldn’t say.
I hang around, chatting with a couple of players and grabbing a few more photos. I actually miss when Hammers returns and takes his seat, though it must have taken another 15 minutes or so to get the paperwork corrected. I see the TD, though, and he points me over to the far side of the room where Hammers is seated, very near the Brasilia stage.
Hammers tries to befriend tablemates
I walk over. Hammers is doing his best to break the ice with his new tablemates, who for the most part don’t seem to be too thrilled. Hammers explains how he and his friend, Andy Hartmann, put up $5,000 each for him to play, and the plan is for him to donate any winnings he gets to one or two deserving women’s causes, such as a shelter for battered women.
He also tries to crack a joke or two, like his son’s name being Jackson so everyone gets to call him “Jack Hammers,” like the tools. No laughs, though, from the women at the table. During a moment between hands, I asked Hammers to reiterate his plans for the event and donating the winnings and he does that, quite graciously.
It’s certainly not the type of opinion I can put into a straight news piece, such as the one on Hammers’ appearance that I did for another client, but I don’t think Hammers’ intent to do some good was anything but genuine, though it was certainly tone-deaf.
The poker doesn’t go well for him, either. Two hours later he busts, and the loudest applause of the night erupts. He may have thought the room was applauding his noble fundraising effort, but they weren’t. Most of the women didn’t want him there, whether it was a publicity stunt or not, and they were just happy to see him bust out. He poses for a picture with one woman before exiting, and that might have been his wife Sherry, who also played, but I couldn’t verify it and only saw it from several tables away.
I think tone-deaf is the proper term, too. A short while after he busted, Hammers posted on his Twitter account that he’d busted, and he invited all the women who played in the Ladies Event to join him for drinks at the Shutters bar in the Rio Casino proper. Whether Hammers even knows that that’s the Rio’s legendary “Hooker Bar,” I couldn’t say. Many women could care less and are happy to drink there. A few others choose not to.
It was still more tone-deafness on Hammers’ part, however, doing all these things as a guy would, without really considering stuff from the women’s point of view. And that’s part of why the Ladies Championship exists as it does. Nice man or not, I don’t think Hammers ever quite understood that.
No charity benefit, but martini money for players
Hammers’ stunt raised exactly zero dollars for those needy women’s charities because, as was the likeliest outcome, he didn’t cash. Meanwhile, the WSOP did make certain that the entire $9,000 extra that Hammers paid to enter went into the event’s prize fund.
The following morning, I spoke briefly with women’s star Jennifer Shahade who was still in the event and would eventually cash. Jen donated part of her winnings to pro-choice and pro-abortion causes as a way of defending women’s rights.
We talked briefly about Hammers’ hapless appearance, and Shahade brought up the fact that at least the extra $9,000 went directly into the prize pool. “It’s like $14 per player,” she said, “so a martini for everyone.” She also noted that if Hammers really, really wanted to benefit those charities he mentioned, he could have simply written them a check instead of going through with the publicity stunt.
I’d had the same thoughts myself. Hammers’ effort was to me ill-conceived besides being tone-deaf. It simply never needed to happen the way he and his friend thought it would.
It’s clear that the WSOP might have to boost the Ladies discount even higher to stop the tomfoolery. It’s currently a 90% discount, from $10,000 to $1,000. Here’s hoping it gets bumped up to 99%, so it’ll cost men $100,000 to enter. Maybe then they’ll rethink not only the what, but also the why, of the Ladies Event existing as it does.