There’s always a tricky moment in a poker player’s life where you have to tell your family what you’re doing. It’s never easy, particularly if relatives believe the many misconceptions about poker or don’t know the true skill set of the game.
If anyone has found the perfect words to overcome the hurdle, Rish Iyer could probably use your help.
“My mom doesn’t know,” Iyer confesses in a recent conversation. “Really, no one in my family knows. I’ve told my uncle because I wanted to tell someone. But I just don’t want anyone to freak out, so I haven’t told them yet.”
In most cases, keeping poker secret isn’t that much of a problem. No one is going to find out about a few online tournaments or some quiet trips to a local casino. But Iyer’s profile has recently grown far bigger than most poker players, and it seems set only to balloon even more.
A POKER STAR IN THE MAKING
In October last year, the 24-year-old won the women’s event at the Road to PSPC Philadelphia tournament, which brought with it a Platinum Pass to the PokerStars Players No Limit Hold’em Championship in the Bahamas.
She’s heading down to the Caribbean from Pennsylvania at the end of this month to compete in the $25,000 buy-in tournament. She’ll be surrounded not only by the best players in the world, but also by hundreds of TV cameras, photographers’ lenses and reporters’ notebooks.
A decent showing here could earn millions of dollars, and near certain poker stardom.
“I’m thinking about telling them if I run deep,” Iyer says. “I always promised myself I’d tell my mom when I won a tournament. And then all of a sudden I won this ladies event but I was like, ‘I’m still too scared to tell her. I’ll tell her if I run deep in the next one.'”
She continues: “I am nervous. I don’t know how my mom will respond. I think I just want to sit her down and be like ‘I’m not betting $1,000 a hand on blackjack. This is very different. There’s strategy.’ I will give her that whole poker talk.”
SUCCESS AGAINST CONVENTION
To be honest, even a brief conversation with Iyer is enough to establish that she is adept at facing challenges and overcoming them, defying convention to succeed. When she is not playing poker, she is a software developer, with a degree from Temple University in Information Science and Technology.
Both her job and her principal hobby are in highly male dominated fields, and Iyer says she is proud to have pursued her interests and to earn respect in these environments.
“When I first started playing, it was very intimidating,” Iyer says, recalling her first trip to a casino cash game. “Just sitting at a table with all men. I was texting my friends, saying, ‘I’m never doing this again. Let’s depart. This is so awkward.’ Everyone is staring at you, you feel like the odd one out.”
She adds: “Maybe a lot of women play for the first time but they’re like, ‘I’m uncomfortable. That wasn’t for me.’ It’s not really fun when it’s your first time, and it’s all men looking at you. But I pushed past that because I loved the game and I wanted to keep playing.
“I was just, screw them, I’m just going to keep playing. I liked playing, and also I work in a male dominated field, and had a male dominated major in college. So I think I was able to be used to that, and push past it in the same way. I just continued to play and, all of a sudden, I don’t feel like that at all anymore. I’m very comfortable at the table, even if it’s people I don’t know. It kind of got more comfortable for me as time went on.”
A COLLEGE INTRODUCTION
Iyer began playing poker in college, and was immediately so keen on the game that she tried to establish a poker club at Temple where fellow students could play and study poker further. Although those efforts failed — “People were flaky” — Iyer was properly bitten by the poker bug and continued to review hands with her boyfriend, and play more after graduation, particularly as Philadelphia casinos re-opened post pandemic.
She is now most at home in the $2-$5 and $5-$10 cash games, and occasionally plays tournaments around the $500 buy-in mark. The Road to PSPC Ladies Event had a $200 buy-in and attracted 120 entries. It was too good to miss — and Iyer is extremely happy she joined the fray.
“There were a lot of tough ladies in that field for sure, but it was also a lot of fun,” she says. “It was good to play all women, for a change…That kind of stuff is needed and important to get more women playing. So it’s really awesome. It was an awesome turnout.”
‘ANYONE WHO’S BEING MEAN, PLEASE STOP’
Iyer says that the tech world is more welcoming to women these days than it was for many of her predecessors, and, in addition to having a woman manager and several woman co-workers, she has found “more supportive men than not supportive ones, which is good”.
She now hopes for the same from poker.
“I’ve been very lucky in that I haven’t been bullied or talked to in a weird way,” she says. “But I have heard a lot of stories about a lot of women receiving comments that are mean or made them feel uncomfortable. That sucks. Anyone who’s doing that, please stop. That’s discouraging women from entering the game.”
And as for that problem with her family, Iyer has a plan for that in the Bahamas. It may be that her mom gets a ticker-tape introduction to how exciting poker can be.
“If I somehow final table, I’m just going to fly out everyone,” Iyer says. “Friends, family. The whole squad…I’m super, super excited.”
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