Jacqui Thorby has a message for any males trying to intimidate her at the tables at this year's Auckland Sky City Festival of Poker - bring it on!
Thorby, a Thames-based business consultant and amateur poker player, will travel to Auckland with five female friends on Monday to compete in the $275 buy-in Ladies Event at the Sky City Festival of Poker, before returning on Friday to play in the $1650 buy-in Main Event.
Thorby won the APPT Ladies Event in 2010, the Auckland Anniversary Deep Stack Turbo in 2015, runs her own poker club in Thames and now has a big enough bankroll to give New Zealand's 'big one' a crack.
"I travelled to Las Vegas last year to play in the World Series of Poker Ladies event and came 76th out of a field of about 800 and made $2530 which boosted the bankroll," Thorby said.
"I've never played the big one in Auckland but I'm going to this time. It's just been a confidence thing. I came back and thought 'let's try it'. I think it's a much better game when you're playing more expensive buy-ins with deeper structure and longer blind levels. It's not such a luck game then."
"Ultimately I would like to be professional, and after gaining more confidence at the World Series of Poker last year, I would really like to make that happen. At the moment I work to live and live to play poker - I love it so much."
The progression from local cash games and tournaments to New Zealand's main event has taken eight years for Thorby, but she says she's no longer intimidated at the tables.
"Men tend to be more aggressive toward women at the tables and that makes it harder for us I think. It can be a bit intimidating, not for me now because I have a bit more confidence, but it's a natural thing to try and get an advantage over your opponent any way you can so if it's picking on the ladies, so be it.
"But often it backfires because we're normally quite solid players, so if they three-bet we come back over the top and they run away."
Thorby said that with no kids and her mortgage paid off, she's looking for fun in life, and is 'addicted' to the fun at the poker tables.
"There's not a lot to do in Thames, so a group of us got together and started a Poker Club, just to have something fun and social to do. Since then it's got pretty serious and we are always taking trips to SKYCITY Auckland or elsewhere throughout the country to play in major poker tournaments.
"I think there are a lot of women out there that play small games. In our club probably 50% of our players are women. But I think a lot of them are probably scared to take that next step because it's a bit daunting that first big buy-in tournament at the casinos.
"We hope to take a dozen of us or more, to Las Vegas next June to play the World Series of Poker and see how we compete on the world stage."
The Auckland Festival of Poker offers ten side events ranging from $50 to $1100 buy-in and culminates in a $1650 buy-in main event that is expected to generate a prize pool of over $310,000.
The nine-day tournament begins on Saturday 19 November with the main event held from 24-27 November.
The Ladies event is a $275 buy-in and starts at 5.30pm on Monday 21 November.
Thorby's advice for any woman keen to give poker a go: Don't be afraid, start small. Build your confidence and remember you're just as good as the men.
Full tournament schedule, registration details and full terms and conditions for the 2016 SKYCITY Festival of Poker can be viewed here.