Cate Hall on the Mike Dentale Match, Improving Despite Success, and Why Women Underperform in Poker

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2016 was the year of Cate Hall. The former lawyer turned poker pro has been here, there and everywhere: making WPT final tables, on Poker Night in America, on poker podcasts like “Fighting Chance”, engaging on Twitter and cashing in a bunch of tournaments around the world. It’s feels surreal to think that just eighteen months ago not a lot of people had even heard of Cate Hall. Now, it would be hard to find someone within the poker community that doesn’t know her name.

In January 2015 Cate Hall cashed in her first tournament. It was a $230 tournament at the Borgata, and Hall finished in 10th place for $621. Two days ago Hall played the $25,000 Challenge at the Aussie Millions, firing two bullets to take home $69,840 for her 13th place finish. Between January 2015 and now, Cate Hall has amassed poker tournament earnings of $877,592, and she was the single most successful female poker player in 2016.

But Cate Hall is not just another successful poker player grinding it out. She has been known for her strong opinions about gender, sexism in poker and politics (anti-Trump). She has been engaged in more twitter fights that I can count, and she seems to evoke strong emotions. Quite a polarizing figure; you either love or hate. One of the haters, Mike Dentale, recently criticized a hand Cate Hall played in the WPT Five Diamond, calling her “clueless”, and Hall responded by challenging him to a heads-up match.

I caught up with Cate Hall to hear more about her grudge match with Dentale, her WPT final tables, women in poker and winning the GPI 2016 Best Female Player of the Year.

First and foremost, congrats with winning the GPI Female Player of the Year. Is this something you take pride in, and has it been a goal of yours to win the title?
“It’s odd: It’s something that I take pride in, but also something I’m not entirely comfortable taking pride in. It means I had the best results among women this year, and that genuinely feels like an accomplishment to me on an emotional level. At the same time, it feels weird that my performance should only be compared to those of other women, as though there’s something about us that means we can’t fairly be compared to men. There were 77 men who finished ahead of me in the overall GPI player of the year race, and I’m not really sure what it says for me to get an award when 76 of them don’t.”

Have you planned your schedule in an attempt to win? And has it been something that motivated you?
“Even though I had mixed feelings about it, there was still definitely a part of me that wanted to win the award, and it influenced my decision to travel to a couple of stops in the last quarter of the year. I’m pretty rabidly competitive, so when there’s an achievable goal in front of me, I tend to sort of throw myself at it and ask questions later. This character trait doesn’t necessarily lead to faster learning or higher skill, but it does yield a disproportionate number of trophies.”

You have only been playing poker professionally for one and a half year. In this span of time you have made four WPT final tables, and you have gone deep in several other events. Give us your take on your run so far?
“Honestly, so much of it is just luck. I work hard and am proud of how much I’ve improved in the last year and a half. But that improvement hasn’t really been the cause of a lot of my success — I think it would be more accurate to say I’ve improved despite my success. Poker has seen its fair share of people who crashed and burned after good early results because they didn’t appreciate the extent to which they were running good and got complacent. I think I’ve always viewed that as a much bigger danger than underconfidence and tried to keep my head down. One of my friends called this “earning your success after the fact,” and I thought that was a great way of looking at it.”

What has helped you evolve as a player so fast? Reading poker books? Watching videos? Discussing hands with other players or …?
“I think hands down the best way to improve quickly as a player is to talk over hands with other players every chance you get. Doing it with people at your skill level or even people quite a bit worse than you can be really useful for clarifying your thought processes, but if you can find a way to talk hands with someone significantly better than you, it’s a huge boon. If I could offer people one piece of advice, it would be that if you find someone like that, treat them as though they are doing you an enormous favor, because they absolutely are. If your response to questions or criticism is to become defensive or to lobby hard for your point of view, there’s a decent chance that person isn’t going to be interested in sharing their thoughts with you in the future, and if that happens you’ve basically just sabotaged your own career.”

How has it been playing at the televised WPT final tables? Do the cameras make you nervous? Does being in the limelight add an extra pressure?
“I haven’t found playing on television to be as nerve-wracking as I would have expected, but with the Bellagio Five Diamond I did feel some level of discomfort because it was such a big stage and I knew that I was pretty much guaranteed to make mistakes on it, given how inexperienced I was with tournaments. And I did make mistakes, and it was a little embarrassing to watch them on tv later, but it wasn’t the end of the world. I think as long as I don’t make the same mistakes twice on television, it won’t ever be too difficult to view them as part of the learning process and not something to be ashamed of.”

The European Poker Tour is history now, but during its 13 seasons three women were crowned EPT champions, and Victoria Coren twice. No woman has ever won a WPT Main Event title within 15 seasons. How come?
“I don’t really think there’s anything special about WPTs relative to EPTs or other events — I think on that level, it’s probably just variance. It does seem like there’s a real trend of women underperforming men at the highest levels of poker, if only slightly relative to their representation in the overall poker population. I don’t know why that is, but I do have a theory, which is that the poker ecosystem doesn’t as efficiently select for skill in women as it does for men. What I mean by that is that whatever level of fame or income you might want, it’s easier on average for women to achieve it than it is for men. And when people feel important and popular and financially comfortable, they have less of an incentive to work. I guess what I’m saying, and I don’t think this will necessarily be the most popular opinion, is that women tend to be less competitive in poker, to put less work in, because they can afford to, and it means there aren’t a ton of them that become world-class.”

You have been very vocal about sexism in poker. You wrote an opinion piece about it, and you have constantly been raising the issue for instance by rejecting to pose with the Royal Flush Girls. Why is this issue so important to you? And how has the response been from the poker community?
“To be honest, the issue of sexism in poker isn’t that important to me, though that’s obviously drastically different from my public image. I think the way women are objectified and condescended to in poker is bad for both women and men, and I think the overall culture that treats women as a lesser, intellectually flatter species than men is extremely destructive. But there are other issues that I care more about — effective altruism in particular — and I just don’t find myself talking about them as much because people rarely want to get into Twitter fights about the merits of effective altruism. I have a really masochistic inability to let it slide when I see someone making what I think is a bad argument, and debates over sexism tend to draw out some of the stupidest, most bullyish men, and every part of me just rebels against the concept of backing down from a challenge from one of them.”

You recently got involved in a Twitter feud with Mike Dentale. He criticized a hand you played during WPT Five Diamond, and you immediately challenged him for a heads-up match. Why did you react this way?
“You know, looking back on it, I think on Twitter it might have seemed like my mental state when that went down was quite different than it actually was. I actually felt amazing after busting the Five Diamond, as weird as that sounds, because I felt proud of that hand. I made a play that I knew had a decent chance of actually being wrong and a nearly 100% chance of looking horrible, with a crowd and reporters gathered around the table and the WPT cameras rolling. I think it made me realize that I finally had enough confidence in my game to not worry about what other people thought. And that feels to me like a much bigger accomplishment than accurately identifying Barry Hutter’s five-bet jamming range versus me 70 big blinds deep. You make a mistake about particular assumptions or calculations, you can fix them pretty easily. You’re too risk-averse, too embarrassed by the concept of trial and error, and you’re kind of screwed.”

“I digress. The point is, when Mike started going off about that hand on Twitter, my mindset was basically: “This asshole isn’t even capable of understanding my thought process on this hand. I wish there were a way to show how confident I am that I’m better than him. Oh wait, there is.” I honestly didn’t think it would ever happen, because I think it was clear all along he didn’t want it to, that he was afraid of being embarrassed, but over time the level of public pressure to do it seemed to get to him and he caved.”

What is status now? Is the match going to take place? On Joe Ingram’s podcast Dentale questioned whether you would play the match at all?
“I didn’t watch Mike’s podcast with Joey because I’m sure it would only irritate me and I won’t give him the satisfaction. The reason Mike questioned whether I would show up was, I assume, that I told Matt Glantz in essence that I was beginning to fear slightly for my safety because of the match. Mike had somehow gotten personal text messages I’d sent to a friend and was posting them on Twitter; he was also having his friends take candid pictures of me walking around at MGM National Harbor and tweeting those. He was obviously trying to make me anxious, and it worked to the extent that I had a couple days where I questioned whether the match mattered to me enough to put up with several months’ worth of shit from a mentally unstable bully. Finally, I just thought, fuck it, that’s exactly why he’s doing this, I’m not willing to let him win. So I will be there at Sugarhouse on March 19. I just think it’s worth noting that when Mike was speculating I might not show up, he knew, because Glantz told him, that it was because he was harassing me to an extent that I was almost intimidated into not wanting to play. And his response to that wasn’t to ease off the throttle, it was to floor it. I think he is, on the most fundamental level, a truly disgusting human being.”

The Hall-Dentale match with $30,000 on the line will be live streamed on Twitch March 19th by Poker Night in America, and commentated by Doug Polk and Shawn Deeb. The betting platform pokershares.com has Cate Hall as a favorite to win the match.

 

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