At two all-women’s poker clubs here in Raleigh, players compete for a cause.
THERE ARE A COUPLE of requirements for joining Raleigh’s quarterly Friday night poker group, the Queen’s Club. First, it’s ladies only. Second, ithelps if you’re a prominent community leader, nonprofit president or a high-level business executive. Third, you’ve got to possess a sense of magnanimity—all your winnings will be donated to charity—as well as a sense of humor; serious poker getups, especially mirrored sunglasses, are encouraged.
Possessing a working knowledge of the club’s game of choice, Texas Hold ‘Em, however, is notably absent from this list of requirements. “We set up this whole club and neither of us know anything about Texas Hold ‘Em, which is pretty typical of us,” says Natalie Perkins, Raleigh branding agency Clean’s CEO, of starting the Queen’s Club with her friend and the club’s founder, Virginia Parker. “So we get into playing Texas Hold ‘Em, and set up a whole club for it, without knowing what we we’re doing. That’s pretty standard.” Parker, the Triangle market manager for Bank of America, heard about the Poker Face Girls Club, another all-women’s poker group based in Raleigh, through a friend last year. “Women love to get together and spend time with one another, what better way than through poker,” she thought. So she approached that club’s founder, attorney Anne Underwood, and discovered the original club had been set up as a nonprofit in 2014. Poker Face Girls Club, it turns out, had origins similar to the Queen’s. “I formed the general structure, applied for tax exemption and then invited three great friends to work with me and to learn to play Texas Hold ‘Em,” Underwood said in an email to Raleigh Magazine. She quickly grew her club to 34 members, who all pay for membership and a yearly operating fee, which is ultimately donated, in portions, to each winner’s choice of charity or nonprofit. The Poker Face Girls Club has contributed more than $19,000 to 19 groups in the past four years. “Our motto is have fun and give back, and we certainly do both,” Underwood says.
The Queen’s Club established itself a sister group under the Poker Face Girls Club’s nonprofit umbrella, but it operates completely separately. The club held a trial run last June, recruited a total of 27 members, and has had four poker nights so far. Chris Bell, the east Triangle’s regional manager for Sun Trust Bank, became the club’s head dealer. Enticed by the networking opportunities with some of the Triangle’s most high-powered women, other male executives—provided they knew the rules of the game, and committed to wearing tuxes—came onboard as dealers too.
“Chris runs the whole show and makes sure everybody knows how to play, and gives a little instruction beforehand,” Perkins explains of the gatherings, which take place at Clean’s office on Six Forks Road. “We’ve got great dealers who will stick with us and coach us a little bit. You’ve got these super Type A women who get downright competitive, but it’s funny, the past three times we’ve done it, a newbie who has never played has either won or come in second.”
Queen’s members choose poker names – Perkins is Holden Aces, while Parker is Poker Face Parker—and ante up $100 at the beginning of each evening to buy chips with. Each player writes their choice of charity on a whiteboard and, after an hour or so of socializing, they break up into smaller groups and play hands at each of four or so tables, until the player with the most chips wins. At the end of the night, they write a big check to the winner’s charity of choice.
So far, the Queens have contributed more than $8,000 to various charitable groups, including the Make A Wish Foundation of Eastern North Carolina and Triangle Reading and Radio Service. Perkins, who receives treatment for a rare form of lung cancer, recalls the second poker night in November when the players all secretly changed their charity of choice to the North Carolina Lung Cancer Initiative in her honor. Then, they conspired to make her the evening’s winner, though she insists she would have won fair and square. “All of a sudden I turn around and there’s a line of people at the white board,” Perkins says. “No matter who won, the money was going to my favorite charity. Then, toward the end of the night, all these chips started piling onto my pile, which…I was going to win anyway! I had a great hand!”
The Queen’s Club hopes to grow its membership to 30-plus this year, to maximize the amount of money they’re able to raise and contribute. “I don’t think it’s going to be really hard, to be honest, since you don’t even have to know how to play poker,” Parker says of growing the club. “I just love being able to say, ‘you know, I’m not free this Friday, it’s poker night!’” Underwood, the founder of the original Poker Face Girls Club, says she’s not aware of any other charitable poker clubs or nonprofits in cities other than Raleigh. But it’s not hard to see the idea catching on, with more clubs starting here in the Triangle and beyond.
“The best thing is, we’re playing for charity,” Parker says. “It’s for the friendship of it all, for the social side of it. You’re okay with whoever wins because all the money is going to a good cause. It’s just a couple of hours sitting around with your friends playing poker.”