A Woman to Know: “Poker Alice” Ivers Tubbs

I’ll take your money with no regrets. — Alice Ivers Tubbs

I’ll take your money with no regrets. — Alice Ivers Tubbs

(image via Denver Public Library)

Some time in the 1870s, Alice met her first husband Frank, a mining engineer and amateur poker player. The young couple moved to Colorado, and Alice immediately took to frontier life. Frank taught her how to play cards, and soon Alice was trading in on her talent. While her husband worked in the silver mines, she made friends in the saloons and gambling parlors.

When Frank died in a dynamite explosion, Alice had to find a way to make money. She turned her poker habit into a full-time job, clearing out visiting players and working as a dealer in local gambling houses. She eventually moved to Leadville, another booming mine town, to make a new life as a poker player.

From there, Alice moved from boom town to boom town, building her reputation as a cigar-smoking, poker-playing hustler. She met her second husband Warren in the midst of a saloon brawl, and she temporarily gave up the gambling life to move with him to a small cabin, where they raised their four children. After Warren’s death in 1910, however, she struggled to find the money for a decent burial. Eventually, she pawned her wedding ring and returned to the poker table to make ends meet.

In 1910, she opened her own place, “Poker Palace,” in the San Juan Mountains. Rumor had it she married her third husband to settle a poker debt, and other gossip (true or false, historians don’t know) had her arrested for bootlegging, manslaughter and even operating a brothel in the upstairs of her now-legendary establishment.

Even after her third husband’s death, Alice couldn’t stay away from the poker table. She played alongside Wild West legends like Jesse James and Calamity Jane, and at times her winnings came to thousands of dollars. Alice later faced a small stint in prison for her involvement in a Poker Palace murder. The governor eventually pardoned her, citing her old age, but in return he demanded she retire from the gambling life.

But Alice continued playing poker, even into her supposed “retirement.” Before she died in 1930, she claimed she won one of the biggest sums of her career: $250,000, which would’ve amounted to more than $3 million in today’s dollars.

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