Cardschat Exclusive Interview with Linda Johnson
A CardsChat Interview with Linda Johnson by Jennifer Newell
Iíve known Linda Johnson for several years in little more than a professional sense. Greeting each other with hugs instead of handshakes indicates a type of friendliness not uncommon in the poker industry. If we lived in the same city, weíd probably go to Zumba classes together, but as it is, much of our relationship has been in passing in tournament areas or online.
That said, I must admit that Iím a fan. Sheís Linda Johnson, you know. She was one of the few who braved the male poker rooms to pave the way for women in the decades to follow, and she sets a high standard for poker conduct and respect for the game that is often unmatched in the industry. Her generosity also puts her in the highest regard among her colleagues, as it pertains to the game as well as any charity event in which she can participate to make a difference in the world. As I said, Iím a fan.
Linda graciously sat down with me prior to her weekly poker discussion, which is open to poker friends in Las Vegas every week, to answer some of your questions and a few of my own.
Jen: Since you used to work for the U.S. Postal Service, who was the first Postmaster General of the United States?
Linda: NFC. No ****ing clue!
Jen: Itís actually Ben Franklin.
Linda: Really? Now that you say it, I shouldíve known that one. Shame on me! (laughs)
Jen: Did playing poker professionally evolve naturally or was there a specific point at which you made the decision?
Linda: It was not natural. I never played a hand of poker until I was 21, and then I started playing blackjack
. My father, who played poker to supplement his military income, told me that if I was going to gamble, I should start playing poker. This was in the Ď70s. So I went and bought a book to learn how to play. Once I read the first book, I was hooked, and I really had a talent for it. I always say that everybodyís good at something. Iím not creative, Iím not artistic, but from day one, poker for me was like something Iíd been playing my whole life. I loved it and still love it.
Jen: So then it evolved into a career?
Linda: Yes. There werenít a lot of books back then, but I got hands-on experience. I lived in Southern California
, and I first started playing with the guys at work. But then I started going to the local card rooms and then started trips to Vegas. I moved here in 1980 to play for a living. It went pretty quickly once it all started.
Jen: Your dad was a big part of your poker discovery. Is he still alive?
Linda: No, unfortunately. I wish he had lived long enough to see me become extremely successful. He died in 1988. I was playing for a living before he died, but I was playing low limit, so I put in a lot of hours. I was certainly playing my rent and not having any problems, but I wasnít extremely successful until after he died. He wouldíve been very proud.
Jen: Youíve been a role model as far as business entrepreneurship [Card Player Magazine, World Poker Tour, PartyPoker
, Card Player Cruises] and balancing that with poker. Is it as easy as you make it look?
Linda: I think itís easy for me because I love everything I do. Itís not like work. When I was at Card Player, it was 15 hours a day of the magazine. When I left that and got involved with WPT, it involved a lot of travel. I think Iíve gotten pretty lucky to be in the right spot at the right time with different ventures, like PartyPoker, for example. But itís been relatively easy because things have just gone right for me. Iíve been lucky to have the Midas touch. The things Iíve gotten into have been successful, and Iíve enjoyed doing them. I love teaching in the boot camps, I love hosting tournaments, and I love doing charity events, so it doesnít seem like work.
Jen: Speaking of charity, how did that become such an important part of your life? Did something specific happen or was it something you were always interested in?
Linda: Iíve always wanted to be interested in charity. In the beginning, you have to make sure that you take care of yourself and your family, and then you can expand to your friends, and then you can expand to other people. I think that people who have success in life - material success - and do not help other people are hard to understand. Itís a gift that you give to yourself when you help somebody else. I love going and feeding the kids at Casa de Luz. On Sunday, we took hamburgers down there for 50 kids and did a magic show for them. Thatís the kind of thing that makes me happy, so I donít understand people who donít want to share what they have once they have enough.
Jen: Did you do the magic? Is this a little-known talent of yours?
Linda: No, I hired a magician. (laughs)
Jen: Is it tough to be the First Lady of Poker and have this image associated with ambassadorship when the game can kick you in the ass? Are there times that you want to express yourself in anger or frustration but canít because of your image?
Linda: Yes because Iím really a wild party girl, but I canít let that be known. And I do say the word ď****Ē a lot. (laughs) No, I think thereís a time and a place for everything, and I do think itís important to uphold a very positive image, but I also believe in what Iím saying. I wouldnít sit here and lie to you. I wouldnít say something is great about poker if it isnít. If you respect poker like I do, then itís not difficult to keep a positive attitude and image about it.
Jen: Given your past work with the PPA [Poker Playerís Alliance], do you have any particular insight or opinion as to the future of online poker in the United States?
Linda: My personal opinion is that 2013 will be our year. Some people are saying that it might even be this year, but I donít think so. I do think that 2013 will see a lot of progress, and weíll see the legalization of online poker. The online sites will come back.
Jen: Well, thatís already happening in your state of Nevada.
Linda: Yes, we had two licenses approved already. Nevada is ahead of all the other states because weíve already got our regulations approved and ready to go. I think we might see something in Nevada before the end of the year, but probably not on the federal level.
Jen: Will you play online poker in Nevada?
Linda: I will play! I love online poker. Itís disgusting that we donít have the same freedoms that people in other countries have. Itís embarrassing as an American. My Canadian friends joke that I live in the land of the free, yet they can play online poker and I canít. Iím excited to see it come to Nevada.
Jen: Whoís your favorite tournament player?
Linda: Mike Sexton. Heís amazing. Heís the greatest guy. Calling him an ambassador is an understatement. I had the opportunity to travel with him for six years on the World Poker Tour, and heís as gracious and humble and generous and great a guy as youíd ever want to meet. I could never say enough good about him.
Jen: Most feared tournament player?
Jen: Your own favorite poker moment involving you?
Linda: It would have to be winning my [WSOP] bracelet. Iíve had so many favorite moments, like the induction into the Women in Poker Hall of Fame, but winning the bracelet had to be the moment. I still get choked up when I talk about it (chokes up), so that is it. What could be more exciting than that? Speaking on the steps of the Capitol for the PPA was a big moment for me, too.
Jen: With your bracelet being so important, where do you keep it?
Linda: I wear it every day. (points to her wrist) Itís the only jewelry I wear most of the time.
Jen: Favorite poker moment as a spectator of the game?
Linda: When JC Tran won his WPT event, that was really special. I donít know why, but we connected, and I felt the beats when he had them and loved it when he won it.
Jen: Okay, thatís it.
Linda: That was easy!