Linda Johnson: First Lady of Poker
By Jan Fisher
When asked by Poker Pages to do an interview with Linda Johnson, I thought, "what can she tell us that we all don't already know?" Then, I realized that not everyone is as fortunate as I to know Linda personally. She is both my business partner and best friend. She is an incredible woman whose love for the poker industry and her continued commitment to its positive future may be unequalled by anyone else in the industry. She is a tireless crusader for much of what is good in poker such as zero tolerance for abuse. Having retired from her seven-year role as publisher of Card Player last August, she had planned to kick back and take life a little easier. This was not to be the case. Since her "retirement" she has been busier than ever. Traveling from cardroom to cardroom to host an event here or give a speech there, there has not been a dull moment in her life.
Currently, Linda has some exciting new projects in the works that will be announced to the public soon. She is also busy, along with her partners, planning the sixth annual WPIC (World Poker Industry Conference), as well as the inaugural WPPC (World Poker Player's Conference), and the five 2001 Card Player Cruises poker vacations. To get her to sit still long enough for an interview took an airplane flight with the seatbelt sign on! From her humble beginning working for the United States Postal Service (in my opinion she would now be Postmaster General had she not quit some 20 years ago), to her current status as First Lady of Poker, here is what Linda had to tell us about life since her daily duties at Card Player have ceased.
Jan Fisher: When you retired from the daily operational duties of Card Player, Nolan Dalla wrote a two-part article about your background, so I will begin from there. Can you start off by telling us some of the things that you have been involved in since that time?
Linda Johnson: Probably the most exciting event was my retirement roast held at the Bicycle Casino. They pulled out all the stops to host a first-class evening. I was honored by the number of players and industry personnel who attended.
I really intended to cut back on my travel after retiring as publisher. It hasn't worked out that way, since I have only been home a total of 29 days since August. Traveling is in my blood; it was one of the things I liked best about my job and I still enjoy it. In the last six months, I have been poker room manager on three poker cruises, have gone to Costa Rica twice to host poker tournaments, attended MARGE in Biloxi, Mississippi, spoke at the Chicago Humanities Festival, participated in a wedding in the San Francisco area, played in the Peppermill Fall Poker Tournament, attended the California Ladies State Poker Championship at Ocean's Eleven, played in the Reno Hilton Pot of Gold Tournament, taken several pleasure cruises, and helped host the World Poker Challenge at the Reno Hilton.
JF: You stated in Nolan's article that you were looking forward to playing poker again. Have you found the time for that?
LJ: I started playing again on a regular basis about six weeks ago. After all of these years, I still look forward to going out to play!
JF: What is your favorite poker game?
LJ: I enjoy all forms of poker, but Omaha/8 and Chinese Poker are my two favorite games.
JF: What limit do you prefer and how has that changed over the years?
LJ: I currently enjoy playing at the $50-$100 up to $100-$200 limit. When I first started playing poker, I played $2-$4 and $3-$6. It took me several years to move up from that level. I then played in the $10-$20 to $20-$40 range for even longer. I started playing high limit about four years ago. My advice to someone who is thinking about moving up in limit is to make sure that you are consistently beating the current limit before you play higher.
JF: What attracted you to the poker world?
LJ: I found poker to be very challenging and mentally stimulating. I enjoy using my mind and became very interested in learning about the game and mastering it as best I could. I also enjoyed the camaraderie and friends that I met at the table. It is a very social game.
JF: You have actively tried to put an end to abuse at the table. Tell us more about that.
LJ: Yes, my pet peeve in a game is someone who is a bully, either with the dealer or with other players. I believe that it is ego that makes someone harass others. I want to enjoy myself while playing poker, and I cannot do that if someone is giving someone else a hard time. It has gotten to the point that I don't overlook it; I will speak up and ask the abuser to stop. I believe that it is our right as players to have a nice environment. I have been the cardroom manager on more than 30 cruises, and have employed a zero-tolerance abuse policy on every cruise. Every memo that I send out before the trip has printed in big letters: BECAUSE WE WANT EVERYONE TO ENJOY THE CRUISE, WE WILL NOT TOLERATE ANY ABUSE IN THE POKER ROOM. I make that same announcement at the welcome-aboard party. The players respect that and live up to the rules that they know will be enforced. Managers and players should not tolerate abuse in their games. I should add here that things have changed for the better in the past years. Most players do act properly, and good behavior is contagious.
JF: What was the highlight of your poker career?
LJ: Certainly it was winning a gold bracelet at the 1997 World Series of Poker. In fact, I still get emotional every time I think of it.
JF: Your beliefs about women's tournaments have been misunderstood at times. Would you like to state your viewpoint again on this issue?
LJ: Yes, I have been misquoted in the past and would like to reiterate my position. I believe that the low-limit tournaments such as the quarterly "Queens" events held at the Bicycle Casino and the fabulous ladies weekends such as those held at Commerce Casino and Oceans Eleven are wonderful because they actually do introduce women to poker in a manner that is not intimidating. I want women to come into the poker world and it is my pleasure to be a host and speaker at these types of events. In other words, I support the events that truly attract new female players. They are a lot of fun and a great opportunity to mentor novice players.
JF: Speaking of that, do you enjoy teaching poker?
LJ: I really do. I have taught hundreds of people to play poker on the Card Player cruises. The beginner's actually have the most fun. I would like to see more educational opportunities available to players. It is good for the industry also; the better someone plays, the longer that player will be able to play. That is one reason for the World Poker Player's Conference that will be held on July 6 at the Orleans. There will be five seminars presented by great players including Mike Caro, Mike Sexton, Phil Helmuth, Chris Ferguson, Russ Hamilton, and many, many more. We are in the final planning stages and full details will be available soon.
JF: I know you well enough to know that you always have something up your sleeve and currently are planning something big. Are you ready to tell the readers about this new project?
LJ: Although I don't like being secretive, it is a little premature to disclose the details of my next project. An opportunity presented itself recently and I have decided to peruse it. Final arrangements have yet to be made, but I will say that the prospects are exciting and I believe that it will be good for poker. Within a few weeks a press release will be issued.
JF: Stay tuned folks; I may have another article from Linda very soon. Do you have any closing comments for the readers of this forum?
LJ: I encourage everyone to go out and try to improve their poker skills. There are so many means available to do so. Read books, study tapes, get a mentor, and ask questions. You will be amazed at how much you can learn if you put your mind to it. But the bottom line is to have fun!
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