Linda Johnson leads the kind of life that many of us involved in the poker world can only dream of.
Not only is she the proud owner of a World Series of Poker bracelet ($1,500 Seven-Card Razz in 1997), she is also a member of both the Poker Hall of Fame (2011) and the Women in Poker Hall of Fame (2008). She has had 13 cashes in the WSOP, beginning with her first outing there in 1982 where she finished fourth in the Ladies 7-Card Stud tournament, and again as recently as this year when she placed ninth in the $1,500 7-Card Stud Eight or Better event.
Due to her long involvement with and contributions to the game, Mike Sexton dubbed her the First Lady of Poker, and she is instantly recognizable by that title since she epitomizes the class and dedication to the game that it implies.
Most poker players would have been happy with these successes and not feel it necessary to try to capitalize on them in the business world. But apparently most people don't have the determination and work ethic of Linda Johnson. I was intrigued with finding out what drives someone like Linda to such great success, and that was the first question I posed to her in the interview below. She summed up some of the secrets of her success in her answer, along with so much more.
PokerStars Women (PSW): You have had so much success in everything you've done in your life, it seems - as a poker player, a publisher and writer, a business professional through Card Player Magazine and Card Player Cruises, and of course being a WSOP bracelet holder and one of only two women inaugurated into the Poker Hall of Fame. And now you're using all of that to help others with Poker Gives (PokerGives.org) and other endeavors. As a mentor to so many women in the world of poker and elsewhere, can you give us some insight as to how you've managed to be so successful in all those fields?
Linda Johnson (Linda): Many factors have gone into my success in life and in the poker world. I have some business/life philosophies that have guided my career: 1) Work hard and play hard. 2) Respect everyone until they prove unworthy of respect. 3) Provide good customer service . . . treat others the way you want to be treated. 4) Surround yourself with quality people and take care of them.
I think good timing and good luck have played a big part in my success, as well as the willingness to take some risks. Many people work as hard or harder than I do, but they haven't gotten the lucky breaks I got. For example, my friends and I bought Card Player Magazine at the right time; poker was just beginning to open up in many states, which meant more advertising opportunities. I got involved with the World Poker Tour at the right time.
PSW: Given all your success, can you share with us something that you feel you haven't been successful at (just to make the rest of us feel better)?
Linda: I haven't been successful in the fight to get online poker legalized in our country (United States), and failing to do so is very frustrating. I was the original chairperson for the Poker Players Alliance and am currently on its Board of Directors. It galls me that we live in the "Land of the Free" and we don't have the same freedom when it comes to playing poker online that most citizens of other countries have. When will our legislators wake up?
PSW: You've talked in other interviews about how challenging it was for women in card rooms back in the 1970s when you started out. Can you tell us about the first WSOP you attended in 1980 and whether it had changed much by then?
Linda: There weren't a lot of female pros back in 1980. There was a lot of abuse in the poker room. Smoking was common. Many men resented women invading "their territory." Things didn't really change until the mid '90s when the penalty system for bad behavior in tournaments began.
PSW: It must have been very hard to be the first woman to enter some of those tournaments and to always be the only woman at the table. Did you have encouragement from your parents or others who helped you keep going, or were you just that determined?
Linda: I did have family and friends who encouraged me and told me to ignore the rude players. I loved poker so much that I wasn't going to let anything deter me from playing. The few women who did play were friends and gave each other moral support. I think I had it better than a lot of women because I was a winning player, and most of the men respected that.
PSW: When did you become interested in playing poker and how? For instance, was it part of your life growing up, or did you learn by playing with friends?
Linda: Unlike most people, I never played a hand of poker until I turned 21. At that time, my father introduced me to the game and told me that if I wanted to gamble, I should learn to play poker. I bought a poker book (there were only two or three books available at the time) and taught myself how to play. I started playing with the guys at work, but they didn't want me to play once I started winning. I lived in Southern California at the time, so I started playing in Gardena after work and driving to Las Vegas on my days off. I fell in love with poker and still have a passion for the game
PSW: What has contributed the most to your success in poker, specifically? Natural ability, research and study, or mentoring from other players?
Linda: All of the above. Success in poker came very easily for me. I think everyone is good at something, and for me, my strength is in poker. I take it seriously and am constantly trying to improve my game. I buy every poker book, read every magazine, participate in poker forums, attend seminars, and play as often as I can. I have mentors and people with whom I talk poker. I belong to several poker discussion groups. In order to be good at poker, you need to continually work at the game.
PSW: Many players that I've interviewed have told me they were always competitive and enjoyed competing against men. Would you say that was true of you?
Linda: I love to compete, and I love to win. I don't really pay much attention to my opponents' gender; I enjoy open events and ladies events. Whoever said the next best thing to playing and winning is playing and losing was correct.
PSW: Can you tell us a little about your family background? Did your parents set high goals for you growing up? Did you have siblings?
Linda: I always say that I was lucky at birth to be born to such great parents. My dad worked hard at his career in the military, so my mom was my role model. She was always there for me and taught me that I could do anything I set my mind to do. Both parents expected me to do well in school and in my extracurricular activities. They taught me a strong work ethic and how to be responsible financially. I have a brother and a sister, and we are a close-knit family. My brother is an amazing athlete and is in two Halls of Fame. My sister is one of the strongest, smartest women I know.
PSW: I know that you have traveled extensively with Card Player Cruises, and travel is part of the allure for many poker players. What has been your favorite cruise destination and why?
Linda: I love all the destinations for different reasons - the Caribbean for the water sports and beaches, Mexico for the partying, and Alaska for the spectacular scenery. We do one exotic cruise every year; my favorite was probably our trip to Dubai, India, and Oman last year because I really enjoyed seeing how the citizens lived and learning about their cultures.
PSW: What is the best thing about the life you've carved out for yourself, and is it the kind of life you imagined for yourself growing up?
Linda: As a child, I never imagined I would get involved in the poker world. I always thought I would be a teacher, but I have absolutely no regrets about my career choice. Poker has given me financial freedom, allowed me to be my own boss, and to choose my work hours. I've been able to travel all over the world to play poker, and I've made many, many friends in the industry. I get a lot of satisfaction out of giving back through teaching poker, hosting charity events, and through a charity I co-founded called Poker Gives. I'm proud to be a poker player!
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