Tuesday, 30th May 2023 21:06
Home / Live Poker / Poker Power invitational in Prague sends Canadian amateur poker enthusiast to PSPC

Jennifer Shahade stood beside a poker table, beaming with obvious pride, and said, “When you’re a kid, you get a lot of opportunities thrown at you, but when you’re a grown up, you get less of them. Sometimes people don’t grab the ones that are there because they’re not used to it. But all these women saw the opportunity and grabbed it. That’s a skill.”

The women in question, seven of them, from the United States, Canada, Brazil and Romania, had just sat down to play a single-table no limit Texas hold’em tournament at the European Poker Tour stop in Prague.

The winner would receive a Platinum Pass to the PSPC in the Bahamas, a ticket worth $30,000 — and a chance to win much, much more.

Not that long ago, some of the players didn’t even know the rules of poker. But they found out about a collaboration between the online card-room PokerStars and the women-led organisation, Poker Power, which offered the chance to play in this exclusive tournament.

The players submitted an application, won through the selection process, and now here they were in Prague, with the chance to win a ticket to the biggest poker event of early 2023.

“It’s very brave to come all the way to Prague to play a tournament and put yourself on the line,” Shahade said. “They’re all already winners, just for taking the opportunity.”

FROM ACROSS THE WORLD TO PRAGUE

So it was that Amanda Chang, a software engineer from Texas, Susana Baranzelli, a lawyer from Cascavel, Brazil, Roxanne Johnson, a former police liaison officer from British Columbia, Canada, Pam Ward, a public opinion researcher from Toronto, Canada, Judy Whitlow, an interior designer from Texas, Roxana-Maria Popescu, a social media manager from Slatina, Romania, and Cătălina Teodorescu, a journalist from Bucharest, Romania, had this extraordinary chance.

Poker Power, through this partnership with PokerStars, is committed to supporting women in poker, encouraging more to sit down and have fun at the tables, as well as ensuring all players have a comfortable and safe place to play.

The gender imbalance in poker has proved to be tough to overcome through the years, even as the game has boomed dramatically, and Poker Power wants to change that.

“You look around the room and there just aren’t very many women players,” Shahade said. “Part of the reason for that is that there aren’t enough opportunities for coaching and to play.”

ATTEMPTING TO FIX THE IMBALANCE

Shahade is right. The EPT Prague tournament room is full to bursting today, with the EPT Main Event kick off, the Eureka Main Event reaching its conclusion, and the €2K Eureka High Roller playing its deep stages.

Those latter two events no longer have any women players involved, and the EPT field is heavily male dominated.

But the Poker Power table, where play was intense right from the off, demonstrated that that need not always be the case.

“It’s super fun to play poker. It’s something that keeps your mind going” — Platinum Pass winner, Roxanne Johnson

The sit n go tournament came after several weeks of online tutorials, plus bootcamp training sessions both last night and this morning, transforming often total newbie players into competitors who can hold their own.

“One of the key things, especially for women but honestly for anyone, is confidence,” Shahade said. “I don’t think you want to go into a tournament and be overawed by people at your table, because poker at the end of day, in a single day, is so much luck and confidence.

“The level is really high, actually,” she continued. “I think they’re rising to the occasion. I’ve given many of them lessons, and I have to admit I wasn’t expecting the standard of play to be this strong.

“A lot of these women didn’t know the rules of poker a couple of months ago, so it’s pretty impressive.”

A TURBO FOR THE TITLE

With 15-minute levels, the prediction was for a tournament that would last about three hours, but everyone stuck around for more than 60 minutes. They went to the first break still seven handed.

But then Chang, who had been the most active player during the early stages became the first to perish, losing out to Johnson. Whitlow and Ward followed soon after, losing their short stacks to Baranzelli and Teodorescu, respectively.

Shahade, who helped in the boot-camp alongside her Team PokerStars colleague Georgina James, had prepared them for this. Shahade had told the players, “Don’t be afraid of losing. Second place in this tournament doesn’t get anything. It’s winner take all.”

There were no recriminations, with eliminated players standing beside the table to watch the opponents, who had also become friends, battle over their chips. Popescu was the next out, losing to Johnson, whose stack towered menacingly over others at the table.

All of the players stuck around the watch the conclusion

“You did the right move,” Shahade told Popescu. (She shoved a short stack with K10 and lost to Johnson’s AQ.)

Baranzelli hit the rail next, finding an especially unfortunate time to make a pre-flop stand with ten high. She ran into Teodorescu’s aces, leaving us heads up for the Platinum Pass.

Johnson had had a big lead for a long period, but Teodorescu’s elimination of Baranzelli put her in a three-to-two heads up lead. It was far from a foregone conclusion as Shahade arrived again to make a delivery of some precious metal.

“Here’s what you’re playing for,” she said, placing the Platinum Pass on the felt.

JOHNSON CLAIMS EMOTIONAL WIN

Of the two remaining, Johnson was the more experienced player, having been a regular home game player in pre-pandemic days and then focusing even more on poker as the world locked down. That’s the point at which she left her job with the Canadian Mounted Police and bought a subscription to a poker training site, playing on PokerStars.

She still describes herself as strictly a low-limit tournament player, but she was able to make short work of the heads-up battle with Teodorescu. The Romanian moved the last of her chips in with QJ and Johnson’s called with K10.

There was a king on the flop, and although Teodorescu picked up a flush draw on the turn (“It’s never easy!” said Shahade), the river was a blank.

Johnson dabbed at tears emerging in each eye, then was congratulated one-by-one by her beaten opponents. All no doubt would have fancied the trip to the Bahamas, but each seemed genuinely happy that Johnson would be carrying the torch out there.

BEYOND THE WILDEST DREAMS

“This whole things is so surreal,” Jonson said. “How did it even happen? It’s so amazing. It was totally emotional. I studied actually really hard so it’s great that what I studied kind of worked.”

Johnson realised an ambition to sit down in at a major poker event, stating that her first experience of the tournament room on her first visit set the adrenaline pumping.

“The first day when I came in here, and everybody was playing and it was so intense, it just felt so good,” she said. “The energy in the room. I was so excited.”

Shahade, pictured with Judy Whitlow, said she will coach the winner in the run-up to the PSPC

She felt a few nerves when the Poker Power tournament started, but she was able to harness her excitement into making the right plays. “It was very stressful, it was very tense, but it was fun,” she said. “I love that feeling. I have played live before, but not in this kind of setting. I like that feeling of adrenaline. I love playing poker.”

Away from the poker tables, Johnson has a passion for wine, and she spent the summer working as a sommelier. She has got another job in a Canadian ski lodge for the winter too, and has already got used to juggling poker with oenophilia.

She is currently on a six-week tour of Europe, taking in Champagne, Burgundy and some Portuguese wine regions, but ducked away to Berlin so she could play the Poker Power Bootcamp home-games at PokerStars, and then rounded off the trip with this successful visit to Prague.

“I’ll be working at the ski lodge, but I’ll be studying as much as I can,” she said of her plans for the coming months. “Jennifer said she would coach me as well, so that will be awesome.”

She said she doesn’t know what to expect when her skills will come up against some of the best in the world at the PSPC, but she is going to enjoy finding out.

“It’s a game that everybody can play,” Johnson said. “You do have to study a bit. It’s not just luck. There’s a lot of math in it and there’s a lot of other things. You do have to study.

“I don’t know how I’ll do over there because those guys will all be really good. I’ll have to spend the next two months studying like crazy. But it’s super fun to play poker. It’s something that keeps your mind going, there’s so many factors to it. It keeps you young.”

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