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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Where Are They Now – Linda Johnson

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Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.

Amazing as it is, I have successfully written nearly 70 profiles on poker players in PokerWorks’ “Where Are They Now” series and have yet to write about a person that has maybe done more for poker than anyone else we’ve chronicled.  Linda Johnson has had plenty of success at the poker table, holding her own against the boys for over 30 years, but away from the table she has helped make those playing the game have as enjoyable experience as possible.  From bracelets, to magazines, to multiple associations and foundations, “The First Lady of Poker” truly has done it all.  So it makes me slightly less embarrassed to have waited this long to write about Johnson, being she was probably too busy to notice!

Linda Johnson was born in Long Island, New York on October 14, 1943.  Because her father was a career serviceman, the family moved often.  Johnson was introduced to poker by her father, who had supplemented his income with the game while he was in the service.  Johnson liked poker, but she was more interested in Blackjack, at least as a young adult.  When time allowed from college, and later her job for the US Postal Service, Johnson would travel to Vegas and play Blackjack.  When her father heard of this he pulled his daughter aside.  He didn’t pull her aside to tell her gambling was bad, in fact, he had a suggestion.  He told her she should play poker because it’s the one game you aren’t playing against the house, and if you have a level of skill, you can win consistently.  Johnson took this advice to heart, and changed her focus to the poker room.

It seems almost like a rite of passage to go broke at the poker table before things eventually “click” and you start winning.  Almost every poker player in this series found him or herself broke at one time, but you won’t find that in Johnson’s story.  Johnson decided to bypass the going broke option, and started winning as soon as she moved her focus to the poker table.  Against her co-workers at the post office she would beat the home game so often they eventually stopped wanting to play with her.  Johnson also succeeded at her job at the post office, moving her way up the ranks, becoming a supervisor in just a few short months.  However, before Johnson even knew the level of competition that would face her in Vegas, she made it her goal to make enough money from poker to be able to quit her job, and she wanted to do it in short order.

Johnson had the odds stacked against her.  For starters, she was a young woman trying to make a living playing poker in Las Vegas.  As hard as that sounds now, it was even harder in the early 70’s, when the poker rooms in Vegas resembled a “boys only” club, and women were expected to deal the cards and get drinks.  In her very first tournament, a $44 dollar daily, she was the only woman in the field, and as told by some of the regulars of the tournament, probably the only woman who had ever participated in that particular tournament.  At the start of the tournament Johnson was treated as a commodity from the guys, but when she was among the chip leaders at the final table the men teamed up on her, telling each other openly there is no way they could let a “woman” win.  That’s just a small example of what wanting to be a professional woman poker player had to put up with back then.

Between cash games, and some success at smaller buy-in tournaments, Johnson was able to quit her job in short order.  By 25 years old, just four years after really beginning to learn the game, she was one of the regulars at the $10-20 limit game, which today doesn’t sound like much, but in the 70’s that was one of the bigger games in Vegas. Johnson continued succeeding in poker through the 80’s and early 90’s, but in those early 90’s Johnson felt that there was so much more she could be doing for poker, and felt that she had what it took to be an ambassador for the game.

In 1993 she began publishing CardPlayer Magazine and held that role for the next eight years.  During her stay, Johnson made it her goal to show the positive in poker.  Even in the early 90’s poker was seen as a degenerate game, where you couldn’t possibly have both a respectful life and a career at the poker table.  Johnson also would work directly with casinos on telling them how to make their poker room better instead of writing negative things about them in the magazine.  This earned Johnson a lot of respect within the poker community, and anyone could see that she had nothing by positive ideas on how to make the game of poker better as a whole.

Despite being busy at the magazine, Johnson continued playing poker whenever possible, and on a high level.  She walked into poker immortality in 1997 when she won a World Series of Poker tournament in her favorite game, Razz.  She won $96,000, which at the time was among one of the top tournament cashes by a woman of all-time.  Johnson has finished in the money of five WSOP events, including a final table in the 2004 $1500 Stud Card Stud Hi-Lo Event finishing 7th and earning $11,460.

In 2000 Johnson began to miss the grind of being a professional poker player, and decided to end her publishing duties at CardPlayer to go back to the circuit.  However, before she could even get back to being a pro, she was contacted by a new tournament circuit called the World Poker Tour.  She accepted the job offer of studio announcer, and of course that’s how most of today’s poker world got to know of her.  The “Poker Boom” made televised poker wildly possible, in turn making Johnson one of the most recognizable poker figures in the world today.

Johnson has used her new found fame for nothing but good.  In 2001 she co-founded the Tournament Directors Association along with Matt Savage , David Lamb, and Jan Fisher.  The goal of the TDA originally was to set rules to be used at all poker tournaments around the world.  This would give players and tournament organizers the ability to know what to expect for every tournament, as before these rules were set in place tournaments were sometimes clumsily ran, leaving players upset and unwilling to participate in other tournaments run by that said casino.  The TDA also is now trying to set an established set of rules pertaining to proper etiquette for players to abide by, including giving some sort of penalties for the berating of dealers.

Johnson and some friends also organize CardPlayer Poker Cruises where Johnson mingles with all the cruise goers and also plays in some of the tournaments.  She has helped run these cruises for the last few years.

If you think her schedule is very busy, you are right, but it hasn’t stopped her from starting even more charities.  This year Johnson helped find the nonprofit organization, Pokergives.org, which has made it easy for poker players to donate to their favorite charities.

The poker world took notice of Johnson’s contributions to the game when they awarded her the Brian Saltus award in 2006.  The Brian Saltus Award is given annually to a member of the poker community who brings class and dignity to the game.  And Linda was inducted into the Women in Poker Hall of Fame in 2008 which speaks highly of her contributions in all aspects of poker.

It’s easy to sometimes take for granted that we live in arguably the best ever era of poker.  While Johnson wouldn’t want all the attention, it’s easy to say that she is one of the main reasons the game is as playable (for everyone) and enjoyable as it is today. 

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