Jessica Dawley is an amazing young woman.
She is beautiful, brazen, and when you start to learn more about her life – brave. She is on a journey of self-discovery, fun and intention. From a sleepy little town in Indiana, to the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, to the bright lights of Las Vegas, and now the card rooms of Florida – Dawley is on a mission to ensure she leaves nothing behind when the time comes to leave this mortal world of ours.
I was fortunate enough to catch up with her during a break in The Monster Stack, and this is what she had to say.
Are you a fan of events like The Monster Stack?
“Yeah, as a cash game player having more chips at the beginning is good for me. I’m not used to playing a 40bb stack, but I am used to playing 100bb+ stacks. The downside is it kind of prolongs things. It means the bad players don’t bust as quickly, so you end up playing more hours, and investing more time. But it certainly gives the professional player an advantage.
“I don’t think the recreational players know they have so many big blinds. I am watching people going all-in thinking what are you doing? You can fold and still have plenty of chips. It’s similar to deep-stacked tournaments in other casinos. The premise sounds great. You get a lot of chips at the beginning, but that doesn’t really matter. As the blind levels increase everything will equal out.”
Tell me about your time in the military
“I was going to go to college and get a scholarship in soft ball. But a shoulder injury ended that idea. My family didn’t have a lot of money, so the next best option for getting into college, without having to pay, was to join the military. My brother had been enlisted for 10-years, and it made his life a lot better. We are from a small town in Southern Indiana and there is not a lot of opportunity. We don’t even have a stoplight. Everyone is really friendly and nice, but they don’t leave the town.
“I joined the Air Force when I was 18. I joined the Kentucky International Guard, and at the time my commander said I had nothing to worry about because we hadn’t been called up since the Korean War. So I was confident. I enlisted in April 2001 and then September 11th happened and everything changed.
“I served time in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we were stationed in the UAE. I did that for six years, and because I was in the guard, once I came back home, I had a lot of down time. I went to college at the University of Louisville and played a lot of poker with the guys there. Then, when I was 21 I was able to go to The Riverboat and play. Even in the military I would play a lot of poker. I was the only woman in the game.
“In 2008, once I was finished with college, and my military commitment was up, I moved to Las Vegas to play poker full time. It was always a dream of mine. Fortunately my parents have always been very supportive. They had kids at a young age and didn’t get to do what they wanted to do. They always inspired me to take a different path.”
Do you remember what you were doing on September 11th?
“I was in Intel school. I was an intelligence analysis when I was in the Air Force. I was in a vault, online, at the time. We do a lot of scenario work and I was on the computer when it came across my screen. I thought it was a scenario, but when the base shut down, I knew it was real. I was able to speak to my brother and he said he was being called up. It was surreal. I was scared. I was only 18 at the time. I was deployed when I was 20. I didn’t think that was going to happen in my lifetime.”
How do you handle the emotion involved in something like that?
“I think it takes a certain personality type. My brother is the eldest, I am the youngest and there are two in the middle. My brother left about two months ahead of me, and I ended up going at the end of May 2003. My Mum was ok with my brother going, he had been before and it was nothing knew to her, but when I went my mother wouldn’t even take me to the airport. She was devastated. Fortunately, our tents were right next door to each other. It made it easier for us. Obviously the threat level is a lot higher when there are two of you over there. Having a family member with me made it easier for me to cope. Being 20 made it easier as well. I didn’t understand danger like I do today. I have built up more connections and life experiences. It would be more devastating if something were to happen today.”
How tough is the training?
“The Air Force is known as the brains and not the brawn. If someone paid me a million dollars to go through Boot Camp today I wouldn’t do it. I was the youngest female. When you are 18 you are used to taking instructions from people. I felt sorry for the older women. When you are 25 years old it’s tough to have someone screaming in your face and telling you what to do.
“My brother slow-rolled me. He told me that when you get there they slowly build you up with some 15-minute runs. I got there and it was 45-min runs straight away. He did help me out, however, by advising me not to tell them that I was a good runner otherwise I would end up in the tough group.
“The physical aspect of it is six weeks of regular boot camp…marching and physical education work. You wake up at 4.30am each morning. There is a week called Warrior Week and it’s horrible. You are outside doing wartime scenarios. That was not my favorite. It was pretty miserable for me.
“People give you a hard time about the Air Force not being physical, but it’s all relative. I know people in the Marines who were used to going hunting with their Dad’s and fighting with other guys. That wasn’t me. The Air Force is more of a mental game. That’s how they break you.”
Why did you leave?
“After six years my enlistment was up and I got out with honorable discharge, so I can always go back. I wanted to live my own life. When you are in the military they own your life. It isn’t like corporate America. You don’t get ‘x’ amounts of days off a year. I dedicated six years to my country and I felt that was enough.”
“Poker was important to me. I wanted to travel the world and play. You only get one chance in life. The only downside is children. The older I get the more it causes me more concern, but there are plenty of ways to have children these days.”
How did you get your 888 deal?
“In 2003 I was asked my Adam Pliska to play in a Ladies Night Charity event. It was all about timing. He said he was going to be in the Hard Rock in Hollywood, and the next day I was flying out to LA to play in this event. I had no patch or advertising deal. He suggested that we meet, and so I drove down to have dinner with him. We visited the set, and the Director of 888 had missed his flight to London and was watching the action.
“Adam introduced us and told him about the show. I just went for it and asked for him to patch me up. He agreed to do a deal for the show. Three weeks later I got an e-mail from 888 saying that they would like to extend a small sponsorship deal from 2013 through 2014. Then after that ended I thought that was it, but they wanted to keep me on. It was just that one night. If I had said no to dinner I wouldn’t have got the gig.”
Would that little girl from Indiana have told the Director to patch you up?
“No, I got so much experience in the military. Traveling also helps. You learn so much about the people around you. People can be so small-minded. You can’t live in fear. I served in Iraq and Afghanistan, came home unscathed and then was involved in a terrible car accident. You don’t know what will happen in life. There is so much life out there, and people aren’t experiencing any of it due to fear. Do not live in fear.”