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As 888poker has grown through the years – and in the burgeoning US market in the past few years – the company has been selective about who is chosen to represent the brand at the tables. And since Jessica Dawley first donned the 888 patch in 2013, the partnership has been a mutually beneficial one.

Dawley has more of a unique background in the game than many players. Though she learned to play poker at a young age with family, and then with her boyfriend’s family during high school when sidelined from softball with a severe injury, she didn’t get serious about it until she joined the United States Air Force and traveled the world. During down time while deployed in places like the United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait and Pakistan, she honed her skills and became a winning player.

When the Kentucky-born and Indiana-raised Dawley returned to the States, she obtained degrees in marketing and management from a Louisville university and completed her military service as an intelligence analyst. With so many options in front of her, she did what any young woman would do – she drove to Las Vegas to become a poker pro.

Since that time, Dawley has built a substantial bankroll and relocated to Florida, where she focuses most of her attention on the higher stakes cash games at local casinos like the Seminole Hard Rock. She obtained the sponsorship with 888poker and has since appeared on televised poker shows and eventually transitioned to more tournaments.

She talked to us about that transition, her journey to and through poker, women in the game and the obstacles they face, and her advice to new players.

Poker Update:  Had you played any poker prior to your time overseas in the military?

Jessica Dawley:  Yes. My uncle taught me at an early age what poker was and how to play. Growing up, I played all different variations of poker. When I reached high school, I played with friends for money… I was the only girl they allowed in their home game!

Poker Update:  What games did you play there, and what were the stakes?

Jessica:  We play mostly No Limit Hold’em, as no one else knew how to play the other games. At the time, the stakes were huge to me at $.25/.50, but now it seems funny to think of them as high stakes.

Poker Update:  How did those games turn into a desire to become a pro poker player?

Jessica:  It wasn’t until I was able to play poker in the casino did I realize I was better than most of my competition. I made enough money to supplement my income from the military… but I still had a few years left on my enlistment so Vegas would have to wait.

Poker Update:  You’ve been outspoken about hoping more women will get into poker. How were you treated at the tables in Vegas when you first started playing, and how has that changed over the years?

Jessica:  Ha, I’ve never been one to bite my tongue… especially when it involves a topic I’m adamant about.  Vegas regulars were very receptive to me. Of course, there were your weekend drunken tourists who would make snide remarks about women playing poker. I just brushed them off and took their money. Easy enough. If you let the bully see you flinch or get flustered, they win, so they would never see me break. I would only gain strength from their attempts to dissuade me from playing. Now, most poker players know me and wouldn’t dare say anything inappropriate… unless they’re joking around, of course.

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Poker Update:  What do you think is the key to bringing more women to the tables?                   

Jessica:  Casinos/poker rooms need to provide a more inviting and receptive environment for women so we feel welcomed instead of ostracized.  Poker room staff needs to issue warnings and actually follow through with penalties when players make others feel uncomfortable.

Poker Update:  Where were you in your poker career when 888poker approached you about a sponsorship?

Jessica:  Well, I actually approached them in 2013. It was for a WPT charity televised event, and I thought we could come to a mutually beneficial agreement for the show, which we did. The relationship blossomed from there and has been more than I could’ve imagined. I had been playing cash full time for five years with a few tournaments here and there.

Poker Update:  Has the sponsorship in any way changed how you play or what you play?

Jessica:  For the most part, it hasn’t changed how I play; however, it has changed what I play.  I’ve dedicated more time over the last year to playing tournaments. When you have a sponsorship

deal, it’s better for the company if you play tournaments because it gives them more of a spotlight, and I’m happy to be in the spotlight!

Poker Update:  While at the WSOP this summer, how do you decide whether to play tournaments or get into some of the juicy cash games around town?

Jessica:  That’s a very tough decision, however this year I’ve dedicated the summer to playing tournaments. That being said, I’ve already played a few cash games!

Poker Update:  Do you set specific goals for yourself for the WSOP or for the year?

Jessica:  Not specific goals, just broad-based ones. Mainly to eat healthy, keep partying to a minimum and get lots of rest.

Poker Update:  In your many years in the game, what is the most valuable lesson that you like to pass on to new players?

Jessica:  Bankroll management, bankroll management, bankroll management! It can’t be stressed enough. I’ve seen some of the best players go broke by blowing their roll in the pits or on extravagant purchases.

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Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.