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The First Woman of Poker Talks About a Different Era

Linda Johnson is a Poker Hall of Famer who has a WSOP gold bracelet and 13 WSOP cashes, she was the only woman in the field of the first tournament she entered, in 1978 at the Las Vegas Club, unlike the  today’s Ladies No-Limit Hold ’em Championship at the World Series of Poker at the Rio Convention Center. The buy-in is $1,000 for women and $10,000 for men, who are discouraged from entering the event.

However there is expected to be at least a few guys who will pay the prohibitive price to play with the gals. Linda Johnson, aka “The First Lady of Poker,” doesn’t have any problem with that though.

“I don’t like the idea of it,” she said. “But if they’re willing to pay $10,000, it does help the prize pool.”

Johnson, who has lived in Vegas since 1980 and played poker for nearly 40 years, remembers when women weren´t welcomed at poker tables.

“When I first started playing, it was not nearly as nice an atmosphere for women as it is today. It was rough, and women were not treated as nicely,” Johnson said. “A lot of men felt women shouldn’t be playing poker. I do think that’s turned around now and women are welcome. They don’t have the adverse conditions we were subjected to 30 or 40 years ago.”

Johnson still remember her first tournament in 1978 at the Las Vegas Club. She remember being greeted warmly when she registered, but things quickly changed when she reached the final table.

“It was like, ‘You better not win,’ ” she said. “On breaks, the men would meet and figure out how to get me out of the tournament. They ganged up on me.”

Johnson is originally from Long island, NY and she used to work for the U.S. Postal Service and visit Las Vegas to play blackjack but luckily her father was a smart man. He convinced her to play poker instead because at least it’s not played against the house.

She entered her first WSOP on 1980 and came 5th in the Ladies Seven-Card Stud event. That´s probably when she decided to quit her job at the post office and become a fulltime poker pro. But she didn´t limit herself to playing poker exclusively, she did several other jobs. She was editor and publisher of Card Player magazine for eight years before selling it, revitalizing the publication while trying to improve poker’s image. Then she worked as a studio announcer for the World Poker Tour’s first six seasons.

She seems to be particularly proud of one of her achievements though; in the mid-1990s, Johnson helped convince the directors of the WSOP to implement a penalty for bad behavior.

“If you do something out of line, like throw your cards at the dealer, now they give you a penalty,” she said. “I feel I had a role in that.”

Johnson, who won her WSOP gold bracelet in 1997, is now running Card Player Cruises, teaching poker seminars and is an instructor for the WPT’s Boot Camp.

The nickname “The First Lady of Poker” was given by fellow pro Mike Sexton for her long association with the game.

“It’s not my favorite nickname because it makes me feel like the old lady of poker, but I know he meant it as a compliment,” Johnson said. “I’ve always tried to be an ambassador for poker, not just for women but men as well.”

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