Saturday, July 09, 2005

Linda Johnson interview, hanging out with Aubrey

I swear there are as may railbirds as players in the WSOP. Try walking through the tournament area while play is in progress and you will know what I mean. I promise they are breaking fire codes over at the Rio and they had better hope the fire marshal doesn’t find out. I recall that in Tunica in January that the fire marshal forced them to shoo people out of the tournament area or he would have shut down the entire operation.

I chatted with Linda Johnson at the Card Player Cruises booth Friday. She told me that all of the cruises sell out now, yet another sign of poker’s continued growth. The magazine sponsors five cruises a year, to places like Mexico, the Caribbean, Alaska and even Egypt.

Johnson is the announcer at the World Poker Tour events, a post she enjoys immensely.

“It’s a great job because I get the opportunity to meet a lot of people, entertain and see poker from a front row seat,” she said.

Many call Johnson, long a successful player and former publisher of Card Player, the “First Lady of Poker.”

“I think it means the old lady of poker,” she said with a laugh. “It’s an honor but it does have something to do with age I think.”

Johnson said she plays poker online while answering 200 to 300 emails a day, preferring four games each of $20-$40. She usually plays $75-$100 or $100-$200 when playing live.

She said she knew the WPT would be a success and expected poker to grow along with it.

“I’m really proud of the poker industry and what it has become,” she said. “I think we’re just at the tip of the iceberg as far as poker’s growth goes.”

I met up with Aubrey again and his son-in-law Keith and we headed over to the Wynn as they had not played there before. It was fun sitting in the back seat of their rental car and listening to Aubrey’s stories of playing poker in town decades ago, from Steve Wynn as a slot boy to meeting former mob lawyer and present mayor Oscar Goodman. Aubrey recalled first playing with a young punk named Johnny Chan. One night at the Golden Nugget, in a $100-$200 game, Chan allegedly was acting like a hothead and Aubrey told him to calm down.

“He was slinging chips and cards around,” Aubrey said.

“Kind of like those kids last night,” Keith joked.

Some things never change.

I had a little success over at the Wynn in an $8-$16 game. Unfortunately, as my bankroll had dropped, so have the limits I’m playing. Keith and I waited for Aubrey to get up from his $2-$5 NL game so we could head to the Bellagio buffet for dinner.

As we watched Aubrey rack up his chips, I told Keith, “All of those players sitting there have no idea they just played with a two-time World Series bracelet winner. They think it’s just some old man.”

We both chuckled.

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