Unabombshell talks poker

Jennifer Tilly

If you want an indication of how popular poker has become, take a look at the size of the playing fields at tournaments and the stars that are starting to fill in those seats as well. One star who has made the transition from movie star to serious poker player is Jennifer Tilly.

In 2005 she took down both the World Series of Poker Ladies, winning herself a championship bracelet, and the World Poker Tour Ladies Night Out as well.

The two wins gave her instant acclaim and credibility in a poker world that can be harsh on one-hit wonders and women players in general.

She learned the game from her boyfriend, Phil Laak, and now poker is a big part of her life while acting has become more secondary as she plays for another win and to earn money for charity.

Jennifer Tilly took time to chat about poker with PokerListings.com Saturday during a press event for the Queen of Hearts poker team that will be pledging part of their winnings to the American Heart Association and the Nevada Cancer Institute.

How did you get involved with the Queen of Hearts?

Well, when I won in 2005, the year after that, I know Lisa Tenner [founder and co-captain of the Queen of Hearts team] socially, she's worked with Phil (Laak), and she said she was putting together this team to benefit cancer research.

It really appealed to me because, you know, I think poker players all feel a little guilty because they feel like what they're doing is not exactly very involved, it's a cash climate. You know, you're just taking money from other people that are trying to take money from you.

And I like the idea of giving something back. You're playing a game, but you're also raising awareness for cancer research and raising money for a very good cause.

Last year when I did it I was the team captain, and I didn't know what to expect. Lisa Tenner is just a dynamo in organizing these things, and I realized I just like the idea of being on a team with a whole bunch of women all working towards a common goal.

Poker is such a solitary thing to do. There's not a lot of team players there. I think, especially in the poker world, women need more things like this to band together and you know, sort of bond and be working towards a good cause. I really like it.

This year she asked me to come back and do it and not be the team captain this time, and I was really looking forward to it.

Do you think more ladies only things like this and the WSOP event would help get more women into poker?

Absolutely. The year I won there were 600 women; the second year there was two or three times that amount as there was the year that I won.

I have a feeling there will be even more this year, because more and more women are getting into poker because previously there wasn't a lot of female role models around or a lot of females in general. Like last year, females were only 5% of the field, and women are intimidated.

When I started dating Phil, I did not actually go to a casino to play for about eight months because I was really scared. I mean, you go in and see all the guys and they're all rough and tough. They have their tattoos and you know, their John Deere hats on, and it's really scary for a woman to sit down in that situation.

But now all the poker rooms are having ladies tournaments, and it's less threatening playing with other women. And let me tell you, a lot of these girls really, really play. I think a lot of times, people will start out at a women's tournament and when they realize there's nothing to be afraid of they'll cross over to the regular tournaments.

You mentioned that there was only 5% of women in the field last year, but they seem to go very deep in the events.

You know, I'm astonished at how good the women are. I think the women who survive that far in poker are more tough than the average man, because you encounter so much resistance and adversity. You are a target because guys will try to take you out because you're a woman.

All through this there are men who are talking, putting a good face on and - "oh I got a queen" - they show me their hands. I think for every guy that plays with you and plays soft against you, there are 15 guys there trying to take you out.

So the women that do play are so strong, like Kathy Liebert. I mean you hear about her at the final tables all the time. Isabelle Mercier, Cyndy Violette - I mean they can beat any man, any time of the day, any day. They're just as good and get deep in the money.

I think the more the women become familiar with the world of poker is a good thing, and I feel there should be more women in the poker arena for sure.

Do you think it'll be tougher for you having more women in the field?

Not really, because I play in all the tournaments, not just the women's tournaments, so I think there's room for everybody. Everyone plays in a different way. People play with all different styles and there's no difference between the way women play and the way men play.

If I'm going to make a generalization, I would say men are more aggressive, but the women who are very successful in poker are just as aggressive as the men if not more so, because they have to be overly aggressive.

To categorize women poker players and men poker players is doing them both a disservice. Everybody has a different way that they play. Like how Vanessa Rousso plays is really different from how Jennifer Harman plays.

So it'll be just more people out there, but it's not going to make it more difficult.

How big a part of your life is poker now?

It's pretty much, I would say, 88% and then the acting is 12%. Like I was supposed to shoot a movie during the World Series of Poker here in Las Vegas. I told them I don't want to do it because I want to focus on the World Series of Poker.

So they pushed it, so now it will start at the end of July, and it was supposed to start at the beginning to mid-June. But for the most part, when I get a movie offer I think, "Would I rather do this movie or would I rather play poker?" and I would usually rather play poker.

If you don't mind my asking, how much are you pledging to charity with the Queen of Hearts this year?

Well, I think I'll probably be 10% of what I win. Which could very possibly be 10% of nothing, but it depends. If I win, make it to number one, or whatever, it'll probably be more, but never less than 10%.


Tilly will take to the tables today in the 2007 WSOP Ladies event where she's hoping to duplicate her 2005 win and make a little money for charity.

She'll be playing with Queen of Hearts teammates Mimi Rogers, Susie Isaacs, Isabelle Mercier, Clonie Gowen, J.J. Liu, Jennifer Leigh, reigning champion Mary Jones, and others as the team takes on hundreds of other women from around the world.

The best of luck to you Jennifer and the rest of your team on your quest for a win and big money for charity.


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