Linda Johnson may be known as the First Lady of Poker, but calling her the president is probably more accurate.
On her curriculum vitae: 15 years as a professional player, a World Series of Poker gold bracelet, founder of the Tournament Directors Association, publisher responsible for revitalizing CardPlayer magazine, former chairperson of the Poker Players Alliance, architect of industry conferences, World Poker Tour studio announcer and co-owner of CardPlayer cruises.
Okay, you can take a deep breath now. And if you did, that's more than Johnson's tireless pace will allow.
An Air Force base in Long Island, N.Y., was the site of her birth on October 14, 1953. A father in the military meant Johnson was the new kid in class throughout her school years, as the family hopscotched bases in New York, Georgia, England, Kansas and California.
With her schooling finished, Johnson headed for college and took a job at the post office for some extra cash. Proving she was a quick study, Johnson moved from sorting letters to supervisory positions before she was old enough to gamble legally.
Linda Johnson: The First Lady of Poker
But when she did turn 21, the work gave Johnson some money to throw on the blackjack tables during trips to Las Vegas. Not wanting to see her lose her paycheck, Johnson's father, a recreational card player, told her to take up poker - a game that had helped him supplement his income over the years.
She then went poker book shopping - for Sklansky, of course - and learned the game on her own. True to her father's words, Johnson became better than most players and had a positive expectancy at the table. She beat the regulars at her post office home game so often the other players eventually retracted her invitation.
To find some action, she started playing in casino card rooms in California and Las Vegas, where she competed in her first tournament in 1978. At the time, a woman at the felt was an oddity and Johnson was the only woman registered. The men mocked and flirted with her - that is, until she made the final table. Then, in an effort to knock Johnson out of the tournament, the old boys ganged up.
Still, it didn't scare her off. After just a few years playing poker in card rooms where the only women were cocktail waitresses, Johnson's stakes were climbing, as was her confidence.
In 1980, at the age of 27, she entered her first World Series of Poker with the intention of quitting her post office job to play professionally if she met with success. Following the tournament that summer, Las Vegas became - and still is - Johnson's home.
In the early 1980s, she moved up to $10/$20 stakes which was, at the time, a big game played by all the pros. She continued playing full-time for the next 15 years, competing in tournaments and consistently cashing. Indeed, during all her years in poker, Johnson says she has only ever suffered short-term losing streaks and has never gone broke.
In 1993, Johnson's role in the poker world would shift with the purchase of CardPlayer magazine. After vacationing on a CardPlayer poker cruise, Johnson learned the magazine's owners were looking to sell. Just a week later she partnered with fellow pros Denny Axel and Scott Rogers and bought the publication - then just 68 pages of black and white newsprint.
With Johnson at the helm as publisher, the magazine flourished into a 132-page, full-color glossy. Part of the newfound success behind the publication was Johnson's approach to content; she saw the magazine as a means of promoting the industry and casting poker in a positive light.
In fact, the promotion of poker became a huge part of Johnson's life. After years of being treated poorly in card rooms because she was a woman, Johnson became a staunch opponent of player abuse and an ambassador for standards at poker tournaments.
This in part led Johnson to help establish the Tournament Directors Association, a non-profit organization designed to create industry standards for poker events. She also helped create conferences for the business end of poker, in addition to her publishing duties.
But in 2000, Johnson stepped down from the job when she and her partners sold CardPlayer to Barry Shulman. She continues to write a column for the magazine and owns and operates CardPlayer cruises, a separate business she purchased with two partners.
When walking away from her publishing job, Johnson's original intention was to have more time for herself to play poker. Things didn't work out that way though. Not only was she busy planning cruises and writing, Johnson was soon offered a job by the World Poker Tour.
The work was as a studio announcer, commentating on poker tournaments in card rooms around the world. Now Johnson is gone 16 weeks a year and lends her time to instructing at WPT boot camps.
Needless to say, her poker game is still on the back burner. Only recently did she step down as chairperson of the lobby group the Poker Players Alliance and she is currently a Tournament Directors Association board member. When she does play poker, it’s usually whatever hours she can squeeze in online while answering e-mails from her personal Web site (lindapoker.com) and assembling her column.
When she does play though, there is no denying what is at the core of Johnson's success in the industry: Quite simply, she's a good poker player.
In 1997, Johnson won a WSOP gold bracelet in the $1,500 Seven-Card Razz event for a $96,000 cash - her biggest to date on the tournament trail. She also final tabled at the 2004 series in the $1,500 Seven-Card Stud Hi-Lo Split. Because she can't play in WPT events due to her announcing job, Johnson does compete - and cash - in many smaller tournaments when she gets the chance.
Online she plays $20/$40 to $100/$200 stakes in Limit and $10/$20 in No-Limit poker. Live, Johnson favors Omaha Eight-or-Better in the $75/$150 to $100/$200 range and a good game of Chinese poker, if she can find it.
After more than 30 years in the business, Johnson's role as an ambassador of poker and an industry veteran is as strong as ever. Though she has some outside interests - travel, shopping, dancing and snorkeling among them - being the First Lady of Poker is a lifestyle that doesn't afford time for much else.