Facing the Firing Squad: Linda Johnson
MEET LINDA JOHNSON
Today is Linda Johnson’s 60th birthday.
She’s been called the “Queen of Poker” and the “First Lady of Poker.” But far more people in the poker world simply know her as a beloved friend who is always there for everyone.
Linda’s biography is a remarkable success story in the powers of dedication and determination. Many years ago she did what was virtually unthinkable, quitting a secure job with the U.S. Postal Service in order to play poker professionally on a full-time basis. During a time when virtually no women played poker for a living and long before television exposure and sponsorship deals or any real potential of becoming independently wealthy, Linda was a true pioneer. She began playing poker on the graveyard shift in small-stakes games in Downtown Las Vegas.
Linda’s years during the early 1980s and the many events she personally witnessed instilled a deep desire to make significant changes and be a part of making the game bigger and better. One pot at a time, she gradually saved the money she had earned at the tables and formed a partnership which bought Card Player magazine. Linda served as the publication’s editor-in-chief for several years, in the process creating the game’s premier news source and leading voice for change. Through her writings and role as a traveling ambassador, she helped to clean the game up and make poker rooms a fun place for everyone, an arduous process which took tremendous courage to stand up to incessant chauvinism, player and dealer abuse, and other ills that had been commonplace for decades.
Linda also founded Card Player Cruises, which has now been going strong for nearly 20 years. She hosted cruises and poker games on the high seas all over the world, consistently making everyone who attends feel welcome and special. Linda’s global travels also opened up fresh new perspectives into other places and cultures and gave her an even greater sense of purpose to make a difference.
In 1997, Linda won a World Series of Poker gold bracelet, which she later described as one of the proudest moments of her life. However, she never concentrated much on tournament play, preferring cash games instead. Linda’s typical game now is $75-150 Limit Omaha High-Low Split. But she will sit down in any poker game when she can be among her friends.
Linda was one of the creative forces behind the formation of the World Poker Tour, which debuted on television in 2002. She served as the final table emcee for nearly a decade, and enjoyed a front row seat on many of the game’s most exciting moments. She also served as a consultant to PartyPoker.com, then the biggest online poker site in the world.
Others slowly began recognizing Linda’s achievements and beam of light as a shining example for others. She was an inaugural inductee into the Women in Poker Hall of Fame. In 2011, she was selected by both the public and her peers to be in the Poker Hall of Fame, only the second woman in history to be given such an honor.
But Linda’s poker accomplishments tell only a small part of the story of who she is and what she means to countless friends and associates all over the world.
I would be remiss were I not to add that Linda gave me my first writing job back in 1993, as a columnist for Card Player magazine. I likely would have taken a different career path had it not been for Linda’s sincere encouragement and support over the years. Many many more people in and out of poker can probably say the same — that Linda made a huge difference in our lives.
Always eager to face new challenges, Linda accepted my invitation to face the firing squad. Happy birthday, Linda!
What are some of the things you stand for?
I believe in treating others the way I want to be treated. When it comes to the poker world, I stand for no abuse, integrity, and fairness.
What are some of the things you stand against?
Final answer: I’m against people who think they are superior to others. No need to poll the audience or phone a friend.
What living person do you admire the most, and why?
My mother Jean Plante; she is the perfect role model for all mothers. Mom brought me up in a very loving environment and was always there for me. She taught me a lot of life lessons. I feel blessed to have been born to such an awesome mother and to have such wonderful siblings.
Honorable mention in the admired persons category goes to Jan Fisher, Tanna Wyatt, and Teri Rogers. They have been friends of mine for more than 30 years and they still put up with me.
What historical figure do you admire the most, and why?
It’s hard to narrow it down to one, but my answer is Mother Teresa. She lived in a very selfless way and sacrificed a lot to help other people. She took care of the poor and the sick and started many charities.
What living person do you despise?
One of the things my mother taught me was “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Therefore I will refrain from answering this one, but you know who you are!
If money were not an object, what profession would you choose?
I would be a cruise director. Other than poker, my favorite pastime is cruising…in fact, I would love to live on a cruise ship. I enjoy meeting people, organizing activities, and being a hostess so this would be the perfect job for me. Love Boat, here I come!
What is it about yourself that you are most proud of?
It’s a tossup between winning a WSOP bracelet and being inducted into the Women in Poker Hall of Fame and the Poker Hall of Fame.
What is it about yourself that you’d like to change?
If I could change it, I would have already done so!
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve ever done?
Being the publisher of Card Player Magazine is the most exciting thing I’ve ever done. (That includes trying to get Mike Caro’s article in on time every two weeks.)
What’s the most unusual time and place you’ve ever visited?
Thailand…they let you do some crazy things there. I had a massage given by an elephant, I went into a pit with seven tigers, and I held a crocodile.
Name a place you’ve never visited where you still want to go.
Favorite book, favorite movie, and favorite musician.
Book: The Help
Movie: To Sir With Love (Honorable mention to Saturday Night Fever, Honeysuckle Rose, Mama Mia, and Dirty Dancing)
Musician: Earth Wind and Fire (Honorable mention to the Rolling Stones, the Bee Gees, and Kelly Clarkson)
What upsets you the most?
Mean, rude, inconsiderate people!
What bores you?
Paperwork, waiting in airports, and people who like to hear themselves talk but don’t really say anything
Do you believe in an afterlife and why do you believe it so?
This question stumps me; I don’t know if there is an afterlife, but it would be great to think that there is some special place to go after we die. Since that may or may not exist, I believe in living a very happy and fulfilling life while we are here on earth…we might not get another chance.