By Lauren Failla
The first time I met Barbara I didn’t know what to expect. It’s been a whirlwind every since. I have so much respect for her as a person and as one of the most important players in the poker world. Her accomplishments are many and her personality reflects a woman who doesn’t let adversity keep her from her goals. We’ve shared many laughs, red sweaters and table talk. What you’ll get is Barbara, right, wrong or indifferent. Uncut is how she is and makes no apologies for it. Her biggest fan (besides me) is the love of her life, Max. I’ve spent some time with Max without Barbara on the WSOP circuit and have never in my life seen a man love a woman like he loves Barbara. I hope you enjoy this look into her life.
How long have you been playing poker?
I came out of the womb with a deck of cards in my hands. (33 years professionally)
What’s your earliest memory of playing poker?
Inside the womb … When I was 3 years old my brother and I used to play heads-up for whatever we could find around the house: buttons, chips, pennies, whatever. Susie Isaacs has a photo of us at that age for proof.
What is your favorite game?
Post office! Oh, you mean poker games. I love stud and split games. I think it takes a lot more thinking and focusing although I do love pot-limit and no-limit hold’em.
What is your favorite hand?
Rolled-up aces in stud. Pocket aces in hold’em. A-A-2-3 double-suited in Omaha Hi-Lo.
Do you play online? If the answer is yes, where and how often?
Everywhere and almost every day. I play with the PicClub, which has a group of pros and celebrities that go to different sites affiliated with the PicClub. Right now we’re doing the Bluff Poker Tour among others. Some of the sites we play at quite often are True Poker and Ironduke. They have the Latin Series of Poker satellites at True Poker where a seat can be won for just a couple of bucks.
Tell me a little about your personal life and how it interacts with poker, in the early years and now.
In the early years I had to sort of sneak away to play poker because it was a bit of an unethical thing to do. I didn’t want people to know how I was making my money as it was looked down upon by some. When my son was very little and in school, I would get up, send him off and then I would go to Gardena to play and make sure I was home before he got home. Now when I say I play poker, people look in amazement and want to hear all about it. Just like you right now.
How do you feel about the female players that are up and coming? Do you find them too aggressive? Are they a good representation of the game and a good representation for women?
Some are and some are not. I think no matter how tough and strong your play is at the table, you should always act like a lady. There is never a need to be rude to others to show what a great player you are. I have seen some very sweet and tough female poker players, Cyndy Violette for example, is always sweet and always a lady. On the other hand, there are also some good female players that are rude. I guess they want to show how tough they really can be. They know who they are, but that sort of behavior is really not necessary to show you are great. Also, I believe you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
You’re the only woman in the Poker Hall of Fame and the Women’s Poker Hall of Fame. Do you think that fact sometimes gets overshadowed? Do you think you don’t get enough press because of all the hype that’s placed on sexiness vs. substance in poker?
Since poker has become very popular and shown on so many TV shows, it has become more of a sexy thing than a poker thing. I really think it should be more about POKER and less about SEX. In my opinion, they should be kept in perspective. Often times the TV shows will try to make great players out of average players just to expose their sexiness. Then the great players get little exposure because they might not look as good as the young hottie they are trying to promote and turn into a player. There are so many different styles of play today, (old school vs. new school) and ALL of it should be shown for the public instead of just the new-school style. By the way, I have been playing new-school style ever since I started playing. I always thought I had invented it. At that time I was called a maniac. These days a player like that is called super-aggressive.
What would be your advice to a female player considering poker as a career?
Always have a backup job or means of income just in case you fail. Have plenty of money to live on and keep that separate from your bankroll.
Have you ever had a poker mentor?
Yes. When I first started playing in Gardena there was a very nice man who took me aside and told me when I play jacks-or-better draw poker, I should never call with queens once the pot has been opened. He also explained why. Another man bought me a book called Play Poker, Quit Work and Sleep Till Noon by John Fox. That book changed my life forever. Before reading and studying that book, I was ready to give up on poker. After memorizing every word and applying it to my game, I made a lot of money in Gardena, enough so that I did quit my job as a hairstylist. I still kept my weekend job as a cocktail waitress because I loved doing it.
Do you still feel you’re learning all the time or do you feel you’ve mastered the game?
I believe one can never stop learning. I love to learn and love to read not only poker but many other non-fiction books. As long as I keep on learning new things I’m happy. It’s great exercise for the brain.
— Lauren Failla writes a monthly column for Ante Up, tracking the progress of women in poker. Email her at email@example.com.