Poker player profile: Jena Delk

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Merritt Island’s Jena Delk (pronounced gee-nuh) is a member of the Ante Up Nation and has banked more than $100,000 on the tournament trail, including just missing a World Poker Tour final table and winning the ladies event at the Harrah’s New Orleans World Series of Poker circuit stop last year. She traveled to New Orleans in May to defend that title but unfortunately fell short. What is fortunate, however, is she took some time to talk to Ante Up while she was there.

There’s an ongoing debate among female poker players about whether women should play in ladies-only events. What do you make of the debate?

Well, I understand the reason for the debate, but I wish it wasn’t there because I am one of those ladies who would not be playing poker today had it not been for the ladies event three years ago that I played. My husband played and I was learning to play the game. He came (to New Orleans) to play several events three years ago, and he put me in the ladies event, which I’m sure a lot of the guys do for their ladies. And I had a good time, but I also had a bad beat. (laughs) So immediately when I was out of that tournament they were calling for the mega-satellite and I walked over to him and I said, “Give me a thousand dollars!” (laughs) And I won my seat, so I played a $10,000 event for my third tournament. (laughs)

Despite the success of players such as Jennifer Harman, Annie Duke and Vanessa Rousso, and great organizations such as the High Heels Poker Tour, women still make up such a small percentage of poker players. What’s it going to take to get more women into the game?

I’m hoping that Annie Duke being on the Celebrity Apprentice is going to help a little bit; it sure got people to talk and make them think there’s a strong woman playing. … I think it’s just gonna take really a lady winning the main event. That would work, or a new final-table lady would be great this year. I think that’d be the way to do it.

You’re on the Poker Players International team with fellow Ante-Upper Lee Childs. What is PPI and what’s it done for you?

PPI is basically an agency, so I have an agent. But the agents are also representing lots of big names in the poker world. So they are negotiating with companies that maybe wouldn’t want to talk to the Jena Delks of the world, but certainly this roster of players. They’re negotiating team contracts as well as individual contracts. I have this really nice business card that really makes me look important at events. (laughs) You know, maybe a photographer’s snapping a picture and I can just give him my information. It kinda gives me a little edge up that way for sure. And then I get to wear (Full Tilt Poker’s) logo at events and that always generates photography information, which is what I want. But the most important thing for me is I feel like I’m on the edge of a really big win, so having an agent in place with a phone number to have somebody just take over any negotiations is gonna help me make sure I get fair-market value for whatever I am worth. That’s what is very comforting to me, to know that I have that.

You suffer from permanent nerve damage that can affect your poker play. How much of a challenge has that been for you?

Actually it’s a very huge issue. It keeps me from coming out as much as I would like. I have to plan my days so I’m able to play. If I’m playing, all my energy is pretty much devoted to that, and then I rest. Like, I’m not able to drive. So I have to have a driver to go places, and that makes things a challenge. But also, if my condition is flaring up I might get the shakes and so that affects the game in itself; they think I have a big hand! (laughs). But the biggest thing is I can’t sit for long periods of time. So if you’re sitting next to me at the poker table you’re going to see me stand, you’re going to see me contorting myself into weird positions so that I’m not sitting all the way down. Sometimes the other players get annoyed by that. They’ll call the floor over and say, “She has to sit down to play,” and stuff like this. But I have an honest disability so sometimes we get into little arguments. (laughs) But it works out. I even had one tournament where I had to lay on the floor between hands. Whatever it takes. (laughs)

How do you decide what events to attend?

I do have a little different criteria than the average poker player because I travel alone. And with my health, safety is a big issue, and then how I get there. I have to have a nonstop flight, the location has to be close to the airport . . . and then I do look at the structure as well. … I’ve kinda learned to adapt to the poker lifestyle, but I’m not the usual one. I don’t go out and party; I don’t go to restaurants; I tend to get food to go and come back to my room and tend to myself so I can be ready to play. But the best is shopping (laughs) and spas! And I do treat myself to those things definitely. I’m doing my best to stimulate the economy that way. (laughs)

You’re featured in the documentary Heart Felt, which is due to be released in July. What’s the movie about?

I met them last year at the World Series of Poker. … What they’re doing is trying to focus on the number of female players competing in the tournament, and then more about the psychology and the motivation, the characteristics of the demographic of us playing tournaments. They’re focused on the player, not the play, so it’s going to be a little different; it’s going to be more storytelling I think. And their goal is just to share the heart, mind and soul of the female player.

When you’re home on Merritt Island you drive over to play at Daytona Beach Kennel Club. What do you think the possible new laws in Florida will mean for the state’s poker players?

Well, I know just being here in New Orleans, hearing people talk about it that don’t live in Florida, they’re talking about moving there. … I think it’s going to bring us a boom that we maybe aren’t expecting. And I certainly hope it will bring one of the series (WPT, WSOP, etc.) to maybe one of our big casinos in the state. That would be just amazing for tourism and it would really help our economy. We need that.

Your husband, Michael, plays, as well. Are you competitive with each other?

Like any married couples we fight about poker. (laughs) We are competitive together; we don’t share a bankroll. We might borrow from each other on our bankrolls, and then we actually literally pay it back. We don’t split; we don’t share each other’s action at the table and we do inform the table that we are married. Sometimes the dealer will say “They’ll be fighting each other harder than they’ll be fighting any of you!” (laughs) We definitely like bragging rights. At a Mother’s Day tournament I came in first and he came in second and he asked me to chop. And I said no effing way! (laughs)