Q&A with poker pro Tiffany Michelle

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How’d you get the nickname Hot Chips?

I got that in 2006 when I was hosting for Bluff Radio and everyone thought I needed a nickname. … We had a call-in segment where people got to call in and suggest nicknames for me. So one guy was like “You know, M*A*S*H had a character Hot Lips Houlihan. … What if we call her Hot Chips?” Everyone loved it and it just kinda stuck from there.

Your agent calls you poker’s sexiest player. How did that happen?

You’re supposed to ask other people about me. (laughs) Everyone thinks I have a big ego. The fact that I mentioned on ESPN “Oh it’s fun being a cute chick in poker,” everyone’s like “Oh my God she’s so full of herself.” So it’s kind of a taboo subject if I talk about it. … I don’t know, I’m young; I’m a fairly attractive person for the kinds that you get in the game of poker. Just by the fact that I’m a chick in a male-dominated field who actually used to do beauty pageants and acting and modeling. So I suppose being compared to your average guy sitting at the table I’m a little more attractive. (laughs)

You began acting at the age of 10. How do your skills as an actor help at the poker table?

We’ve seen a big movement in the entertainment industry, that they’re really drawn to the game of poker. I think just purely all the prep work you have to do when you’re getting into character, becoming a certain person in a roll, the observation you have to have, the different mannerisms you take on, you can really see certain actors in roles pick up these different quirks of people. So I think that really helps because you can sit there and when you start tapping your foot, moving your eyes or doing different things with your body, I can pick up a lot of information. I can put myself in your shoes and say, “OK, how’s he feeling when he’s behaving this way? What does that mean about his hand?” … I think the observation really helps. I think also as actors we can give off whatever information we want. I can be strong in a hand; I can be weak in a hand. And a lot of times you have this term called “Hollywooding.” But usually you can tell (when they are acting). It’s so obvious and people aren’t very good about being subtle. I think a lot of actors can Hollywood, but in a way that they can totally get away with, that’s totally believable, and you don’t even know that we’re acting and giving you information.

What was it like playing poker with your brothers and your grandfather?

My family was very much into card games. For some reason from an early age I loved poker. We’d get little Skittles or M&M’s to play with. My mom, when my grandfather would get the poker chips set out, she was like “You guys can play cards but I don’t want you gambling.” (laughs) It was like this very taboo subject, like no gambling allowed! And so we would do it as much as we could. It was fun. It was just something naturally that, you know, the bluffing, and there was a skill to it that I always kinda enjoyed. You know, having two brothers I was always competitive. I loved going up against the boys. There’s something very satisfactory to me about beating other guys. They’re good competition and I’m a very competitive person so it’s very fulfilling.

You admitted to getting teary-eyed at being the last woman standing in last year’s main event when you finished 17th out of nearly 7,000 players. How significant was that for you?

It meant so much. Up until 2008 I had been coming to the World Series for like three years, and every year watching my friends do well, watching people final table, and on the sideline I sat there thinking “I could do that.” I felt like my game was good enough that I could play with these guys and I could do well. So not only was it this amazing feeling to prove to (myself) like, “Holy cow I could do this!” but to be the last woman standing … I had seen all the years past and Maria Ho is a good friend of mine. So I saw what it had done for her the year before, I saw what it meant; I saw where that title took you and how much respect you got for it, not only from the poker community but on a monetary career opportunity value. And so to then sit there and be like, “That’s me?” It meant so much, and I think that’s what people misunderstood. I wasn’t rooting for other people to fail. I was sitting here rooting for my dream to come true and prove to myself that I could do it. So it was just amazing.

Do you find at all that ESPN making such a big deal out of it is sort of sexist?

I feel like there is sexism within poker, but I think any kind of game or field where you have a minority there’s going to be more attention given to that minority in the field. And obviously women are a minority playing with the guys. I know Annie Duke feels very strongly about women’s-only tournaments. She’s like, “You know, we can play with the guys. Why do we keep kind of segregating ourselves?” Yeah, it’ll be interesting at the point that we don’t have a last-woman-standing be a big thing. But just by the sheer numbers, you know maybe 10 percent of the field was women, so until it becomes more mainstream I think we are going to have that focus because it is a big accomplishment.

Do you support women’s events?

I’m on the line with them. Honestly, from a strictly selfish point of view, they’re a really good value for me. However, Annie is a friend of mine, and she’s really strongly expressed her opinion about how, you know, we’d be really pissed off if they had a men’s-only tournament. I would be so upset about that. So how can we get away with having women’s-only? … It’s a good value, but at the same time I really feel like women should get in the game, they should have the confidence to play with the guys. If you want to sit here and talk about equality, which we fight for all of the time, well you’re not actually having equality when you have women’s-only tournaments because we’d throw a fit if they had men’s-only tournaments.

You came under fire at last year’s World Series. First there was the whole PokerNews-UltimateBet fiasco. What happened and has it been rectified?

Obviously I had been hosting for PokerNews for several years, but … I was not sponsored by PokerNews. I had no affiliation with their site besides being a host for them, which was not an exclusive job. So, basically, two poker players (Tony G. and Jeffery Lisandro) backed me in the event, which is a normal thing to do in poker. One of them happened to be the owner of PokerNews (Tony G.), so via that, he said, “Hey, will you throw on our logo?” So I threw on their logo. We had no exclusivity; we agreed to a certain percentage, and so then what kinda happened was PokerNews lied about a lot of our situations, about our details and the going-ons. So then (UltimateBet) wanted to give me a logo to wear at the World Series, which I think people forget, UB is a gaming site and PokerNews is a journalistic site. There was no competition there. … Basically I was backed by two poker players, they tried to make it a bigger deal by saying PokerNews sponsored (me), they put (me) in all of these events, (I) was exclusive with (them), which wasn’t the case. … As I got a little more valuable in the tournament they tried to get a little more control. Nothing’s really happened since. Haven’t tried to amicably part ways and say sorry about the misunderstanding. They blasted me a lot in the media, which is unfortunate because they have such a huge forum and I’m just one person. I made Tony and Jeff Lisandro a lot of money; you know there was really no real “thank you” for that. (laughs) We’re a few hundred thousand dollars richer. And since then I have gone on to a Star Player deal with UltimateBet.

Also, your table etiquette wasn’t exactly embraced by the public or the players. How hard was it dealing with that in the aftermath and how much of it was selective editing?

I was so surprised. I was excited to finally see the footage. I had no clue what they were going to put in there. I was still on this high from doing this awesome thing, coming in 17th place and my dreams coming true, and then suddenly getting this backlash of people being like “You’re disgusting! You’re an evil person! You’re a disgrace to poker! You’re a disgrace to women! You’re a slob!” I could not believe the negativity that followed. … People don’t realize it’s heavily edited. There are certain facial expressions that I had, that those faces didn’t happen in that moment to that guy’s response. There were so many conversations that they clipped out certain quotes and they didn’t get the entirety of it. Like when Craig Marquis and I were going back and forth and he said, “Oh, you’re so good!” and I was like, “Yeah, I know, that’s why I’m here right now.” You missed an entire conversation where he was like seriously riding me and giving me a hard time. So finally I just had to be like, “Listen, buddy, back off.” … So it was unfortunate. I was totally shocked at how everyone took it. … how the simplest little things I did and said were magnified. … I walk into poker rooms all the time and guys eat their frickin’ dinners at the poker table and nobody has ever mentioned that. I was eating some french fries, which is like a little finger food, and wiping my hands off, which they don’t show. So I just learned they’re going to edit it however they want, and as a woman anything I do is going to be magnified, and you know, life goes on.