Taking advantage of every poker opportunity

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I remember Amy Zupko as one of the first people to interview me when the High Heels Poker Tour began. I was nervous (not my normal M.O.) and thought: What if I can’t answer her questions because I don’t know enough about my business yet or know where it’s going for women in poker? But I got through the interview fine and she made me feel good about being a woman in a male-dominated industry. She has had a rare opportunity to make big strides for women in poker by being an author and columnist, pushing the envelope while working for Ante Up partner PokerNews and writing the Women’s Poker Spotlight. She took the time to find out about me and the HHPT so let’s now take the time to get to know her.

How long have you been playing poker? I’ve been playing poker in home games since I was a teenager, then in more organized home games since the early ’90s. Mostly we played dealer’s choice or whatever crazy game we could come up with. … Follow the Queen, different versions of stud with crazy wild cards … I didn’t find hold’em or tournament poker until 2001. I saw some games on TV, started playing online for play money and eventually started playing for real money and then on to live events.

What is your earliest poker memory? Not necessarily my earliest memory of poker but one that clearly drew a line in the sand as to what part in poker I would play: When I attended the first (Women’s Poker Club) Showdown in Atlantic City, it coincided with the first month that Woman Poker Player Magazine was in print. Also my first article that would be out there for the masses to read. It was an interview with Rose Ritchie (of St. Petersburg, Fla.). The reaction from the women who attended was phenomenal. I knew right then and there that I wanted to continue writing for poker. It didn’t hurt that I won the WPC Omaha/8 tournament either.

What is your favorite game? Omaha/8. I love the complexities of the game and how it constantly changes as the hand moves on. I find that in Omaha/8, even more than hold’em, each hand is truly different and the ways to play it are more complex as there are more scenarios to think out before making a move.

What is your favorite hand? My favorite hand is Big Slick, preferably suited, but I’ll take it over any pocket pair, including aces, any day.

Do you play online? If so, how do you think online poker has influenced poker for women? Because of where I live, I play mostly online. I believe that online poker has been the single most influential aspect of women’s poker. It has influenced the women’s market in ways that I don’t think were imagined when online poker first came about. I have not seen anything else that can appeal to all women, regardless of age, creed, financial situation, etc. Online poker allows anonymity, offers a wide range of games suited for any level of play as well as all levels of financial situations. … Online poker also hides emotion. For decades women have been taught to let people know when they are angry, sad, etc. It may sound stereotypical, but studies show that although it’s changing, women are more emotional than men. Many women have to concentrate to keep emotion out of play in different situations. Online poker allows women (and men as well) to show that emotion privately without opponents gaining advantages.

How did you get involved in writing and radio, and how did it segue to poker? Actually poker segued into writing and radio. I started out in the industry as a moderator at womenspokerclub.com. In the course of working with the women and helping to educate beginning players I started writing a bit on the forum. When the owner of WPC, Maryann Morrison, talked about starting the print version of Woman Poker Player Magazine, she asked if I would be interested in working with her doing the feature interviews as well as some other pieces. Obviously I agreed. I felt it was a good way to give a voice to the women who play poker. It went from there. I went on to write a weekly column (Women’s Poker Spotlight) for PokerNews.com. The column ended when PN cut back on expenses and chose to not continue the column. I’m back now writing for WomanPokerPlayer.com. I have also started my own site womenspokeronline.com and also writing for PokerStarsWomen.com. … So, while I never set out to be anything more than a casual player, the more I got involved in the industry the more I wanted to be involved. I love the way the poker world works.

Tell me a little about your personal life and how it interacts with poker. Poker was not always an easy fit with my personal life. I have three kids (22, 18 and 10) who all have very active social and sports obligations, work full-time and have a fairly busy social life. As my kids are getting older and I now only have two living at home it has gotten easier. I have learned over the years to better manage my time to keep everything together. It can be a challenge sometimes, but it is getting easier as time goes by. Luckily my kids and my husband support my efforts in poker and know that I am doing what I really want to do. I enjoy the industry itself and it has become a large part of who I am and what I am.

How do you feel about the up-and-coming female players? I am enjoying the up-and-coming players. I think they’re a refreshing addition to the poker world, provided they are up-and-coming players and not one-hit wonders who appear in the spotlight but contribute very little to poker. … I definitely feel they are a good representation for women in poker. Most (or the ones I have dealt with anyway) are very committed to the game and spend a lot of time playing and studying the game. They come from all walks of life and show that with dedication women can be more than competitive in poker.

What is your poker dream? To be honest I am living my poker dreams. I’m not sure that I have what it takes to be a successful player. If I had to rely on playing poker for a living we very well might starve death. Technology gives me the option of writing and (being on the) radio, etc., without having to be away from family and friends for long periods of time or having to uproot them altogether. I can be part of the industry right from Vermont. My goals now are to continue to grow a following as a writer.

If you had some advice for female players what would it be? My advice would be: Don’t be a spectator; take each opportunity you are given and make the most of it. Get in there and do what you want to do. Whether it is play professionally, write or start a poker business. No matter what it is, find what you want to do and do it, but don’t go in blind. Do your homework and know your limitations.

Do you feel you’re still learning? Whether you’re playing poker or working in the industry, most of the fun of poker is that it changes constantly. There’s never a time when the industry or a game is not evolving. As a player I learn something new, and sometimes more than one thing, every time I sit at the tables. As a writer I learn through researching articles or talking to players and others in the industry. There’s always something new to learn.

What can we expect from you in the near future? I really can’t say. … I take each opportunity as it comes. I never planned on becoming a poker writer or hosting a radio show (Women’s Poker Hour on Holdem Radio), it just happened. A new opportunity could come at any time and could completely change the direction I am headed in now.

— Lauren Failla is the founder of the High Heels Poker Tour.