Interview with poker star Jennifer Leigh

Feb 4, 2008 at 7:51 p.m. ET

After placing 42nd out of 724 players in a 2006 World Poker Tour tournament, Jennifer Leigh has been unstoppable. And now she's giving SheKnows exclusive insight into her Playboy spread due out this Spring.

SheKnows (SK): How did you get into poker?Jennifer Leigh (JL): I'm a nerd. I'm one of the nerdiest girls I've ever met. Early on at a very young age, I was always playing on the computer. So I had this computer literacy behind me and I eventually ventured into areas like hacking, gaming, Everquest, World of Warcraft, and hardcore Raiding Guild.  I'm a hardcore raider, always trying to get into the Black Temple, and the Wrath of Lich Kings. Nobody ever believes I'm a poker player and a gamer on World of Warcraft.
I was a pre-law major at the University of Delaware and wanted to be the star of the courtroom. But then I found my new obsession. Robert Boyd, poker champion Dutch Boyd's brother, was a good friend. He said I should try out this online tournament. It was only a $5 pay in. This was the worst move for an adrenaline junky.  I was soon the new female player on the scene dominating online tournaments. I was soon entering larger and larger tournaments.SK: Strategy-based online games like Magic the Gathering have turned out some of the new breed of poker player. Do you think your online gaming background influenced your poker career?JL: Oh yea. Tons of great players have come from Magic the Gathering. David Williams, Ali Eslami, The Keller Brothers, MadCaddy, Jon Murphy, and Scott Dove, to name a few, are all great players.  In online gaming, you have to learn how to personalize the experience and realize that the chip desensitizes you from thinking about being real money. Overall though, games like Magic have contributed greatly. It's sick. 
SK:  You are not only a successful tourney player, but you're also a successful cash game player. Which do you prefer to play and why?JL: Demographically, you have your random players who get very lucky and they win their big tournaments with very large buy ins, like the World Series of Poker. The field consists of 7,000 to 10,000 players and it's like buying a $10,000 lottery ticket, it's a crap shoot generally.  Tournaments are the gratification, the glory.  You win a tournament and you feel like you conquered. You just beat a field of however many players and you played your "A" game, your best game. A lot of different elements of the game come into play like luck, variation and changing your pace. Like a video game, it's your final boss and you're preparing to down the boss.Cash games are more consistent. As a professional cash game player, you set yourself on a very meticulous budget, more management of yourself and your money. I prefer cash games -- they made me my living. Heads Up play is personal gratification because I'm so aggressive, like a warrior you could say.  Having an opponent heads up with you and beating them is something that feels really good when you're done. SK: What do you consider your greatest moment?JL: I did Playboy last year. This is going to be real big. It'll be a six-page pictorial coming out beginning of April. Coming from a small town in Delaware, it's HUGE. It's very hard to grasp coming from one end of the spectrum to the other -- from a $5 tournament to this! SK: Did you enjoy posing for Playboy?JL: I liked working with the cast and crew the best. I never thought I'd do it. It took a lot of confidence and talking to my parents. They weren't too sure of it. They looked at it as an issue of moral. But a woman is beautiful on the inside and out. To tell you the truth, the more you can become one with your body the better. I have hips and breasts and don't try to use it -- but I can and that's OK. Posing in Playboy allowed a platform for me to show women that it's possible to be a staple in poker and we're not going anywhere. SK: How did your parents react to your posing in Playboy?JL: Believe it or not, my dad was prouder than my mom, although, my mom came on the shoot with me. The shoot was very professional but it was a very long process. But it was an eye-opener for me. You walk into the Playboy studio, you see Marilyn Monroe, and you think to yourself, "I'm here and they're photographing me ... this is amazing!" I think the human body is beautiful. Posing made me feel more confident about myself as well. SK: Who would you say is your role model? JL: Jennifer Harman is one of my biggest role models just because she has been through so many health issues and life struggles and is still noticed as not only one of the best female players, but one of the BEST players in the world. That's hard to do in the poker industry. "It's a man's world," they say. I think of Harman when I'm at my low and running bad. I'm reminded that I'll come out of it with a positive experience and survive.SK: Do you consider yourself a role model for women?JL: I won't say I've been to Hell and back, but a lot of younger women have been through what I've been through. In general, you have to watch your back. In a perfect world, it'd be a very simple peaceful world, but they are very cruel people who can take advantage of you. So having your own self-awareness is important. Being someone with a positive outlook is a good role model for women and that's what I try to do.SK: Do you have any advice for players wanting to try their hand at poker?JL: It really depends on you and what attracts you to the game. For me, it's competitiveness. When you're completely known as a world-class poker player, there's always room to find improvements. I tell women who are interested in poker to take anything you have done and been passionate about and take that energy and consume it into what you love and work with it. Do the best you can by using knowledge -- which is power. Never be intimidated because of a specific gender.SK: Does it ever get old having people adding "woman" to the term Poker Player?JL: I wish we'd get rid of that term. When talking about a female post deliverer, we don't use the term "post woman." We're not aliens, we're women. It's very sensitive for some people. Tournaments are never classified by race or sexual preference, but it is classified by gender. All poker players are the same, although women are more intuitive then men. SK: Who would you select to play at your "dream" table?Ted Forrest
Phil Ivey
Jennifer Harman
Doyle Bruson
Phill Hellmuth
Vanessa Rouseau
Dan Harrington
Miami John Cernuto
Annie Duke
Daniel Negraneau
Mark Seif
SK: Any last word for your fans?JL: I just want to thank everyone for their support. It's going to be an amazing year!