Linda Johnson, often referred to as the “First Lady of Poker,” was officially inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame on Tuesday, November 8, 2011. Her ceremony took place on the WSOP Main Stage, just prior to the start of the world championship finale. Johnson was introduced by Mike Sexton, a fellow Poker Hall of Fame member.
What follows is Johnson’s acceptance speech as she delivered it to the capacity crowd assembled inside the Rio’s Penn and teller Theatre, plus a viewing audience much larger who were able to watch the ceremony through the live stream at WSOP.com:
(Photo Caption: Linda Johnson at center poses with her family and friends after being inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame, as one of the "Class of 2011.")
LINDA JOHNSON: Mike, thanks for the awesome introduction. I am often asked who I admire most in the poker world and it's an easy answer: Mike Sexton. I am so happy he agreed to give my introduction today.
If I'm dreaming, I don't want to wake up! I am incredibly honored to be here today. My heartfelt thanks go out to the public who nominated me and to the media and current HOF members who voted me into this prestigious group.
Congratulations to my fellow inductee Barry Greenstein. Barry truly represents class at the table. He's done a lot to advance the image of poker players.
Barry was involved in my most memorable final table on the World Poker Tour during the filming of the father/son special. Barry and his son Joe Sebok beat the other father/son teams and were then supposed to play each other heads-up. None of us knew it, but Barry and Joe had already agreed to go all-in in the dark on the first hand of their heads-up match and let luck determine the winner, because neither wanted to beat the other on television. Very classy. Barry, I'm so happy for you today.
Congratulations also to each of the 2011 Poker Hall of Fame nominees. It's a thrill just to be nominated.
I'd like to thank my family for traveling to be with me today. Mom, you have always been a role model to me. I was lucky at birth to be born to such an incredible woman. I also have two wonderful siblings – Rich and Diana -- thanks for being here with me today. I wish everyone here could have such a great brother and sister. I wish my dad was still alive to see what he started when he persuaded me to play my first hand of poker at the age of 21. Six years later, I moved to Las Vegas to play poker for a living. I'm sure my mom wasn't thrilled that her daughter was quitting a secure, high-paying, high-level governmental job to move to Vegas to be a poker pro, but she helped me pack and move to Las Vegas and encouraged me to follow my dream.
I loved the many years I spent as a professional poker player. I can still remember playing all night and then driving home as the sun was coming up thinking how lucky I was to play poker for a living. Back then, the public didn’t understand that anyone could make money playing poker…especially not a woman. When I told people I was a professional poker player, they would ask questions like, “Where do you deal?” OR “Who pays your rent?” So I started telling them things like I worked with statistics and probabilities...or that I delved in investments.
The poker world has changed for the better in the past 30 years. Cardrooms used to be smoky; today most are nonsmoking. Many of the small, dark, dingy cardrooms have been replaced with big, beautiful, elegant poker establishments. These days, poker room personnel are well trained to ensure that players experience a pleasant environment, absent of abusive behavior.
The one thing that I miss most about the old days is that almost all of the poker players used to know each other. When the World Series of Poker rolled around every year, it was like going to a big family reunion. However, seeing how big poker has become today, I must admit that it is pretty awesome. It makes my heart happy to see so many new faces in poker rooms these days and so many brilliant young minds who have discovered the awesome world of poker.
Things sure have changed in the world of tournament poker in the past 30 years. It was incredible to watch the final table from my home yesterday. They had a big screen with a flop-cam and a system that keeps track of the players' current chip count. Really? Where was that 30 years ago? And almost every tournament today uses a tournament clock that tells you what the blinds are, how many players are left, average chip count, how much time is left in the round. There were no tournament clocks in 1980. Ben Lamb would have laughed 'til he cried if he knew that the tournament director used to walk around with a kitchen timer on his lapel; if you wanted to know how much time was left in the round, you had to hunt him down and ask him. There was no such thing as a deep-stack tournament. M first World Series buy-in was $400, and that entitled me to start with $400 in tournament chips!
There was no such thing as paying 10 percent or more of the field. In 1980 when I finished fifth out of approximately 100 players, I didn't even cash. They only paid three spots. There was no Tournament Directors Association -- the rules were different in each tournament. Satellites hadn't yet been invented, so if you wanted to play, you had to come up with 100 percent of the entry fee. Yes, things are definitely much better today. The World Series of Poker manages to deliver an amazing product every year. It's incredible that they can handle thousands of players and many different tournaments simultaneously. Kudos to Jack Effel and the WSOP staff who make it look easy!
Mike spoke of many things I’ve given to the poker industry, but I feel like I’ve gotten back so much more than I’ve given.
Poker has enabled me to see the world. I've played in Canada, Mexico, South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and on more than 100 Card Player Cruises trips.
Poker has taught me to have a sense of humor. I’ve had more than my share of embarrassing moments -- like the time I had a hot flash during the televised taping of WPT Ladies night, or the time I came out of the bathroom in Japan pulling along a 30-foot trail of toilet paper unaware that the roll had fallen into my pants…or the time we ate the centerpiece at the Aviation Club in Paris.
Poker has allowed me to give back. There is no better joy than helping others. I love being involved in fundraising for PokerGives.org and for so many other worthwhile charities.
Poker has made me a believer that one is never too old to learn. Did you watch the final-table play on Sunday? The young guns are brilliant and fearless, too. Even though I'm a member of the senior squad, I salute today's incredible players. They've taught me the joy of 3-and 4-betting with air. However, it's hard to keep up with their vocabulary. My generation never heard of all those B words like bum hunting, badugi, balancing, badeucy, baller, barreling. In the old days, we had one B term: bad beat.
Poker has given me a pastime that is socially rewarding. Through poker, I've met some of the greatest people in the world. Many of them have traveled long distances to be here today. They came from Canada, Florida, Oklahoma, and other states. How lucky am I to have a best friend like Jan Fisher? Or so many other amazing friends . The list is so long -- you know who you are and I am grateful to have each of you in my life.
I would be remiss if I didn't take this opportunity to publicly thank some of the people who have had a big impact on my poker career: my friends in the local poker discussion groups, the staff of the World Poker Tour Boot Camp, the World Series of Poker staff, Card Player Magazine, the poker media, my partners in Card Player Cruises (Mark Tenner and Jan Fisher), all the dealers, floorpeople, and cardroom managers, my co-founders of PokerGives.org (Lisa Tenner, Jan Fisher, and Mike Sexton), my co-founders of the TDA (Matt Savage, Dave Lamb, and Jan Fisher), and the staff and members of the Poker Players Alliance.
Poker has been a big part of my life since I turned 21. I’ve loved everything about being a poker player, and I’ve never regretted my decision to leave that safe, secure high-paying government job. For me, a day without poker is like a day without sunshine. I still look forward to playing my next hand of poker. I am so proud to be up here today. Thank you all for your support and for being here to share this special day with me.
Good luck to our final-table three players today.
(Audience -- Applause and Standing Ovation)