Many poker pros try flying under the radar with dark glasses, hats pulled low, nondescript clothes. Not Jennifer Shahade, a PokerStars ambassador with a strong social media presence, a blaze of vibrant red hair, and promotional garb when playing in poker rooms.
Maybe that’s why she’s happy to play online poker in Pennsylvania, finally.
Shahade has quite the resume
Semi-pro poker player. Repeat chess champ, a grandmaster. Author of Chess Bitch: Women in the Ultimate Intellectual Sport. Traveler. Wife. Mom. The program director for US Chess Women. Writer and editor. Podcaster. Social media presence. Advocate for women and girls in poker and chess.
And cheeky. Her second book is titled Play Like a Girl! Tactics by 9 Queens, which is a foundation she co-founded to benefit girls getting into chess.
Shahade’s also a proud Philadelphia native. Now that PokerStars has launched the state’s first online poker site, she can now suit up for play in sweats and slippers.
Shahade answers questions
Shahade, who helped launch and promote PokerStars PA, recently did a Q&A with PlayPennsylvania.
PlayPennsylvania: How did you gravitate to both chess and poker? Someone you knew? Keen interest? Fandom? Maybe something else?
Jennifer Shahade: My dad taught me chess when I was very young, and my older brother, Greg Shahade, is also a great player. I didn’t pick it up as quickly as my dad, a four-time state champ, and my brother, an International Master. I was more into acting and writing in junior high school. Then I came back to it with a bang in high school, immersing myself in the tactics and strategies and the social scene of chess.
No longer was I constantly comparing myself. I was just improving and having fun. I also love the travel aspect of chess and poker, and that increased my motivation. I’ve traveled to dozens of countries because of my passion for both games.
I learned poker soon after I graduated (from) New York University and only dabbled in it for a few years after that. My brother was also a pro in that game (and is also an early sign up for PokerStars in PA).
I started to take it really seriously because of an initiative PokerStars was doing at the time to bring more women into the game called PokerStars Women. I wrote and traveled with PokerStars Women to events to the Bahamas, Monaco, and Madrid, and that really opened my eyes to the possibilities of the game.
Relationship of poker and chess
PlayPA: Is it numbers/math and seeing ahead which ties poker and chess together? When did you realize you had a talent, and how did you develop that? How do you juggle both?
Shahade: I realized I had a talent in chess relatively late (most people who become champions are child prodigies by eight). I really caught the bug at my first international tournament in Brazil, where I had strong butterflies before the game. I played a brilliant creative game, and it taught me that nerves are not necessarily a bad thing. That’s a lesson I take with me to poker as well.
When I first started in poker, it was not that hard to be a very good player compared to the field. I studied the game and knowing that it was a game of probabilities and strategy, and not luck gave me a leg-up. Now that the game has developed, I’ve had to work on leveraging my strengths (ability to focus very intently for short bursts, creativity, ability to create good systems and shortcuts for study and play) and limiting my weaknesses (too much self-doubt, tendency to overthink and tire after many hours).
Right now, I am the program director of US Chess Women, where I encourage young women all over the country to play chess with the goal of leading them to more confident and creative lives. I am a commentator at the Grand Chess Tour for some of the top tournaments in the world, and I host two podcasts, one on poker (thepokergrid.com) and one on chess (Ladies Knight). I am also an ambassador for PokerStars, where I play on PokerStars Pennsylvania. It’s super exciting to have PokerStars in PA, It’s definitely a lot to juggle, but it’s also really fun.
PlayPA: I don’t think of the city as a hotbed for either chess or poker. Am I missing something? Are there outlets we don’t know about, and if so, can you point out a few?
Shahade: Poker is very popular in Philly, because of the proximity of so many live casinos. There have also been many World Champions who’ve grown up around here, including Joe McKeehen and Scott Blumstein. Now that online poker has come to Philly with PokerStars PA, many more pros will move here or take long sojourns in our City of Brotherly Love. As for chess, Philadelphia is the Chess City of the Year for 2019. We have a strong movement to bring more at-risk youth and girls into the game in our city.
Gender and poker
PlayPA: Poker seems dominated by a world of dudes. I’m guessing that may also be so with chess. I can see where that could be both an advantage and a disadvantage. How has that worked for you?
Shahade: As you suggest, it’s been both positive and negative, but mostly a blessing for me. I enjoyed being a role model and inspiration to other girls when young, and now as a woman, it’s such an important part of my life to show girls they can succeed in any arena, even if they aren’t like everyone else.
Girls and women in chess and poker get a lot of attention. Depending on your personality, this could be awesome or annoying. I grew to enjoy the quick friendships and opportunities, but there is a clear survivorship bias here. Women who were turned off from negative experiences may never have gotten to the point where they see the benefit of being under-represented in the world.
In the game itself, I think being a woman in poker is also a mixed bag. Sometimes, people may fold a bit more to me, especially in live events. They also may pay more attention to female players’ betting patterns, which could be a slight disadvantage in that it’s hard to stay under the radar.
Shahade prefers online poker play
PlayPA: Poker was by far the most social of games in Atlantic City casinos. Did you play in AC? Any observations? And how about PA casinos?
Shahade: Yes! I loved playing in AC, but to be honest, I still prefer online. I’ve played at SugarHouse and Parx Casino in PA.
I think of live poker as a social game, while when I play online, I see so many more hands, and that really helps me get better fast. I am so thrilled to play online, where I can tuck my little son in at 8:30 p.m. and still register for the nightly schedule.
PlayPA: Please compare card room poker to the online games offered now in PA by PokerStars.
Shahade: Online, you can play for any stake from less than a dollar to $200 tournaments. There’s also a great range for cash games. This is great for bankroll management: low overhead, and lots of available games, including the chance to play a few at once.
Shahade likes repping PA for PokerStars
PlayPA: What’s it like to be a star player and brand ambassador as opposed to years ago? Are the pressures and scrutiny different now?
Shahade: It’s very different right now as I’m the only member of the PokerStars team who lives in Philadelphia. I feel super lucky about that. It’s fun because players at the tables ask me a lot of questions about poker, chess, and my life in Philly. I feel so connected to the games because I’m a proud Philadelphian!
In general, the concept of a Team Pro has changed a lot. Now we usually use the word “ambassador” for people who can represent the game well and apply their creativity to marketing it while also employing admirable strategies. Previously, it was more about being a fantastic player.
PlayPA: What do you like most about being in PA and Philly?
Shahade: I love the Philadelphia spirit — we are hard-workers and passionate about a lot of the good things in life: food, sports, and family. Philly is getting more and more cosmopolitan, so the restaurant, bar, and art scenes are continually improving. There are also many great parks, and it’s just a lovely place to raise a child. I think poker pros moving here will be extremely happy.
PlayPA: How many games are you in or watching at once online?
Shahade: I don’t play many games at once. One to four for the most part. I love thinking hard about my decisions, and it’s been a long time since I played eight-plus games at once.