Richard: Poker’s quite a combative sport, are you a competitive person?
Jacqui: Not really. I don’t have to win, and I think that makes for a better poker player. If you’re overly competitive it can lead to making bad decisions. And I tend to find this happens more with men than women. Quite often they’ll have invested a large amount into the pot and then find it really hard to lay down a hand and give that up. Even though the voice inside is saying it’s a bad bet and they know it’s not worth it they do it anyway! They just can’t stand to lose.
R: And how do women play?
J: By contrast they tend to more disciplined and find it easier to walk away from a hand that’s not going to win. Poker can offer a fascinating insight into human behaviour and it teaches you how to read people really well. A good poker player is hawk-eyed and prepared to sit for hours absorbing as much information about their opponent as possible.
R: Observing body language and such…
J: Yes: tics, gestures, movements… anything that could give them away. You’re looking for patterns. What sort of hands are they playing? How do they bet when playing those hands? Sometimes it can be worth putting some of your chips into the pot, even when you know you’ve lost on the last card, just to see what your opponent has to get that bit of information. Otherwise you’re blind and it’s impossible to play poker blind.
R: Do you still play professionally?
J: I used to play a lot until I had a family, then I found it really difficult to carry on. The last big tournament I entered was in 2008, the Ladies European Championships: I came 5th and chased $10,000.
J: Chasing is when you stay in the hand against a bet in the hopes of hitting a card that will put you in the lead.
R: Sounds tense. Is that the most you’ve ever won?
J: It’s the most I’ve ever won in one tournament. There are two different types of poker: cash games and tournaments. I’m a much better tournament player than I am cash. But in order to play all the tournaments you’ve go to follow the circuit around the UK and Europe, which is very, very time consuming. And I wanted to spend time bringing up my daughter and not leave her at home. That’s why I got into teaching and coaching it and running casino nights instead. I prefer working with beginners rather than coaching pro-players; I get a great kick out of people experiencing it for the first time in a fun and relaxed way. It’s wonderful for teambuilding and networking too; it really brings people together. So I do a lot of corporate events and I work with a chap named Caspar Berry, an ex-poker player, who’s a motivational speaker and teaches people about decision-making.
R: What advice would you give a novice player such as myself?
J: First of all, don’t part with your money. Play non-competitively as much as you can before you decide if poker’s for you. Try playing online via a site where it isn’t for real money. The only problem with those is that people don’t really play properly and may bet all their chips on a terrible hand knowing it’ll only get replenished. But, still, it’s a chance to practice without risks. Read some good poker books; the ones written by Dan Harrington are the best – he’s a poker legend. Play in cheap tournaments that won’t cost you too much to enter: you’ll see a lot of hands and get great practice. When people start out playing they think, I’ve got to get the best hand possible, but you just need enough to beat your opponent. Poker isn’t about the cards that you’re playing, it’s all about your opponent’s.