Karina Jett is probably one of the least known but highly regarded and family-oriented poker moms on the circuit today. Married for seven years to poker pro Chip Jett, they have two children, Athena, four years old, and Apollo, 20 months. They reside in Henderson, Nevada.
Karina Jett has been exposed to poker all her life. In her very earliest memories she recalls listening to her parents discuss bad beats and poker strategy. She began playing herself when she was a teenager in high school, and soon after, began sneaking into the poker room at the Mirage to sit behind her mother and watch the game.
PokerNews sat down with Karina just before the induction ceremonies of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame to find out how she juggles a lucrative poker career with a full-time family.
PN: Karina, tell us how you began playing poker professionally.
KJ: Well, I was playing seven-card stud poker at the Mirage after watching my mother play there for years. I became a recognized local player and friends with everyone in the room there. I was playing stud, because that was the game at the time, when a dealer friend of mine told me about Texas Hold'em. It was becoming a very popular game and everyone was excited about it and the games were getting really big. I gradually made the transition over to limit hold'em playing $3/6 and moving my game up to $15/30 at the Bellagio. At age 23 playing poker was paying better than my regular job, so I quit and started playing poker full time. I love to travel and see different parts of the country and the world and a poker career could afford me that.
PN: How did you meet Chip Jett?
KJ: I first met Chip in 2001 at the Jack Binion Open in Tunica, Mississippi. It was a whirlwind romance. After we met I had to go to Europe for a poker event, but when I returned we were never apart. Chip knew before I did that we were going to get married. But that year Chip opted not to play the Main Event at the World Series of Poker and instead we got married. All this happened in about a month and a half of us meeting. Really fast. We're very compatible and have a good marriage. We wanted children but poker is a hard life to have a family, since it demands so much of your time. But we were really happy when Athena came and saw it wasn't so difficult to manage both. Then Apollo came and I think that's it, two kids for us.
PN: So how exactly do you balance family life and the life of a poker professional?
KJ: I basically returned to what I was doing first in my poker career. I went back to being a cash player, that's my niche. Chip is strictly a tournament player; that's where his strengths lie. I play tournaments because Chip drags me along. I know where my strengths lie and it's in cash play. At first, when we were newly married, we lived like gypsies, traveling and playing poker. But when our daughter arrived, I made the sacrifice and stayed home while Chip traveled the tournament circuit. It was very hard on the marriage. When our son was born, Chip was very excited and decided to become more of a hands-on dad. He's given up some time on the circuit to be home with the family. The family is priority; the tournaments and poker come second. We've made the adjustments we had to make. Certainly we have to make a living, but with our sponsor Full Tilt taking us on as site pros, we can make the necessary adjustments to our lifestyle.
PN: What would your advice be to others who are trying to balance family and poker?
KJ: This is something I have very strong feelings about. I see several poker players today abandoning there family lives to pursue poker and it's such a shame. In my opinion family should come first. I understand people have to make a living, but there has to be a balance for both. Your family has to come first, and poker will follow. If you can travel with your children as Chip and I do, it makes it easier to spend time together as a family unit rather than leaving your children behind. Family is the greatest gift in your life and to neglect that would be such a shame. We've already decided that next year when our daughter begins school, one of us will always be here at home while the other one travels. We aren't quitting poker, just finding that balance for two parents who work an unusual job. Fortunately, poker has its flexibilities, and we as parents are willing to make the necessary sacrifices for our family life.
PN: What are some highlights of your career? We know you've been on television also.
KJ: I made the final table at the 2005 WSOP Ladies event, and I played the Battle of the Sexes on GSN. I'm also an advisor for a poker reality show that is in the works. I've also been working on a documentary with a filmmaker who is trying to get the film ready to début at the Cannes Film Festival this year, so that is very exciting. Chip and I also teach at the WPT Boot Camps. He talks about pot odds and hands while I hit on the various basic techniques that are commonly missed by amateur players.
PN: How did you get involved in the Women in Poker Hall of Fame?
KJ: I was contacted by Lupe Soto, the founder, and asked if I would be interested in serving on the board for this organization. I was looking for something to get involved in that would allow me to give back to the poker community, so this seemed like a good fit. I'm very supportive of women's poker, and with the misunderstanding among the general population of poker players about how ladies' events can be introductive for women in poker, I felt this was a way for me to show support.
PN: Who in the poker industry do you most admire and why?
KJ: There are actually a few poker players I admire all for different reasons. Erik Seidel has become a very good friend to me through the years, and I admire his abilities to play poker and how he manages his family and finances within the poker world. Kristy Gazes also is someone who I admire greatly. She has played a long time and been very successful and has presented herself as an honorable person and player.
PN: Our parting question: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
KJ: Probably still living in the Las Vegas area. I love it here. I'm sure I'll still be involved in poker although probably not as much as my children grow up and become active. I'll always hold a passion for poker and keep it in my life in some way.