How Pennsylvania's New Gaming Law Changes Life for a Poker-Playing Mom
The bio on her website says she's "a chess champion, author, commentator and poker player." But Jennifer Shahade's most important role to date is that of mom to her son Fabian.
As a representative of PokerStars, Shahade has been juggling being a new mom with the desire and need to work and provide for her family. Work-life balance is always a balancing act, and she has been able to find a way to keep all the balls in the air.
And keeping those balls in the air may have just become a bit easier for her thanks to the recent legalization of online poker in her home state of Pennsylvania.
We caught up with Shahade to get her take on the state of poker in Pennsylvania, how Black Friday impacted her personally and how she manages to keep an unconventional lifestyle conventional now that she is a mother.
Becoming a Grinder
It's hard to utter the words "Black Friday," to a poker player without eliciting some sort of rant. But Black Friday didn't have as devastating effect on Shadade as it did on many other pros.
"I was only starting to get more serious about poker," said Shadade. "Still, I immediately missed the challenge and excitement of playing on PokerStars every Sunday, and I started to play live poker whenever I could. A year or two later, I became obsessed with Open Face Chinese Poker. For a couple of years, I focused on Open Face Chinese Poker, in making Run It Once videos, playing hundreds of hands a day. When that game died, I got back into NLHE, which conveniently was coming back to my area for the PokerStarsNJ launch at around the time I got pregnant."
"When PokerStars came to New Jersey, I was able to play more often in my area, which was great as I was actually secretly pregnant during the launch."
Promoting an online site while struggling to find ways to play online is no easy task. But Shadade has successfully married her stellar chess career with a budding poker career to land a coveted relationship with the online poker giant.
When asked about her relationship with PokerStars, Shahade was quick to point out all the opportunities it's provided.
"Promoting PokerStars has been amazing, and allowed me to travel even more frequently than before I signed with them as a Mind Sports Ambassador. Some highlights were going to the Bahamas and Monaco to play in the Poker TV show, The Shark Cage. I also went to Stars HQ in Isle of Man, where I hosted the first two editions of the PokerStars IOM International. The Isle of Man International, now sponsored by chess.com, is the strongest Open tournament on the calendar, with World Champion Magnus Carlsen taking it down this year. When PokerStars came to New Jersey, I was able to play more often in my area, which was great as I was actually secretly pregnant during the launch."
Shahade was also quick to point out what an honor it was to participate in many charity events such as the Feeding South Florida Charity event, and the Autism Speaks event.
"Charity tournaments bring out the spirit of poker," explained Shahade, "where everyone starts by wanting to have a good time, and enjoy a few drinks, meet some new people. By the end, most players start to go for the win seriously, so it draws out both the fun and the fight of poker."
Balancing Poker and Life
Now, she has a husband and a son to think about when creating her playing and travel schedule. Let's face it, traveling with a baby multiplies the challenge of getting from point A to point B tenfold. We asked Shahade how she manages it.
"Since Fabian was born, I try to bring him and my husband on some of my trips, especially if an enticing location like New York or the Bahamas, where we will all travel for the 2018 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. Before Fabian was born, I was so cynical — I thought that traveling with a baby would be a burden. To the contrary, it's a joy to bring Fabi to new places and see his reactions."
Seeing everything through the lens of Fabian has been amazing and life-changing for Shahade and has only made her professional career more rewarding.
"I feel more motivated and I have a great support system from my family! I still travel frequently, though not as much as I used to," asserted Shahade. "Now I value my trips away and my time at home even more. My Mom, who died four years ago, was also a poker player and writer and she fondly recalled a frenemy who told her once she got pregnant “There go your Saturday poker games!” The heckler couldn’t have been more wrong as my mom always treasured those poker games. Having an amazing son makes me live with more passion, not less."
A Bright Future in PA
Now that the online landscape is starting to change, at least in the Eastern United States, we asked Shahade how the newly-signed legislation changes things for her.
"The bill motivates me to continue playing and studying poker as much as possible. Being able to play after Fabian goes to sleep is really a perfect arrangement (with my Fabi cam by my side), and I feel lucky to live in a state where I’ll soon be able to play online."
Shahade is known for her thoughtful comments and always adds something of value to the various poker debates out there, especially when it comes to topics that have personal meaning, like being a woman in poker. So, we wanted to get her take on how legalizing poker in Pennsylvania impacts online poker as a whole and how significant liquidity is to the growing U.S. market.
"I’d love to see interstate liquidity, but for a start, I’ll be quite happy to see PA players in our own pool for a while."
"I love online poker for my state because it allows people to play for any amount, whereas at a casino, it can be difficult for many people with families or at various income levels to play responsibly. I also see the benefit of additional tax revenue generated via online poker, and I think our example in PA will motivate other states. I’d love to see interstate liquidity, but for a start, I’ll be quite happy to see PA players in our own pool for a while."
We concluded by asking Shahade what the one thing about being a mom, a professional poker player, and a representative of PokerStars is that would surprise people.
"I loved being pregnant and loved playing poker while pregnant. For the first time in my life, I felt bad for men… that they will never be able to experience a baby flipping around in their stomach as they try to figure out whether to call a river bet."
One thing is clear when talking with Shahade; she loves all the hats she is wearing these days. And she should. It looks like she has this work-life balance thing figured out.
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