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Summer End Times: Wisconsin, Florida, Missouri July 31, 2013

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Hello from Madison, site of this year’s US Open! The photo is from the awards ceremony of the 1st NGIT, where all the class winners won a copy of Play Like a Girl. In other book news, Chess Bitch is now available on the Kindle.

I’m finally starting to recuperate from the intensity of Vegas and the inevitable reflection. I wrote one of my most personal pieces last year, on time & poker immediately after returning from the WSOP.

This year, I combined my latest passion, Open Face Chinese Poker (OFCP) with a slightly more relaxed tournament schedule. If I busted a tournament on the early side, it was nice to be able to get right back into mental gymnastics with Open Face cash. Conversely, the intense focus that Open Face required motivated me to try to approximate that in the big tournaments I was playing, rather than succumb to bad habits, like constantly checking twitter when not involved in a hand…or my Open Face app games.

My next poker stop will be the $5300 buyin 10 Million Guaranteed at the Seminole Hard Rock. I’ve heard such great things about Florida poker and this will be my first chance to experience it first hand. I only intend to fire a single bullet, though I will come earlier to catch some cash action. I’ve sold about 40% of this tournament and would like to sell an additional ">20% 0% in increments of 2.5% (320 for 5%, 160 for 2.5%) Please contact me if you’re interested!

In September, I’m headed to the 1st Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis. This is Magnus Carlsen’s first event in the US and likely his final event before he faces Vishy Anand for the World Championship. The ground-breaking tournament already has its own Wikipedia page. As a member of the organizing committee, I’m thrilled about the way it’s come together.

Follow me on twitter for all the latest.

Missing Vegas Already, in Photos July 17, 2013

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I fell in love with Vegas harder this year and felt emotional leaving after weeks in town, when I was supposed to be tired of it. I’ll miss the soft desert light and the random conversations with brilliant strangers and friends. My first piece on the WSOP, about Open Face action & strategy is up on the PokerStars blog. And now for some visuals:




I was flattered by how well-prepared the gorgeous Sarah Grant was for this PokerNews interview with me.



The no-frills Riviera Hotel was the site of the 2013 National Open, where we interviewed Amanda Mateer, among others, for USChess.

Daniel and I also shot a video for Poker Fairy Tale featuring Katie Stone, founder of the Grindettes and highstakes mixed game pro Melissa Burr. Some stills from the day:





















Melissa inspired me to become more serious about Open Face Poker, so it was a trip highlight to leave the Aria Open Face tournament with her triumphantly. We chopped the marathon overnight affair along with a few others.


Unfortunately, the WSOP Open Face tournament did not go as well.


As for the big one…




A few more happy photos from Vegas:





Celebrating Five Years in Saint Louis May 21, 2013

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I just got back from a whirlwind trip to Saint Louis for the fifth straight US Chess Championship in Saint Louis, all of which I’ve hosted and chaired. This year’s commentary was the most successful ever, with two dynamic sets. I got a chance to work with two of the best GMs in the business, Maurice Ashley and Yasser Seirawan. You can replay live videos from our broadcasts on uschesschamps.com/videoalso look for Fox Sports Midwest coverage of the event.

Another highlight was visiting the Innovative Concept Academy (ICA) for a special event co-hosted by Hip Hop Chess Federation and the World Chess Hall of Fame merging music, martial arts and chess instruction. The ICA is a last chance school for kids who appeared in founder Judge Jimmie Edwards courtroom, in lieu of juvenile detention center. Read more about the ICA visit & STL activities on my US Chess blog and also see a report with lots of photos by Daaim Shabazz the chessdrum.




As a board member of the World Chess Hall of Fame, I’m very excited to return to Saint Louis for the “Queen Within: Adorned Archetypes, Fashion & Chess.” the biggest show yet since the institution moved from Miami to Saint Louis in 2011. The first event is a preview at Christie’s on June 4, and I plan to wear another shiny chess dress.

After a quick jaunt to New York, I’m off to Vegas for the National Open and the WSOP. Follow me on twitter to stay up to date on my busy summer!

On the Speaking Grind: MIT to STL February 18, 2013

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I used to be terrified of public speaking, until the time I dated a blind Icelandic politician. He told me that the secret to success is very simple, “prepare until you no longer need to.”

Last fall, I was on a game theory panel with poker champion and financial analyst Bill Chen and Eric Maskin, Nobel Laureate in economics at the “Adventures of the Mind” conference for talented high school students. My alma mater NYU hosted this edition. Also in late 2012, I spoke at the Philadelphia Art Museum’s Art After Five series on Duchamp and chess, which I wrote about on Chess Life Online.

Most recently, I went to MIT to give a one and a half hour lecture on poker and chess for Will Ma’s second annual intensive for credit poker class. You can watch Part I below and find Part II on YouTube.

Currently, I’m in Saint Louis where I’m doing a series of lectures at the STL Chess Club for various levels. Many of the classes are uploaded to YouTube, and the topics range from Double Attack for beginners to analysis of the beautiful Aronian-Anand game for more advanced players.

More to come! I’ll keep you posted here, and more promptly, on twitter.

Hotels From Brooklyn Castle to the PCA December 27, 2012

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Many of my memories of being a female gameplayer are set in hotels. I remember sleeping on rock hard beds in Yerevan, Armenia while staying up late solving chess and life with Irina Krush (now reigning US women’s chess champion) to trekking through Rajasthan with another US Women’s champion, Anna Hahn; to more recently, discussing tournament strategy with Katie Dozier while ordering in room service brunch before this year’s WSOP. But it’s not easy- there are so few women in chess and poker that pairing up and sharing expenses can be challenging, especially since so many women in these worlds have boyfriends or husbands that also play and don’t need roomates.

This may seem minor, but can make traveling expensive, lonely and in some places, even dangerous. Having a single room can be wonderful, allowing for privacy and maximum zzzzz’s. And that’s a luxury I often enjoy now, but it’s not always possible.

I hosted a Q+A for the critically acclaimed documentary Brooklyn Castle last month at the Ritz in Philadelphia and was struck by a storyline featuring Rochelle Ballantyne, who aspires to be the first African-American master in the history of chess (she’s about 120 points away). When I lived in Brooklyn, I worked with Rochelle at IS 318, the junior high school championship team that the movie focuses on. After graduating from IS 318, Rochelle wanted to go to the State Championships, but didn’t have any girls to room with, because so few compete in tournaments- she ended up rooming with the vivacious and supportive Latisha Williams, mother of chess champion Justus Williams (one of the stars of Extreme “X Chess” Championships.)

In this frame, Latisha explains to Rochelle that if she wants to become a master, she’ll have to fully commit herself to the goal. While closing in on the title, Rochelle plans to attend Stanford University next fall (on scholarship!), and I’m so happy for her.

Women in fields like chess and poker may get more attention and opportunities but things like hotels are why it’s so much more complicated than “It’s better (or worse) to be a woman in chess (or poker.)” It’s harder in some ways and easier in others.

I’ve mostly had a great time traveling around the world and sleeping in a wide variety of lodgments from a bizarre hostel in the suburbs of Prague, to a palatial suite in
Udaipur to the historic Chase Hotel, which hosts the US Chess Championship players in Saint Louis. I like overtly feminine design that counteract the default masculine vibe I associate with most hotels. The Chelsea in AC is one of my favorites- we shot part of Cin II there.

In less than two weeks, I’m headed to the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. I inquired back in November to a few friends about chopping a room, but no one, including the Grindettes, were planning to attend. A few weeks ago, I found a great deal on CheapCaribbean and Jamie Kerstetter changed her mind, so we are headed to the Bahamas, together. What luck!

Find out more about my PCA schedule hereand follow me on twitter for more on my adventures.

The World Series of Poker, The Clock & Goldilocks August 8, 2012

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I. The Clock
On the plane to Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker, I chatted with a businessman in his 50s. He was en route to Reno for a vacation and told me that “Well, at least you’re not going to Vegas in the summer, so the weather won’t be so terrible.” I said, “Really, it’s not so hot in June?” He: “What? It’s June already? I thought it was April.”

Usually clockwatching is antithetical to art and passion—aren’t you supposed to lose yourself and forget what minute it is, or even what month it is and how old you are?

Christian Marclay’s “The Clock” is a 24-hour collage of film, composed of clips representing each minute in the day. Although you are hyper-aware of time, Marclay’s installation inspires fresh questions like, “What is your favorite (or least favorite) hour of the day?” My answer, and presumably the best time to see “The Clock” is Magic hour, the flattering period before sunset or after sunrise when everything glows in warm, shadowless light. Alas, I saw “The Clock” in the harsh afternoon of 1 to 2 PM, which included a melody of “you’re late” clips (no one seems to arrive on time from lunch). At least this hour featured the famous When Harry Met Sally scene.

The simplicity of “The Clock” entranced me. Imposing such an artificial structure is a gimmick if done poorly but brilliant if well-executed, reminding me of two of my own projects:

1.“The ABC diet”, when I ate alphabetically for 26 days. On the first day, I ate only foods that began with A, such as asparagus and avocado up to ziti and zucchini on the final day. I wanted to show the pretentiousness of most fad diets, which tend to work simply because they restrict calories. In this way, the ABC diet can be effective as any diet that doesn’t let you eat pizza or bacon 25 out of 26 days. Indeed, I lost seven pounds.

2. A two part series I edited for Chess Life Online on the best move ever played on each square of the chess board (and a second part on the best composed moves on each square). Central squares and key attacking points like d4 and f7 present so many options compared to a less trodden square, such as b1. Similarly, the intensity of “The Clock” peaked at the top of the hour with a frenzy of tightly edited clips.

II. Goldilocks

In an NYU class on literary journalism, one of my most memorable professors lectured on a beautifully written piece on aging surfers, when he mused, “Isn’t the point of any subculture to freeze time?” [I must have been foaming at the mouth as he continued, because later that day, a popular blonde girl admonished me, “I think you get a little TOO excited in that class.”]

Though I can’t help but think of the passage of time as a curse, it’s also a privilege. Birthdays remind us that each year is an accomplishment of sorts. You didn’t do something dumb enough to kill yourself! In an 18th century precursor to the popular Milton Bradley game “Life”, the object of the game was to reach death first.

Our re-telling of Goldilocks is about aging during a card game. An early version of Goldilocks starred an older woman trespassing. But as the tale aged, the woman became a young girl.

Goldilocks from Poker Fairy Tale on Vimeo.

III. WSOP

The World Series of Poker is sometimes called “adult summer camp.” Like camp, it feels at once endless and transient. Endless because of the number of interactions, new people you meet and hours spent grinding 20 big blinds pre-ante. But when it’s over it feels momentary, since the experience is divorced from reality. A week later, the people I sent dozens of hand history and gossip texts were buried on my phone. I soon forgot about my daily routine of rubbing my face with too much moisturizer and eye-shadow, before layering up for hours of grinding in Amazon, a large conference room cold enough to hang meat.


These girls, including Alexa, the “poker prodigy” go to the WSOP instead of sleepaway camp

Sometimes I wanted to freeze time during a hand. Thinking for the wrong amount of time can give so much away. A lot of players spend a lot of time on easy decisions (known as Hollywooding when it’s a strong hand) to balance out the cases when they really need to think. Going too far with this conflicts with setting a quick pace to maximize hands per/hour.

Less than an hour after my elimination from the Main Event, I booked my flight home. They call it “the worst day” of a poker player’s year. If this is true, it’s a good year. A few days later back in Philadelphia, I started grinding and doing well on Bovada, one of the few sites open to US players since Black Friday. It was funny to run like god in tourneys with prize pools equivalent to the buy-ins I’d played in Vegas. But more importantly, I was feeling confident and excited again.

I didn’t think I’d be up for live poker so soon, but I’ve already played a couple of WPT Parx prelims and am psyched for the Main.

And the WSOP feels like a year ago. Getting knocked out of the Main Event feels more recent. It happened between the hours 1 and 2 PM.

Accidentally Grinding & the 2012 WSOP May 29, 2012

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Years ago, before I played poker at all, I showed my brother Greg aka “curtains”, an early draft of my first book, Chess Bitch. In the final chapter I chronicled my second US Women’s Championship title win and wrote about how Greg, also an International chess Master, had switched from chess to grinding online poker.

Greg circled the word “grinding” in red. “Grinding is sort of an insult” he explained, for players who are so mediocre they have to play as many hours as possible to get by. He wasn’t grinding, but gliding on a four-hour workday while developing early theory of sit-n-gos. So I edited the section to: “Greg had been earning a good living playing [poker] online and occasionally flying off to tournaments. While I was playing at the World Women’s Championship in Russia, Greg [was] in Las Vegas at the World Series of Poker.”

Greg and I have since traded places. I play more poker while retaining a deep involvement in chess, while Greg stopped playing poker after Black Friday, both due to a renewed passion for the royal game and a dislike for live poker.

Grinding also means something different in 2012 than in those poker boom years.

At the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure this year, I became good friends with a MTT and live-cash game pro Jamie Kerstetter. Some of my most vivid memories from the Bahamas were talking intently to Jamie about poker, life & gossip as slot machines, chattering poker heroes and waves barely registered in the background. “If you’re still in the game in 2012”, Jamie pointed out, you are probably grinding. This would no longer read as a vague insult.

And perhaps we were good examples. Neither Jamie or I were sponsored players, millionaires or tagging along high-rolling boyfriends at the lavish Atlantis resort. Yet there we were in January to play cards and drink alcoholic milkshakes in the sunshine.

A little over a year ago, Katie Stone, a poker player and entrepreneur I knew from the chess world invited me to be one of four “Grindettes” along with Jamie and Katie Dozier. The idea of the group was to travel to events, work on training and media projects to inspire other women and show that many lesser-known females were also strong players.

Flattered, I agreed right away even though I don’t consider myself a pure poker grinder. Since Black Friday, I can’t squeeze in the ~20 hours of weekly poker I used to, though I play on Bovada and watch more poker training videos than ever. But I surely qualify as a life grinder. From editing Chess Life Online to producing the Extreme Chess Championships, preparing chess lessons, promoting my books and writing for PokerStars Women, I’m constantly multi-tabling word docs. I express darker thoughts via video art projects like Poker Fairy Tale. It’s diverse and wonderful but often exhausting.

All the women in our group work hard and attack the game from slightly different angles. Jamie is witty, streaks her blonde hair pink and is a clear unbiased favorite to win this year’s WSOP National Championship, an exclusive freeroll limited to 200 players. Jamie qualified by beasting in a number of WSOP-Circuit events. Katie Dozier has a strong mathematical understanding of the game and combines creativity with a strong work ethic in projects like her novel, The Superuser and a column for Cardplayer. Finally, Katie Stone thinks big, from forming the Grindettes to the nationwide series of chess camps she ran when I first met her.


At the final table of a side event at Monte Carlo® Casino EPT Grand Final

And it feels like my own work is starting to pay off. Next month, starting on June 16 I’ll play about ten WSOP events, including most of the weekend 1500s and 1Ks, the Ladies Event and the Main Event. I have mixed feelings on the massive fields these events attract. The adrenalin rush and education of a final table is so much harder to reach.

I made my first major live final table at the Delaware Park Classic, which I played after teaching at a seminar led by former World poker champion Greg Raymer. The $1060 buy-in attracted 312 players for a deep but grueling three-day schedule. Three pros I met there Alex Queen, Adam Cook and Michael Marder made the final table and were also eyeing the top prize of 72K. Keyed up by the stakes and amazing support from friends, I was shaking during the first orbit. An hour later, a debatably avoidable cooler (nines vs. aces) halved my stack after which my decisions were relatively straightforward. I finished at peace with my play in 5th for a 12K payday. A few weeks later, I final tabled another MTT in Monaco, and was more relaxed, though I finished 5th again. I can’t imagine making such mental game progress by mincashing or 4xing my buy-in at a WSOP 1K.

But the WSOP is seductive still, not only for that sparkling jewelry but also for fields filled with dreamers who would normally avoid 1Ks. I pre-sold just over 50% of my action, so decided not to advertise shares on the open market via twitter or twoplustwo. Huge fields drastically increase variance so playing for so much of myself may be suspect bankroll management. But I feel good about my game, have been running well lately in life and poker, and want to save some points for potential swaps. To counter, I’ll be disciplining myself against leakage at the WSOP. The bankroll I spend at the WSOP is strictly going toward my share of MTTs, with the possible exception of Chinese poker. I’ll certainly take on all comers in my latest chess chance concoction, Chinese poker chess (I’m playing with Greg in the photo.)

To stay updated on my Vegas hijinks (with very occasional chip counts) follow @Jenshahade & @Grindettes. Till then, check out my PokerStars Women piece on the European Poker Tour in Monaco. Also jam to the video that is getting me in the mood for bad BRM in Vegas.

Naked Chess in Amsterdam December 4, 2011

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The original, “Naked Chess” was a reversal of the famous photograph of Marcel Duchamp playing against a naked woman, as a promotion for the book Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Chess. The piece has since then been reworked into a more visceral edit for PokerFairytale.com and now has debuted as an art installation in Amsterdam.

The De Kring art society in Amsterdam hosted the closing ceremony of the Max Euwe Memorial on November 20th. I played against three nude opponents as the prize-giving commenced. In addition to referencing Marcel Duchamp, the striking visuals showed two important themes. Firstly, it was a humorous take on the many tourists who come to Amsterdam for sex and drugs. Here we had a show that was only sexual on the surface but at heart cerebral. Secondly, it played off the general theme of simultaneous exhibitions, which are so common in the chess world. The master or grandmaster giving the simul is in a position of power and by defeating numerous opponents at once, the public and the media is informed of her dominance.

More photos are on the official site–the piece was also featured in the Amsterdam Daily “Het Parool” and inspired the following drawing by Edgar Jansen.

Short Stacked Shamus of Hard Boiled Poker wrote a blog on strip poker and art about a recent installation in New York, “I’ll Raise You Once” by Zefrey Throwell. Shamus also touched on naked chess:

The strip poker piece reminds me of a similar but more interesting work, a short film titled “Naked” in which poker pro and chess champ Jennifer Shahade plays chess against a nude male amateur, Jason Bretz. That piece plays off of a famous photo of Marcel Duchamp (a big influence on the Fluxus crowd), reversing the roles of the man and woman to make a comment on the relationship of the sexes.

Naked Checkmate from Poker Fairy Tale on Vimeo.

The Max Euwe Memorial tournament itself was also very exciting, featuring a combination of veterans, strong young players and inspiring female players such as Pia Cramling, one of the first women to earn the Grandmaster title. Find more information on the event on the official website which also features more details on my other appearances in Amsterdam and the closing ceremony.

From Atlantic City to London October 10, 2011

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Since returning from Saint Louis for the World Chess Hall of Fame Opening, I’ve been on the move a lot. First I hit Atlantic City for a few days for the WPT Borgata Poker Open. On my first night there, I won a satellite into the $3500 Main Event.

Collusion is rampant in live super satellites and it is very tricky to draw the line between lack of incentives toward taking risks and actual cheating. On the softer end of the spectrum, if you have a friendly dynamic with the table throughout a super-satellite, players with large stacks may fold to you in spots where they have correct odds but gain very little from calling a shove or three-betting (re-raising) a minraise. This is certainly not cheating but it does point to some inherent flaws with live supers. This tournament was pretty extreme though, as one entire table folded to the big blind for over an hour. The situation got so out of hand that the tournament directors redrew for seats.

The Borgata Main was a grueling, deep-stacked event and some of my tables were quite tough. Mostly I felt happy that I combined long stretches of patience (we played ten-handed for most of the event) with well-timed aggression. However, in my latest piece for PokerStars Women, I touch on a poorly played hand against David Williams and how I was able to recover quickly from “Mistake Tilt.” This type of tilt refers to be really hard on yourself when you make an error in-game. I was made more aware of how destructive it can be in the excellent book, The Mental Game of Poker by Jared Tendler and Barry Carter.

After being eliminated from the Main, I stayed for a guest spot at the Borgata Poker Blog. I enjoyed reporting quick profiles and hand recaps, including an online turned live pro that doesn’t fit the typical profile, a controversial hand and the final two women in the tournament.

Soon after AC, I was off to London for a short trip. Not much time for much sight-seeing or boozing as I booked a slew of meetings, PokerStars Women interviews as well as quality poker time. On the chess end, I met some great people including Sabrina Chevannes of the Chevannes Chess Academy and Malcolm Pein, organizer of one the greatest chess events in the World, the London Chess Classic.

Sabrina Chevannes with Magnus Carlsen. Let the record state I made her pose with him!

I also got in touch with some people who have common interests in the artistic side of chess, including Etan Itfeld, owner of Tenderpixel Gallery and organizer of the Mind Sports Games and Tom Hackney, an artist who paints abstractions based on chess games.

At the London Bridge and Games Shop signing a copy of Play Like a Girl

I’m going to write up my British Chess Adventures in an article in Chess Life Magazine, so look out for that.

I busted the £550 PS Women Live Event in London in disappointing fashion but had some interesting experiences and will be writing a piece on it for PokerStars Women. I was happy to see Jan Combes aka JamJars take down the event for £8,700. Earlier this year, when I could still play on PokerStars I beat her to win a package to the EPT Madrid Ladies Event and felt a twinge of sympathy since she started that battle with a significant chip lead. She was radiant as she took down this London event and I thought it was cute that she posed for the winner’s photo (by Mickey May) with her son. Congrats.

I’m really into twitter these days (the max length I can be funny at is 140 characters), so follow me there as well as my sister accounts, USChess & The Grindettes.

Greg, Daniel and I are also going to be unveiling episodes for a new reality chess TV show in the next weeks and if you follow us at XtremeChessChamps you won’t miss a thing. On that note, I leave you with the host of our new show, Kacie Marie, with a quickie chess refresher.

A Poker Life After Vegas August 9, 2011

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It took me a while to recover from the whirlwind of poker play, socializing and hard work at the World Series of Poker. An absolutely unforgettable experience. Check out my article on PokerStars Women for an in-depth account of my Main Event. I also played in a lot of women’s poker tournaments in Vegas and met some incredible female poker crushers, including the lovely ladies aka the Grindettes, Katie Stone, Katie Dozier & Jamie Kerstetter.

While in Vegas, I thought about some of the things I’m doing right and other things I need to do to take my game to the next level. Frankly, because of Black Friday I frequently wandered the halls of the Rio, wondering: “What’s Next?” Playing online was always my main poker activity. Would I quit poker after WSOP, despite feeling more connected and passionate about the game than ever before? Happily, I think I’ve found enough projects & plans to stay pretty involved in the world of poker for at least the rest of the year. Look for more details as the summer turns to autumn. And if you haven’t already done so, watch Cin I, Cin II and Goldilocks on Poker Fairytale. Those projects express more deeply in images & sounds than I can in words and that’s why Daniel and I made them. This may be my favorite:

Cin II from Poker Fairy Tale on Vimeo.