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Raven, the Newest Poker Fairy Tale (Plus my Dad’s Scary Voice) October 16, 2012

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The Raven is the newest project on Poker Fairy Tale with author and letter-writer Samara O’ Shea and Daniel Meirom, the best eye in the business (in my unbiased opinion of course!).

The Raven from Poker Fairy Tale on Vimeo.

The excerpt from our interpretation of Edgar Allan Poe’s supernatural poem about a man in mourning plays on voyeurism, feminism and how social media enables the descent into modern madness. @Edgar_Allan_Poe himself tweeted as we unveiled the piece, “You cannot be fully dead if you still receive email.”

A day after we posted it, I got the following voicemail from my dad, with a rendition of his own.

It made me understand that classic poems like the Raven, much like chess, has cross-generational power. I read this poem in high school, so did my dad, and I think (?) children still do. And yes, my dad is available for voiceover hire. He’d be perfect for Haunted House gigs.

Chips & Chess October 3, 2012

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Roulette Chess at the World Chess Hall of Fame

Chess and chance are in the air. Cardplayer just published my “Poker Player’s Guide to Chess Gambling.” I led with the famous “$50,000 game” between my brother and Tom Dwan. I moved on to chess-poker hybrids from poker chess to roulette chess to Chinese Poker Chess (see video below!). I also wrote a piece on chess and chance for the STL Beacon on my way to a roulette chess performance at the World Chess Hall of Fame. If you have any thoughts on betting on bishops, comment or tweet at me.

A Mash-up of Dworkin & Fifty Shades (Free Pussy Riot) August 21, 2012

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I awoke on Friday, August 17th to a photo of the greatest chess player in history, Garry Kasparov, restrained by three police outside the Pussy Riot trial in Moscow (Photo by Olaf Koens). Pussy Riot, a punk rock feminist band, were given two years for singing an anti-Putin song inside a church. I was surprised by how angry the verdict and the images and video of Kasparov made me feel. It made a lot of people feel that way. Kasparov was released later that day, but is being charged for “biting” an officer, which Kasparov vehemently denies.

When I was a kid first reading about Kasparov, I was inspired by his moves and life but irked by chauvinistic explanations for women’s relative lack of success in the chess world: “A women’s train of thought can be broken more easily by extraneous events, such as a baby crying upstairs.” When I met him in 2005, he was already turning a corner–he told me that to promote chess in America, it was critical to address the feminist concern over segregated women’s tournaments. And now, he fights heroically alongside a feminist group with a common goal to unseat Putin.

Poster by artist Molly Crabapple

In Vice Magazine, Pussy Riot sited radical feminist and vocal anti-porn activist Andrea Dworkin (1946-2005) as an influence. They channel Dworkin in explaining their name: “A female sex organ, which is supposed to be receiving and shapeless, suddenly starts a radical rebellion against the cultural order.”

Dworkin is too often reduced as the obese feminist in overalls who thought that all sex was rape. Though I don’t believe any serious reader of her work could come to that conclusion, I don’t align myself with Dworkin’s anti-porn stance. If anything, I’m more enamored than ever of beautiful female surfaces from photography to fashion, like the work and erotic portraiture of “MissKacieMarie.” I worked with Kacie on several projects, including X Chess and Cinderella. My own vanity is evident in my aggressive promotion of only the most flattering photographs of myself. As I joked on twitter, I ask myself often: “At what point does a vain American woman stop trying to look hot, and just try to look rich?” Also see my earlier post on poker, art and the passage of time.

Beyond “pro-sex” and “anti-sex”, I’m entranced by Dworkin’s writing and feel a compulsion to share it with you guys. So after re-reading Dworkin’s artful book Intercourse, I did a literary mash-up of it with the poorly written but hot best-seller, Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L James.

Dworkin is the most masterfully rhythmic writer I’ve ever read–that rhythm is seductive, and sexy, even if she challenges sex itself. In contrast, the trite writing and simplistic character sketches in Fifty Shades of Grey make some of the pornographic scenes cartoonish, like a strip club with flourescent lighting and no music or alcohol.

Fifty Shades in italics, Dworkin in bold italics

Sometimes the skin comes off in sex. The people merge, skinless. The body loses its boundaries. We are each in these separate bodies; and then, with someone and not with someone else, the skin dissolves altogether; and what touches is unspeakably, grotesquely visceral, not inside language or conceptualization, not inside time; raw, blood and fat and muscle and bone, unmediated by form or formal limits.

“There’s a very fine line between pleasure and pain, Anastasia. They are two sides of the same coin, one not existing without the other. I can show you how pleasurable pain can be. Again, it comes down to trust….Do you trust me, Ana?”

“My heart was open to you,” says a man obsessively in love in the Face of Another by Kobo Abe, “quite as if the front of it had been sliced away.” This skinless sex is a fever, but fever is too small. It is obsession, but obsession is too psychological. It becomes life, and as such, it is a state of being, a metaphysical reality for those in it, for whom no one else exists. It ends when the skin comes back into being as a boundary.

His skin is so smooth and velvety….and hard….hmmm, what a delicious combination. “Stop Ana, stop. I don’t want to come.” I sit up…..My inner goddess looks like someone snatched her ice cream.

Inside a person, sexual desire-or need or compulsion is sometimes experienced as a stigma, as if it marks the person, as if it can be seen; a great aura emanating from inside; an interior play of light and shadow, vitality and death, wanting and being used up; an identifying mark that is indelible; a badge of desire or experience; a sign that differentiates the individual carrying it, both attracting and repelling others, in the end isolating the marked one, who is destroyed by the intensity and ultimate hopelessness of a sexual calling.

My inner goddess frowns at me. You can do this, she coaxes—play this sex god at his own game….picking up a spear of asparagus, I gaze at him and bit my lip. Then very slowly put the tip of my cold asparagus in my mouth and suck it.

Am I saying that I know more than men about fucking? Yes, I am. Not just different: more and better, deeper and wider, the way anyone used knows the user.


“Christian. You use sex as a weapon. It really isn’t fair”…He raises his eyebrows surprised and I see he’s considering my words.

Sexual Intercourse is not intrinsically banal, though pop culture magazine like Esquire and Cosmopolitan would suggest that it is. It is intense, often desperate. The internal landscape is violent upheaval, a wild and ultimately cruel disregard of human individuality, a brazen, high-strung wanting that is absolute and imperishable, not attached to personality, no respecter of boundaries; ending not in sexual climax but in a human tragedy of failed relationships, vengeful bitterness in an aftermath of sexual heat, personality corroded by too much endurance of undesired, habitual intercourse, conflict, a wearing away of vitality in the numbness finally of habit or compulsion or the loneliness of separation.


I don’t even know how to categorize him. If I do this thing…..will he be my boyfriend?…The truth is I don’t think he will.

Having an interior life of wanting, needing, gives fucking human meaning in a human context. Being stigmatized by sex is being marked by its meaning in a human life of loneliness and imperfection, where some pain is indelible.

I did follow my heart, and I have a sore ass and an anguished, broken spirit to show for it.

In Amerika, there is the nearly universal conviction or so it appears- that sex (fucking) is good and that liking it is right: morally right; a sign of human health; nearly a standard for citizenship.

But I’m not sure I have the stomach to be his submissive—deep down, it’s the canes and whips that put me off.

In fucking, one’s insides are on the line; and the fragile and unique intimacy of going for broke makes communion possible, in human reach—not transcendental and otherworldy, but an experience in flesh and love.


“You are not buying me a car.”
He glowers at me, his jaw tense.
“We’ll see,” he says tightly.

And crossing on that high and rotting and shaking bridge to identity, with whatever degree or quality of fear or courage is the ordeal that makes empathy possible: not a false sympathy of abstract self-indulgence, a liberal condescension, but a way of seeing others for what they are by seeing what their own lives have cost them.

Photoshoot: Jamie & Jen Buried in Aces August 17, 2012

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If you’re a female and you play poker, at some point in your career you have to find a deck of oversize cards and do absurd things with them. In this case, Jamie Kerstetter and I were captured by Daniel Meirom playing with a silver deck, a pink deck, oversize 8×11 and 4×6 decks we used to shoot Goldilocks, a PokerStars Caribbean Adventure deck, and an “invisible deck” I picked up at the World Chess Hall of Fame.

In related news, Rachel Kranz wrote a piece on the Grindettes for Poker Pro Magazine.She writes about the changing image of women in poker, furthered by female success at this year’s WSOP.

Katie Stone is quoted in the article on the sub-forum on twoplustwo that she started, “That’s What She Said” (TWSS),

There have been so many women who have posted in our forum, who say, ‘I’ve been lurking for years, reading for years, but I’ve never dared…writing anything because I would just get trashed or get trolled.’ She hopes that the experience of posting in a women’s forum may help women become more comfortable with posting in open forums, just as the experience of playing in a women’s tournament may help women become more comfortable playing in open events.

Read the full article (pdf) here.

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.

WSOP Interview on Women in Poker July 23, 2012

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I’m composing a long and ambitious piece about my experience at the World Series of Poker. In other words, look for it in August. If you follow me on twitter, you know a lot about the ups and downs of my 2012 WSOP. I had a fantastic time obviously (not hard at “adult summer camp”) but I didn’t run well at poker in several key moments, for instance my bustout hand in the Main Event.

Women did fantastically at this year’s WSOP. Though two beautiful young women narrowly missed out on final-tabling the Main Event (see Hitler’s reaction), Vanessa Selbst won a bracelet in the ten-game mix and Amanda Musumeci and Jackie Glazier both placed 2nd in No Limit Hold Em events. See my PokerStars Women article on Selbst.

I was interviewed on QuadJacks about ChessBitch, women in poker and the WSOP Ladies Event.

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.

The Extreme “X Chess” Championships Finale May 28, 2012

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The Extreme “X Chess” Championships culminates in a face-off between 13-year-old Justus Williams & Stanford Student Elliott Liu. Watch it below and stay posted to our twitter feed, facebook page and YouTube channel for details on season II.

X Chess Episode III: Final Four April 10, 2012

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The third episode of X Chess features particularly thrilling games and whittles the field down to two deserving finalists. Let me know what you think and subscribe on YouTube.

X Chess Part II: A Battle of the Sexes February 6, 2012

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Those of you who follow me on twitter know I’ve been traveling at a rapid pace this winter. From the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure in the Bahamas to the Borgata Winter Open to New York for the premiere of the X Chess Championships, this season has been all about go, go, go. I have so much more to tell you but for now, check out Episode II of Extreme “X Chess” Championships and let me know what you think.

Stay posted on the Xtreme Chess Championships on twitter, facebook and subscribe to our youtube channel.