It’s not a matter of if online poker will be coming back to the state of Pennsylvania, it’s a matter of when. Currently, online poker giant PokerStars is the frontrunner to be the first to offer online poker players in Pennsylvania a chance to fire up tournaments and cash games in a regulated environment and you can bet that when they do PokerStars Mind Sports Ambassador Jennifer Shahade will be one of the very first to log on.
Not only is Shahade a PokerStars ambassador, but she’s also a two-time United States women’s chess champion, a poker player and commentator, podcast host, and a mom. She’s also a resident of Philadelphia and one who is ready to get back to the online grind.
“I’m super excited to be in Philly during the launch of PokerStars in Pennsylvania and I feel fortunate that I am in one of the first states to regulate online poker, especially as a mom, I can play after I read my son a story,” Shahade said. “The timing of online poker tournaments works so well for my schedule so I’m looking forward to the PokerStars PA launch.”
It has been a long wait for prospective online poker players in the Keystone State. Nearly two years ago, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed the bill that allowed for the regulation and legalization of both online poker and sports betting. July 15 of this year was supposed to be the date when players would be able to get started, but that date came and went without a word. Even though many online gaming services have since launched, poker is not one of them. In recent weeks though, rumors have surfaced that PokerStars is close to testing their poker client and releasing it to the public.
“I’m so excited to play on PokerStars from the comfort of my home,” Shahade said. “I can’t wait to bring back the thrill of Sunday evening poker and for that to be brought to players across Pennsylvania.”
For Shahade, being both an ambassador for PokerStars and a Pennsylvania resident will place her in a key strategic role for a new, emerging PA online poker community. Shahade notes that the Keystone State has long been a breeding ground for some of the game’s top poker players and the return of online poker will likely only contribute to that history.
“There are already so many great poker pros from the Philly area, and we’ve had so many world champions and WSOP Main Event final tablists who hail from our parts, including [Scott] Blumstein and [Joe] McKeehen,” she said. “I think a lot of people players who previously lived in New Jersey to play online poker will consider PA as well, especially Philadelphia or Pittsburgh.”
Certainly, Shahade’s excited, but it’s not as though she has been just hanging around waiting for poker’s return. Shahade spent time this summer in Las Vegas playing in the World Series of Poker, but she’s also been receiving quite a bit of buzz over her new podcast, The Grid Poker Podcast.
The Grid matches professional poker players with specific starting hands and the conversation dives into specific stories about those hands and what that means to the players. Her guest list reads like a who’s who of the poker world including Nick Shulman, Jamie Kerstetter, Ryan Laplante, Lex Veldhuis, and more.
“I came up with the idea for The Poker Grid on a sleepless night traveling with my family in the Bahamas for PCA. I was frustrated with the criticism that poker theory and GTO study is boring and is killing the game of poker,” she said. “Rather than shouting from the rooftops that math is beautiful and equilibrium is artistic, I needed a way to express that through content. So it occurred to me to host a podcast with an interview for every cell on the poker grid, an absurdist challenge that could also intrigue people beyond poker, interested in math, literature or art. The idea of using a GRID to improve ties into my passion for chess, where I also have a podcast, Ladies Knight, which celebrates some of the top women in our games.”
It not only her guests that have memorable stories attached to specific starting hands.
“A few months ago, I spoke about a hand with pocket threes at a sit-n-go at the WSOP, long before I played poker professionally, or worked with PokerStars,” Shahade said. “Playing live poker was such a treat for me, so when I got heads-up, I refused to chop, even though my opponent asked me a few times. At a critical moment, I jammed all in with about 15 BBs. My opponent looked down at his cards and promised me that he has a pair and that he would call…or, we could stop the tourney right then and chop – as we were roughly equal in chips.
“I said yes after doing some back-of-the-envelope calls, considering that his most frequent holding was deuces, but could easily have 44-66. After I agreed to the deal, I turned over pocket threes, he turned over the other two 3s, and we both roared. I admired his cleverness at getting me to agree to a deal. As with many hands on The Poker Grid, story meets strategy.”
There’s going to be plenty of strategy for the Mind Sports ambassador to focus on when online poker finally takes off. She notes that she’s most looking forward to “getting in more volume” while expanding her own understanding of The Grid.
“I want to play one session which I ‘play every hand”, except in this case ‘playing every hand’ won’t mean playing 100% of all possible hands, but playing each hand on the Grid at least once,” Shahade said.
For a poker pro, navigating every single starting hand possibility could be a fun, exciting challenge. However, that’s not her advice for Pennsylvania players who pick up poker as a new hobby over the next year, of which there could be many of given the new regulated market for PA online poker.
“Start small,” she said. “The thrill is still there even if you don’t jump into the biggest tournaments and don’t forget to account for re-entries in your budgeting.
“Bankroll management is key to ensure you stay on track and enjoy the experience. Poker is more fun with friends. Find a community of poker players or start a chat group with current poker friends and share interesting hands. PokerStars has many channels that give helpful advice for beginners right the way up to regular players.
“The PokerStars School is a good place for some valuable information and they have loads of other fun and complimentary content like Twitch streams, videos, and podcasts, including my own. Ultimately, just start playing, you learn from experience and you can gain experience for very little online.”