Jennifer Leigh, or as she is known by her somewhat alter ego, “Jennicide,” is an enigma in the world of high stakes poker. The blonde-haired Delaware native has been playing poker in some form since she was a child. Although she loves the limelight and the money she has made—especially online—she is also a self-proclaimed “nerd” with a passion for rebuilding computers, video games and all things tech.
Leigh says she loves the strategy and science of the game as much as the winning hands and bright lights which have come to professional poker in recent years. It is that love of strategy that will have her join five teammates in London later this month for the first-ever Nations Cup, a two-day duplicate poker event in London which will pit country against country (12 nations total will be represented).
In addition to Leigh, the team will include Hall of Famer and captain Barry Greenstein, Antonio “The Magician” Esfandiari, Isaac Haxton, Ali Eslami and Vanessa Selbst, with veteran Matt Mantos serving as alternate.
Leigh has never been one to shrink from the spotlight (as her photo spreads in Playboy and FHM have revealed over the years). We caught up with “Jennicide” for a little Q-and-A as she readied her game to travel abroad.
Jerry Milani is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.
BR: This will be a different experience for you, as you built your reputation for success in online poker, as well as in some high stakes games.
JL: Yes it will be, but I love to travel and I love the idea of being able to help re-shape the image of poker as a mind sport. As much as I have enjoyed playing online and in high stakes events, I think we have a chance to help make the game so much more and to reach a new audience, and I think that is what the Nation’s Cup will help start.
BR: You have played in various places around the U.S.; have you ever played overseas?
JL: I played last summer in an event in Cyprus, and that was great fun. However, playing in London, as someone who loves history, will be very different and quite exciting. The only time I have spent in England was when I was stuck at Heathrow for a layover, so to be able to experience and follow the culture of London and be able to play poker against some amazing names will be really different and a new challenge for me.
BR: What is it like for a woman playing in a sport that has been dominated by men?
JL: To be honest, it is quite a challenge, especially for someone like me who has a dominating personality myself. I think there are lots of tactics that can be intimidating for someone my age playing professionally, but I have thrived in the challenge and really think that if there were an equal amount of women and men playing professionally, that women would fare as well or better than the men in terms of bracelets and winnings. We hold our own despite the numbers, and I think this strategic side of the game will do us all well, especially our team which includes myself and Vanessa.
BR: Have you ever played with or against any of your teammates?
JL: I have played online against some of them and have played against Barry in person, so it will be great to be on his team. I have seen Vanessa and really admire her game and how she plays, and I have played with Matt and Ali, who is a good friend. I think we will make a good team.
BR: Do you think your looks help or hurt the perception of you as a player?
JL: I love the way I look and enjoy being around the game. I love the strategy, and realize I have to use all my assets to be successful, but my goal is to be a really good player and a champion. I spend a lot of time learning the game…I am really a computer nerd…and don’t think that combination of skill is lost when people see how I play, not just how I look.
BR: Is it difficult to maintain a normal life and be an elite player?
JL: It is definitely hard to settle down and have a steady relationship, because the guys are so competitive in this line of work. No win is ever big enough, the grass is always greener and the game is so competitive. I have a lot of other interests outside of poker…I enjoy video games, I love cooking, I really enjoy travel…so that is the life I choose. It is fun and challenging so maybe it’s not normal but it is a life I really enjoy.
BR: You attended the University of Delaware but never graduated, is that a regret?
JL: No not at all, especially when I see how many young people are struggling to pay their loans and get a first job after spending so much time in school. I love learning and improving myself and growing as a person with varied interests. I don’t think that growth is hampered by not having a degree at this point in my life. Maybe someday when I am done I will go back and finish, but right now I am learning from those around me and I think that’s pretty special.
BR: Are you concerned about any added pressure playing the Nation’s Cup and being an ambassador of the sport to people who may have a jaded opinion of poker?
JL: Not at all, I love the challenge, and our goal is to go to London and win as a team and as individuals. Hey if someone told me when I was younger I would be playing for my country in London against some great players and with some of the people I have watched, played with and played against I would have laughed. But here it is happening and I’m looking forward to it, as much for the message we will be getting out…that poker is a mind sport…than for the competition. I can’t wait.
Visit Jennifer Leigh online at http://www.jennicide.com.