As Jennifer Shahade progressed to Day 5 of the World Series of Poker Main Event last summer, she was concealing a pretty significant secret. Although there were some clear hints over the subsequent six months, the full reveal didn’t come until early this year.
On January 3, Shahade gave birth to her first child, Fabian. Unknown to all but her closest friends and family, Shahade was three months pregnant during her run to 204th in the WSOP last time, the first Main Event cash of her career.
“I was about to tell people, because we were getting to that point where it was acceptable to tell people,” Shahade reveals today. “But I wanted to wait until after the Main because I wanted to be really serious about the poker. I didn’t want to move my focus. You want to be serious and intense and almost like a machine at times, especially when you go deep in a tournament. So you don’t want to be bringing in all the emotional things in your life that much.”
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To be purely results oriented, it was the right decision. Until she ended up getting a rough beat to be knocked out–aces < queens--Shahade's run last year was ruthless: she built a big stack early on and then flirted with the tournament lead as they moved into the money. "Being pregnant was totally fine," she adds. "You don't party, there's no distractions. The only bad thing is the fatigue. The hours are pretty long."
This year, of course, the prospect of a trip to Las Vegas from her home in Philadelphia presented a serious conundrum. Would Fabian come along for the ride?
“We were thinking of bringing him out,” Shahade says. “I would have found a nanny…I have some friends who are doing that, so it’s not undoable. But for me, it’s just I’d rather come out for a longer time if I’m going to do all those logistics, you know.”
Fabian is therefore back in Philly with his dad as Shahade plays the Ladies event (from which she was knocked out yesterday) and the Main Event. Shahade is the only Red Spade in the tournament’s opening flight today, but she checked in with her husband and son before play started, finding some unique inspiration.
Shahade says that Fabian is currently transitioning onto formula and solid food, which was not the case when his mother made her first trip to Vegas this summer, for the $10,000 Tag Team event at the beginning of the series. Shahade partnered with Ben Yu and spent her time away from the tables engaged in a slightly different activity to what’s usually expected of poker players.
“I picked that event because it would be a small field and I also knew I could take some breaks to pump,” Shahade says.
For several years, Shahade has been accustomed to juggling numerous disciplines. She is a woman grandmaster chess player and author of several books, and first signed on with PokerStars as a Mind Sport Ambassador. But even before Fabian arrived, Shahade says she was keen to avoid the trap of allowing poker, or games of any description, to take over her life.
This week she wrote a blog post insisting “Fabian reminds me that good poker is meant to enhance life, not replace it”.
Today she adds, “I think emotionally it can really absorb you. I think it’s really important to have friends and family outside poker you can talk to if you’re running bad, because it’s easier to get into another zone, where you’re talking about something else and not just miserable about running bad.”
She was philosophical too about the grim end to last year’s campaign. “People didn’t believe me, but I was actually totally fine,” she says. “If I had made a bad call or something and busted, I would have been upset. I get so upset when I make mistakes, so if I get also upset when I get unlucky, I would just be miserable all the time. You can’t be upset about both otherwise you’re not going to enjoy playing poker.”
Shahade says she is still staying sharp by playing on Sundays on PokerStars.NJ, which she can reach only a short drive from her Pennsylvania home.
And here she is back at the World Series Main Event with even greater focus. Now she has two mouths to feed.
WSOP photos by PokerPhotoArchive.com.