Erica Schoenberg has it all - beauty, brains and is a fierce opponent at the Poker Table. A former Blackjack professional, Erica showed the poker world she had arrived, at the Five Star World Poker Classic at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. She finished in 16th place and won over $100,000. Finishing higher in the tournament than some notable professional players like Doyle Brunson, Phil Helmuth and Evelyn Ng, it would be the caveat to to get her started as an up and coming household name in the Poker World.
WPP: How did you get started in poker?
Erica: I played professional black jack for years but found that it was no longer panning out. I was forced into a different realm. It was really a no brainer that I gravitated towards poker. I was in the casinos a lot and poker was becoming very big. Occassionally, I would stop and watch what was going on. When I found that Blackjack was no longer an interest for me, poker seemed to be the next logical step.
Poker used to be a gentleman’s game. I don’t want to see it become a man’s game again but I would like to see it develop into the sophisticated game that it used to be. I know that might all sound a little corny but it really is what I would like to see take place.
WPP: What are the major differences between poker and black jack besides the obvious? What are the differences in skills?
Erica: There are huge differences. It was a very rough transition for me. Black Jack is very absolute. It is black and white. There are very few different ways to play the cards you are dealt. There are little intricacies but the bottom line is always the same. If am dealt certain cards and the dealer is dealt certain cards, there is only one way to play it. Poker requires more finesse and more focus than Blackjack. You can have the same cards so many times yet never play them the same way. The way I play any two cards depends so much on other influences. I have to watch the other players and pay closer attention to what they are doing and look for betting patterns, tells. In Blackjack I only have to worry about the cards.
WPP: Are they similar in any way at all?
Erica: The only real similarities are mathematical. Calculating the odds and things like that are very much the same, but other wise the two games are so completely different.
WPP: I know you are very good with numbers and how won some competitions in math also. How much do you depend on those skills in poker?
Erica: I don’t base my whole game on the math but it tends to make it easier to make tough decisions. Knowing the math from playing Black Jack left one less thing that I had to learn in poker. I know there are players who spend a lot of time working on their math skills. I already have that ability. It comes naturally now. Sometimes in a close call I can think and think about it but the odds normally dictate whether or not I will fold or call. Knowing what the odds are that my cards will hit is a big plus in poker. I know that there are only 52 cards in a deck and I need x amount in the pot for me to call. I can figure out pretty quickly if it is worth seeing the flop or to just fold the hand.
WPP: How much emphasis do you place on luck?
Erica: I like to think I am just really good (laughs) but luck does play a factor. Over a long period of time like in tournaments luck is important. WPP: You are a winning tournament player. How are you doing in the cash games? Erica: Cash games are much different. Right now I play a lot more tournaments. I like all the aspects of tournament play. I love the strategies that are involved in tournaments and the end result of beating out many players. I don’t see much of that strategy in cash games but to be honest, I haven’t played them very much. Once the WSOP is over I will probably devote a bit more time to cash games but I will most likely always prefer tournaments.
WPP: Do you feel you are close to attaining your goal of being the first World Poker Tour Champion?
Erica: I am very new to poker but I don’t think it is out of my reach. I think about this a lot. I am getting close. It is a gut wrenching feeling though, when you can see it so close and then cannot quite makes it to take the whole thing. I am hopeful that if I keep playing and keep on top of my game that I can get to that status. It is only a matter of time before a woman wins a World Poker Tour Championship title. I hope it is me!
WPP: Where do you feel women fit into poker right now?
Erica: Anywhere they want to. I know that isn’t really an answer but women can play and they can play what ever they want and where ever they want. There is room for everyone in poker. I see a stronger representation of women lately but not nearly as much as I expected. I see a lot of women play online but I am just not seeing that transfer over into live events. I’m sure there are several different reasons for it. Men gamble much more than women. I think that is often interpreted as women’s inability to play. And let’s face it; casinos don’t go out of their way to make it more comfortable for women. The tables can be very intimidating and there are very few lower buy in tournaments that women feel they can play in. The big tournaments cost a lot of money and that is not always a possibility.
There is also the time aspect. Women don’t always have the time to play consistently. And to make money in poker it costs not just money but time to learn and to gain the experience. To me, to put all this time into playing you either really have to love it or be a degenerate (laughs). And sometimes a little of both. No, honestly I see both types at the tables. Some really love the game and are either learning to play or are very skillful. And then there are others who are just maniacs and are out to make a quick buck. Poker isn’t about quick money. There needs to be a lot of time and money invested to play and to play well.
WPP: What is your advice to women who are looking to play more professionally?
Erica: It is a finicky transition from a solid income to playing poker for a living. It really can be traumatic. It is a big deal to change careers as bizarre as it sounds. My advice to women or anyone looking to play professionally is to enter into it in stages, a little at a time. Start out with the lower limits and smaller buy in tournaments. Then build yourself up a little at a time until you are comfortable. It comes slowly. Jumping right in and quitting a job with a steady income to playing poker, especially tournaments where the big wins are not consistent and certainly not predictable can put a huge strain on your game itself.
If you are playing to pay your bills and need to win you will tend to play scared if you do not have a decent bankroll to back you up. No one can play if they are afraid to bluff or call a bluff. It changes your whole outlook on the game and in the end can be much more damaging to your personal life also. In order to play professionally, all aspects of your life, money and time need to be adjusted. There are other obligations besides poker. Everything needs to be put into a perspective. If you cannot devote the time or money to playing there is no sense in trying to play professionally. I don’t mean not to play, just not to base your entire income poker
WPP: What are your plans for the future?
Erica: Right now I have tournament fever. I want to play all the time. I don’t think that will change anytime soon. I am playing all the time and I love it. I am hell bent on winning. I do think though that I am going to relax a little before the WSOP. As a matter of fact there was a tournament today that I missed. There were not many players and I really want to try to unwind. There are a lot of WSOP events and the atmosphere is very stressful. I do not want to go into all of that tired and on edge. It is intimidating enough with out adding to it.
WPP: Are you playing in the Ladies Event at the WSOP?
Erica: Of course. I am so excited about that event especially.
WPP: It looks like there is going to be some very serious competition this year. I know the magazine Elle is sending a team of players and some big names are going to be playing this year.
Erica: Yes, it does look like it is going to be a bigger tournament this year. It would be great if they hit at least a thousand players. I know the WSOP decided to make it a two day event. That might draw more women out to play. I really hope it (WSOP Ladies Event) gets a lot of press this year. I think with the hoopla that came out of it last year and Jennifer Tilly’s win last year the ladies event will definitely get more attention. Hopefully it will be televised. I am hoping to do well though.
Women are very hard to play against. There are very few middle of the road women players. Some are very very tight and will not play many hands at all and then there are those who will play crazy. Just crazy bluffers. There are very few of the women generally who can or will play the middle. Bluff sometimes, tighten up at other times. Most fall into one extreme or the other.
Originally published in Woman Poker Player print publication Summer of 2006.