Meet Our Instructors
"It’s never too late to get a new outlook and a new attitude about the game. It’s never too late in your poker career to learn."
- Founder of the Tournament Directors Association
- Three World Series of Poker final tables
- Member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame
Jan Fisher has spent her life working in just about every facet of the poker industry. She has been a dealer, a cardroom manager, and a tournament director. For the past two decades, she’s written a poker column for industry publications. As the statistician for the World Poker Tour’s first six seasons, she helped promote that company’s groundbreaking efforts to establish poker on television—efforts that in large part sparked the poker boom which in turn transformed the industry.
Today, as a member of the Tournament Directors Association, an organization that she co-founded, Jan helps set the standards for how poker tournaments are played. As a partner in Card Player Cruises, she oversees shipboard cardrooms and organizes worldwide travel for thousands of poker enthusiasts. As a founder of Poker Gives, she also works to raise charitable donations from the poker community. But of all the jobs Jan has had and all the activities she has engaged in, there is one clear favorite: playing poker.
Cutting Her Teeth in Las Vegas Cardrooms
Jan’s poker career began in 1977. She had just turned 21, and she moved to Las Vegas to become a poker dealer.
“I had first learned how to play when I was a child, seven or eight years old, at a family friend’s house,” she recalls. “We played something we called ‘Paul’s Game’, but I found out much later in life that it was actually poker. And so I learned what the ranking of the hands were, and we played for Lifesavers or whatever. Poker was just something that I always knew how to play, but of course, I didn’t know anything about strategy.”
As she was growing up, Jan visited Las Vegas on junkets with her mother, who mostly played blackjack. So when she was 21, she decided to take off for Vegas and become a full-time poker dealer.
“It looked like a very intriguing way of life, I was in a dead-end job in Seattle, and I wanted to do something different,” Jan explains, with typical matter-of-factness. “And poker dealers didn’t have to split their tips!”
Jan would have been happy just dealing, but that’s not how it worked in the late 1970s. In those days, cardrooms expected dealers to “shill” or to be “prop players” (short for “proposition players”)—people who filled in empty seats at the tables to keep the games going. At least one shift of a full-time week was spent not dealing, but playing. Prop players could keep what they won, but they had to play with their own money.
“You kind of either learned to beat the game or you went broke trying and had to find a new line of work,” Jan explains. “So I was forced to learn how to play to beat the game. I found I was able to figure the game out and to crack it.”
Jan had enjoyed dealing—but she loved playing. “I really loved the challenge of it,” she says. “I loved being able to go to work, knowing that every day would be different. Every hand of poker would be different. It was just always exciting. I think there are very few boring poker games.”
Changing the Face of Poker
Jan spent the next 15 years dealing and playing. Although she never got tired of the work, she did sometimes get frustrated with the atmosphere.
“I had a pretty good reputation for not taking abuse—and I got fired from most every job I had because I wouldn’t take the abuse,” she recalls. Then she adds quickly, “Getting fired was the norm back then. Dealers would get fired to accommodate the players who complained about their bad luck. It wasn’t anything to feel bad about. It was just the way it was.”
Jan has a certain amount of pride in the way she stood up for herself and her fellow employees. “There are jobs that I walked out of because of the abuse, and I could have stayed and said it was okay, but it wasn’t okay,” she says. “And in some of the situations, I was not only not terminated from the job for walking off in the middle of a shift, but I was actually commended by the cardroom manager the following day for sticking up for myself.”
One of the things that Jan is proudest of is being a part of the efforts to change the climate in cardrooms. Now, she says, players and dealers alike can feel safe to play without fear of being abused or threatened. They can enjoy a smoke-free atmosphere instead of putting their health at risk from a cloud of nicotine-laden fumes. And players can count on honest games where the rake—the amount taken from each hand by the casino—is capped at a fair amount.
Jan recalls when most casinos ran “snatch games”, so called because the dealer was free to snatch just about any amount from every pot. The dealers would take as much as they could get away with, and the casinos considered the best dealers the ones who took the most. At her very first poker game, back in 1977, she sat down to play with $20, won a pot—and ended up with $18.75. “Obviously, something wasn’t right!” she says. “And that was legal back then!”
A Constantly Growing Challenge
Jan considers her part in ending the abuse and the smoking in poker rooms as one of the highlights of her career. Meanwhile, she’s thrilled with the way poker has grown and changed over the years, especially in the past decade.
“Up until eight or ten years ago, the game was what the game was,” she says. “It wasn’t going anywhere, it wasn’t changing. Now it’s new and it’s exciting. And I’m a dinosaur in the business! If you had asked me 10 years ago where I saw poker in the 2010s, I would’ve said, well, pretty much where it is now, because that’s how it had always been. But it’s not that way anymore. It changes every day.”
She adds, “Every day, as soon as you learn a new trick, somebody’s learned a new trick to counteract it. There are just so many layers to the game. It’s a code that’s never going to be cracked because there’s never going to be ‘an answer’. I LOVE that!”
For Jan, the challenge is what makes poker exciting. “I’ve always been a competitor,” she says. “I’ve played competitive sports my whole life. Tell me I can’t do something, and I will do it. I love that about myself. But as I get older, I’m not able to compete physically in so many ways. I see people my dad’s age, I see people 18 years old, I see people of every walk of life, of every age, at the table competing on an equal level playing field. And I like that. I like that poker is a game that you can play against anybody without having to spot somebody points or anything else, because it is an equal playing field.”
Poker is not only an equal-opportunity challenger, it’s a constantly evolving challenge. “I just love that poker is a game for a lifetime,” Jan says. “I love that you can quit playing for a few months and come back, and the entire game has evolved.”
Jan is primarily a cash game player, but she has won her share of tournaments, including the T.J. Cloutier Challenge, the Ladies Event at the Scotty Nguyen Challenge, and several events at the Summer Pot of Gold in Reno. She’s also made three final tables at the World Series of Poker.
Looking for the “Aha” Moment
Because Jan loves poker so much, she loves sharing it with others. When asked what she likes about teaching, she says, “I enjoy seeing the light-bulb turn on. I enjoy seeing somebody have that aha moment. When that happens, it is generally very significant and very rewarding…and it gives me a chance to connect to them.” As a result, she says, “I’ve built a lot of lifetime friendships from teaching at Boot Camp.”
Jan spends a lot of time thinking about how she can create those aha moments for her students. For many people, she says, it’s a revelation to discover that poker is not about the cards—it’s about the situations.
“When they finally get that, it’s just so rewarding,” she says. “I like being able to give that to somebody who’s never had it before.”
What about Jan’s philosophy of teaching? What’s the main thing she’d like her students to understand?
“Hmmmm,” she says when asked that question, and then she smiles. “It’s never too late to get a new outlook and a new attitude about the game,” she says. “It’s never too late in your poker career to learn.”