POKER LIFESTYLE

Interview with Erin Lydon, Poker Power Managing Director

By Ivan Potocki
January 25, 2022

For the last few years, there’s been a lot of talk about women in poker and how to entice more women to join the game that’s mainly male-dominated and still has a certain stigma surrounding it.

While the discussion on this topic is good, it’s the action that really counts, and the action is exactly what Poker Power is all about. Established a couple of years ago, the company started with a vision of, encouraging women to learn and play poker, and they’ve come a long way since.

Today, we’re joined by Erin Lydon, Poker Power’s Managing Director. Erin joined the team in 2020 despite not having any poker experience herself. Having been an outspoken advocate for workplace equality and building a successful career in male-centric occupations, she realized this was an opportunity to continue pursuing her goals in a somewhat different environment.

Erin Lydon

For our readers who may not be familiar with Poker Power, can you tell us a bit more about the concept and how did you yourself come to take on the role as the Managing Director?

Poker Power was founded by Jenny Just, the co-founder of PEAK6, a multi-billion dollar finance and technology firm. In the world of finance, we know there are not enough female capital allocators – women making decisions around money. There also are not enough women progressing from entry-level to manager to the boardroom across industries. So far, not much has moved the needle to change those stats. It’s similar to the  poker world–most players are men. And that’s just not okay.  So we asked, what are men learning that women are not? Poker Power offers an innovative way for women to learn and practice skills and strategies correlated with success including strategic thinking, decision-making, negotiation and risk assessment.

I’ve been a longtime and outspoken advocate for workplace equality including giving a TEDxTalk on equal pay. I’ve always worked in male-dominated industries – finance, sports and eSports. Poker is, by far, the most male-centric environment I’ve tackled, but that’s why the mission of our organization–to teach a million women how to play the game – resonates so strongly with my belief that the status quo is ineffective and something must change. Poker Power is that change.

Are you a poker player yourself? 

I am now! But no, I never had interest nor opportunity to learn the game until joining the company and attending my first Poker Power class in February 2020. I can readily admit I was intimidated and uncertain if this was for me. In many ways, I quickly realized that I was the target audience for Poker Power. That realization gave me a valuable perspective on how to encourage more women to play with us. We built Poker Power to not only help women accelerate their success, but also to address those common feelings women experience in male-centric spaces: mainly trepidation and intimidation, which are very familiar to female poker players.

What was the journey like up to this point?

I joined the team three weeks before the pandemic lock-down in March 2020. So very quickly, and with no playbook, we shifted the business model to create and test our proprietary, virtual curriculum. It’s hard to recall, but in those early months, it was a novel idea to teach a live class across a Zoom screen to girls and women sitting in their living rooms.  When we first started teaching, the lessons were much too complex and overwhelming – we wanted to explain the rule of 2 and 4 to women who were struggling to figure out the nuts. We had to slow down, simplify, and prioritize ensuring that women felt welcome in our classes no matter their backgrounds or skill level.

Fast forward to today and our community spans 27 countries, with all but two US states (we need SD and WV!). Nearly every day, we teach our flagship 60-minute Zoom classes, which combine skills, strategy, workplace translation and gameplay on a poker app. We also host daily MTTs for our community to practice their skills and socialize. There’s a lot of laughter (and friendly competition) at a Poker Power tourney!

We’ve partnered with over 70 companies, higher education institutions and associations to bring our unique curriculum to female cohorts, usually via the company’s ERG or DEI programming. Recent partners include Morningstar, White & Case, Anita B, Comcast,  and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. We are eager to partner with many more.

Have you had a lot of interest from women out there and what are your members saying about the program?

Here’s what we know about most women–they don’t think they want to play poker! In fact, that’s our biggest barrier right now–raising awareness on why learning the game matters, especially for women. With every conversation, we flip the table on old school thinking and challenge women to try us. We believe women can master the game of leadership through a game of skill.

The other thing we know is that once women start learning and playing, many of them love it and refer others to us. It’s really a pay it forward model–tell your friends, sisters and daughters. Most women who join us are novices, just like me, and it takes time to develop confidence and basic game competency. We can meet women at any stage of their learning journey from beginners who don’t know the jargon to more advanced players who complete our 12 lesson curriculum and enroll in private tutorials with our expert teachers. We think our daily games and quarterly tournaments are critical to the learning process as our students can put into practice  lessons from class, all in a female-centric setting that ensures a welcoming and fun play environment.

Would you say that the platform has managed to achieve its goals so far – are the numbers bigger or smaller than what you’d expected initially?

Our goal is a million women playing poker, and honestly, we had no idea if ANY women would sign up with us! While neither Jenny nor I were poker players, we’re both risk takers. It took both of us to be the mouthpiece for this organization along with the willingness of our dedicated teachers (like Kyna England) to convince women why they should try this game. It’s working but we want more!

Today I know many of our thousands of players by name and chat with them in our daily games. I will tell you that every woman who learns with us matters and is counted as a win–we are a positive force and changing lives. And we’re just getting started.

I am excited to announce our  new education platform launch with Zogo – an app that introduces the basics of the game to a wider audience than we can reach with our live classes. Zogo reinvents financial education one game at a time and introduces poker in a way that aligns with our goals of inclusiveness and bite-sized learnings. We believe Zogo’s learn-and-earn model will spur women who have never been interested in playing to give it a try. You can download Zogo via our dedicated link.

You’re not a professional player like Kyna, but you’ve been known to dabble with the cards here and there. Are there any special events or even big hands that stuck with you?

My first live hand of poker was truly memorable! I sat at a $1/3 cash game at the Venetian in July 2021. I bought in for $300–which, having never played in my life, felt risky. Initially my table was all men and me. I was flanked by my celebrity posse of Xuan Liu and Amanda Botfeld who were there to bolster my courage and comment on my gameplay (no pressure, huh!). I looked great but was seriously nauseated with intimidation!  Here’s my first hand as recorded by Amanda that night:

3 limps. Erin in CO raises QTo to $9. Flop KTQdd. Donkey into for $15. Call. Erin raises to $45. Turn 9. Led into for 20. Erin makes it 40. River queen. He leads for 75. Erin just calls with her full house.

Yep, Full House! I was so nervous I didn’t realize I had it until after I called! Such a newbie mistake.

But here’s what happened next. I scooped all those chips into my stack and got this rush of adrenaline knowing all eyes were now on me. Every poker player has felt the thrill of when that power dynamic shifts. That’s all it took to convince me that I wanted to play again!

Erin Lydon Amanda Botfeld Xuan Liu

Amanda Botfeld, Erin, and Xuan Liu

And, in the right circumstances, do you think a life of a poker professional would be something you’d consider?

I am flattered you asked about playing at a professional level but I’m shaking my head and laughing “no.” Some of the smartest and coolest women I’ve ever met are pros (and serve on our Advisory Board) – I am in awe of their accomplishments and thrilled that I can call them my friends. I love Vegas. I love being in the poker room. And I do love playing. But for now, I’m still learning and practicing and am lucky to benefit from some of the very best mentors in the business.

 In what ways did Poker Power help you on a personal level, and what does the future hold?

When a woman joins Poker Power, we want her to gain immediate benefits. So we do a few key things in our classes:

1) We quickly dispel the negative stereotypes of the game and explain why thinking like a poker player and yes, even having a poker face is a skill worth learning.

2) We keep the lessons fast-paced and bite-sized. We know it takes courage to sit at the poker table and we want women to feel comfortable from the moment they take their seat. That means, we get them playing and succeeding during that first class.

3) Our games are safe spaces where everyone makes mistakes and asks dumb questions and our incredible teachers (we have 25 of them now!) ensure that confidence is built and aggressive play is encouraged.

From there, each lesson highlights a key theme that translates to real life and workplace success, such as Perception or Discipline, and then we layer on skills and strategies to increase poker competency.

I’ve personally gained valuable new ways of thinking from playing poker. One is to check the preflop aggressor–getting comfortable with pausing to assess more information is a critical move during business negotiations and tough conversations. I also love our ‘no limping’ rule – if your hand is good enough to play, it’s good enough to raise–that lesson on aggression applies to so many areas of my professional and personal life. And maybe my favorite is from our teacher AJ Rudolph, “If you play small, you stay small.” I’ve never wanted to be ordinary and poker definitely makes me feel like a badass.

Are there any interesting events on the horizon that our readers should know about?

2022 will be a pivotal year for Poker Power. As the pandemic hopefully subsides, we will increase the number of in-person workshops we offer for companies and continue our ‘teaching tables’ at charity and poker tourney events. As I mentioned, we will enhance our flagship offering of live, teacher-led Zoom classes with asynchronous learning on the innovative Zogo app. Our partnership with Zogo enables us to deliver poker basics to women 24/7. It’s a fun learn-and-earn experience which kicks off a woman’s journey with Poker Power. She then transitions into our teacher-led classes and plays in community games on a poker app.

And, what is your message to all the women out there who like poker but are perhaps reluctant to take that big first step and jump into the action?

I’m a runner so I default to a Nike slogan – “Just Do It.” Seriously, I was one of the biggest naysayers for learning poker–I believed all the negative stereotypes of the game and had never been invited to play. What we’ve learned during the pandemic is that our community is the secret sauce to why women keep learning and playing with us–it’s why they keep improving their gameplay, making friends, laughing and sharing stories from on and off the felt. I know women are busy and it’s hard to carve out ‘me time’ but the best thing I did during COVID was learn to play poker. I want women everywhere to join us because we’ve saved them a seat!

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Ivan Potocki poker author
Written By.

Ivan Potocki

Ivan Potocki transitioned to poker writing after playing more or less full-time for about five years. He first discovered poker while studying English Language and Literature at the University of Sarajevo. What started with freerolls and micro-stakes games led to a love for poker, opening gates to a whole different world. After finishing his studies […]