Kathy Liebert frowns at tendencies to separate the sexes in discussions of poker skills.
Pul-leeeze, her tone seems to say. This IS the 22nd century.
It's a habit the news media has created and continues to perpetuate, she grumbles. " There's no question the top women players can hold their own anywhere. They are very competitive with the top male players."
Thinking about that for a moment. "The fact is," she adds, "the top women players are among the top players period."
And Liebert has the credentials for making such assertions. She was one of several women players winning World Series of Poker bracelets last year, capturing the "Limit Hold 'em Shootout" event.
Previously she was the first woman to win a tournament with a first prize of a million dollars or more.
Does she have it in her to win the WSOP's championship event? Giving that a shrug, "There's going top be something 5,000 players in it this year, so anyone is a long shot in that kind of crowd, even the best of players. But with a little bit of luck . . . we'll see."
She just recently was seen winning "Battle of the Sexes" tournament which was filmed just before Christmas at the Plaza in Las Vegas and aired last month on GSN.. She played headsup against Layne Flack, a previous winner of multiple WSOP bracelets.
Her next big tournament is scheduled to be the PartyPoker.com Million cruise that will have over 700 players in the big hold 'em tournament. She won the first of these cruise ship tournaments in 2002. That was the one with the million- dollar first prize. It was among the first of the big televised poker extravaganzas.
This was right before the World Poker Tour took off as must-see programming for poker buffs everywhere. Poker's visibility has increased many times since then, turning heretofore skilled but unknown pros into instant celebrities.
What are her goals?
"I still have a lot of things I would like to achieve. I would still like to win a championship no limit tournament. Until I do that I won't feel as though I've done everything I would like to accomplish."
Success has made it possible to edge closer to this goal. She tries to enter as many as possible of the $10,000 events. "I haven't played them all yet, but I have played in the majority of them."
Liebert is also currently a participant in the second season of Superstars of Poker, which began airing recently. As a matter of fact, she won the first of the elimination tournaments in this madefor- television show that was filmed at a casino near Palm Springs.
She was one of the 64 players invited to the National Heads-Up Championship that will be aired on NBC in May. Didn't do well there, she admits. "I lost my first match to Greg Raymer." Liebert normally feels comfortable in heads-up play but sighs, "I wasn't really comfortable in this event. "I wasn't feeling a hundred percent and I wasn't catching any cards."
Giving this a what-are-you- gonna-do kind of shrug.
"Greg was calling a lot and I wasn't able to bluff him. Actually, I did bluff him a few times. If I could have held hands against him I would have been in great shape, but, well . . . I didn't and I wasn't."
She says the "unfortunate thing about some of the made-for-TV events is that they don't really give you a lot play. They want things to be fast and furious for the TV cameras. They make it a little bit more of a luck factor than you find in a regular tournament."
That's the price of the television coverage that has upped the volume of people playing the game in casinos or on home computers and generated a subsequent increase in the numbers of tournaments and prize money.
Which brings us to the ups and downs of the celebrity status that simply was not possible a few years ago.
Like so many things, Liebert grins, "It has its good points and its bad points. Being recognized when you don't necessarily want to be recognized is among the latter.
"It's certainly different, having people come up to you for autographs all the time."
Her television exposure is only just beginning to ramp up and will increase as the Allstars competition continues during the weeks ahead. Liebert has been asked to write "a kind of beginners type book," something that women cold relate to and she is beginning to give this a lot of thought, although there are no specific plans yet for getting it finished and published.
Liebert's poker career began in the early 1990s after she had graduated from college and gone to work at Dunn and Bradstreet as an analyst. One thing led to another and she decided to leave the job and explore different possibilities, "sort of seeing what I really wanted to do with my life."
She eventually found her way to Colorado and took a job selling ATM and credit card machines. Poker was not exactly part of her big plan, "but once I discovered poker I kind of put the ATM thing behind me."
She was happy with her early success at the $5 limit poker games that were being spread in the mountain towns of Central City and Black Hawk. They looked interesting and, as she discovered, they were. She moved beyond the casinos and began testing her luck and skills in some of the home games.
Just taking things one step at a time is what says she was doing, eventually deciding, hey, maybe this could grow into something. "And then I went to my first Las Vegas tournament. That was 1994 and I did extremely well my first week. I made over $30,000 just playing tournaments. This was at the Gold Coast Open."
Punctuating this with a look that seems to say not bad, huh?
"After that I started going to more tournaments and continued doing well. As far as I was concerned there was no looking back after that first Las Vegas trip."
Liebert had developed confidence in poker table skills as she progressed through the early Colorado games, "but I have to say I was a little bit surprised I could do so well in the tournaments so quickly. I was working hard, taking the game seriously and staying focused, but I was surprised."
When she made that first trip to the Gold Coast, Omaha eight or better and limit hold 'em were her two main games.
Liebert now lives between Las Vegas and Southern California. She will try the cash games occasionally but clearly has a preference for the big money tournaments and the satellites that offer budget-priced entry opportunities.
Let's not forget the online play that she enjoys, "but I usually just go to wherever the tournaments are."
Why this preference for the tournaments and satellites as opposed to cash games?
"For me, it is just more exciting and more interesting. You know, you put up a small amount of money and have a chance to win big money. They are more competitive in he sense that you have to outlast everybody else. Then there is the trophy and the big prize, as opposed to grinding it out."
It is easy to stay busy these days, she notes, considering the sheer volume of tournament related action and constant opportunities for on-line play.
Success in tournaments does not have Liebert thinking she's learned all there is to know and it's just a matter of keeping the skills sharp.
"I think you can always get better," she says. "You don't want to fall into the trap of thinking you know it all. Anyone who hopes to enjoy some success always has to be watching and trying to improve."
How about inspirations in the poker business.
"There are a lot of great players whom I admire because of their skills . . . people like John Juanda, Danny Negreanu and Erik Seidel have done very well and they are great players, but there are a lot of players that I respect."
And of course we can thank the Internet, she says, for the fact that there have never been so many good unknown players hungry for the chance to jump on overconfident pros who fail to stay alert.
Liebert sees a lot of good unknown players, people who have had a lot of experience on the Internet and are showing up at casinos with a level of skills and experience that was impossible to achieve so quickly when she began learning the game.
"These people are getting a lot of good experience before they sit down in their first live tournament." Another point . . .
"There's less of a fear factor now. More people are playing more aggressively because they have seen all kinds of hands played out on television by many of most experienced poker pros in the world."
It's one of the beauties of televised poker, watching a Doyle Brunson or Gus Hansen run roughshod over competition, sometimes with hands that are far from prime. The kind of play that helps develop a winning attitude.
Tournament play, she says, generally calls for more aggressiveness because the blinds keep going up. "But you have to combine that with a sense of how to hang on to your chips since the one thing you don't want to do is go broke."
Liebert has recently agreed to an affiliation with PartyPoker that has her maintaining a certain profile on behalf of events such as the cruise.
Oh yes, there is one other thing. Liebert has agreed to donate 20 percent of whatever she may win on the cruise to charity, in this case, Habitat for Humanity.