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A Poker Life: Christina Lindley

by Erik Fast |  Published: May 01, 2013

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Christina LindleyAs one of the top fitness models in the country, with a burgeoning acting career and a rapidly growing list of movie and TV credits, Christina Lindley was living out one of her childhood dreams. While gracing the cover of magazines and appearing on Entourage and Curb Your Enthusiasm, she had no idea that in a matter of years her life would be on an entirely different course.

Where once she took casting calls, she was now calling down with middle pair. Where she once postured for the camera, now she was posing still as a statue after moving all-in on the money bubble. After years of chasing one career, random chance and circumstance gave her a runner-runner, backdoor draw into being a professional poker player.

In just a matter of years, through commitment and total immersion in the game, she has become one of tournament poker’s top female players, with roughly $700,000 in online and live tournament winnings. From photo shoots to no-limit shootouts, here is her story.

Always On The Move

Lindley was born in Stone Mountain, Georgia, on Sept. 18th, 1983. Her father’s job moved her family all over Georgia, and from the time that she was born to the age of 18 she had moved roughly a dozen times.

When she was 17 and a junior in high school, the family got moved to Hendersonville, Tennessee, outside of Nashville. Lindley finished school and graduated there, at the fourth high school she had attended.

Constantly traveling was understandably trying for the young Christina, who quickly grew used to having to adapt to new surroundings. While her home and friends might not have been constants, she could always count on playing games with her family.

“Growing up, my father’s mother lived with us. She was a competitive bridge player, and my father grew up playing card games in New Orleans, and when she lived with us we would always play games that originated in Louisiana, games like kings in the corner, canasta, and she also taught me gin and bridge,” said Lindley.

“My Dad was really big into strategy games, and the only time I was really allowed to stay up late was when I was playing Risk or Monopoly with him and neither of us would want to quit.”

At the time this all just seemed like fun and games, but this family time centered around competitive diversions laid the foundations for Lindley’s later shift in career. Before there was poker, however, there was modeling.

Southern Girl In Hollywood

“I started modeling pretty young, and I wanted to start even earlier but my mom wanted me to wait,” said Lindley. “She was really big on academics, and I begged her all of the time but she put it off.”

A 15-year-old Lindley was back to school shopping in a JC Penney, who at the time was hosting a cover model search for Seventeen Magazine. She and her mother met a photographer at the store who wanted to submit young Christina into the talent search.

“My mom took his card. I begged her and begged her, and she looked him up and made sure he was legit, so she agreed and let me do the photo shoot. From there, I got listed at one of the top agencies in Atlanta and started to do a lot of runway modeling.“

When her family moved to Tennessee, there weren’t as many modeling jobs available. After graduating high school, Lindley got into working out and got certified as a personal trainer. She went to a fitness show in Ohio put on by Arnold Schwarzenegger, and there realized what the next phase of career would be.

“I saw these girls who looked just like me, that were getting paid to hand out signed pictures and I said, ‘Huh, I can do this while I work my way through college.’ I looked up the name of a photographer who shot fitness models, and I submitted pictures to him.”
That month he flew her to California to do a test shoot, and it ended up on the cover of Muscular Development with a 30-page layout.

“I ran pretty hot right out of the gate,” said Lindley with a laugh. As her fitness-modeling career took of, she realized it might be time for a change of venue.

“I decided to move to California because I was being flown out there four times a month. That lead to acting. I started getting sent out to movies and the first one I did was this Michael Bay film, The Island, I was a bikini model running around. That was what got me my SAG card.”

Her acting resume quickly grew, as she appeared on popular TV shows on HBO, as well as in the feature film The Marine. But just as her career trajectory seemed to be taking off, variance threw a wrench in Lindley’s plans.

Writers Strike Sees Lindley Strike Out On Her Own

In 2007 the Writers Guild of America went on strike, shutting down production for much of the TV and film industry.

“They were stopping auditions, stopping anything being made. I considered getting a job, because I was still modeling but I was really bored. Modeling doesn’t utilize your intellectual side or any of the things that I enjoyed about acting.”

With no work available, she scheduled a month long trip to visit family around the country. Her last stop was in Memphis to see her father, who she had been somewhat estranged from after her parents divorced shortly after she had graduated high school.

“I wanted to make amends, or let him make amends with me. He apologized for everything that had happened, but there were some awkward moments where we didn’t really know what to say to each other, until he said, ‘Hey, I have an idea. Let’s go play games like we used to when you were a little kid!’ And I thought that sounded great.”

The two drove to Tunica, Mississippi, and Lindley sat behind her father as he played in the lowest-stakes cash game in the poker room.

“I really loved the game immediately. There were no other women in the poker room, but I found it really interesting. When I got back to Los Angeles, I found all of the local poker rooms there and played in a few celebrity charity tournaments.“

Lindley became friends with local players around Los Angeles like Jeff Madsen, Maria Ho, Dave Stann and Tiffany Michelle. From charity events she started to try her hand in low buy-in live games at The Bike and Commerce. In 2008 she was sponsored into the World Series of Poker ladies event. She busted out on the first day, but this first large live tournament inspired a new desire to commit to learning the game for Lindley.

“I started really studying the game, and it got to the point that I was playing poker, watching training videos or just studying the game for roughly 12 hours a day.” By the time the writer’s strike was over, Lindley no longer knew if she was interested in acting as a profession.

Playing $2-$5 no-limit one day, Lindley booked a $3,000 win and deposited that money online. That same weekend she finished second out of a 10,000-person field in a Full Tilt Online Poker Series (FTOPS) event for $106,000.

“I had started to make good, consistent money. It was really fun, that in addition to doing some modeling, I could set my own schedule and play tournaments. I believe it was around 2009 that I started having issues with my agent, where auditions were conflicting with playing tournaments.”

A ‘Tough Decision’ Becomes An Easy Call

“One of my great sponsors as a fitness model, Bioengineered Sports Nutrition, called me when my contract was up for renewal and they basically said to me, ‘Listen, we can’t be associated with gambling. You have to choose, do you want to be a fitness model or a poker player?” To many people, this might seem like one of those major decisions in life that require a long, hard look at one’s priorities and goals and careful examination of the pros and cons of both choices. But for Lindley, there was no question.

“I told them that I appreciated everything that they had done for me, and I love the brand, but if I’m choosing between poker and modeling, it’s poker. Every time.” At that point Lindley knew she had to fully commit to poker as her main career and decided to move to Las Vegas to pursue the game more fully.

“Obviously, modeling was really fun, but you can only do it for so long. I maybe had five more years, but the thing is it doesn’t utilize any of my talents. Growing up I took all advanced placement classes and was kind of a bit of a nerd. But in modeling and even in acting, there wasn’t any intellectual stimulation and it wasn’t fulfilling to me. I wasn’t developing as a person.”

“When I found poker it was like every part of me that had been dormant for years came to life and was immediately stimulated. So when it came time to choose, it was like, do I want to be a full person that is constantly becoming better, or continue to remain in a field where I feel unfulfilled. In that regard, it was an easy decision.”

As someone who had found the game so recently, Lindley’s change in career even surprises her to some extent.

“I never planned to be a professional poker player. If you told me that before I took that trip to see my dad, I never would have believed you and probably would have laughed.”

Full Time Poker Professional

Within a matter of months after making the commitment to the game, Lindley had already found a great deal of success grinding multitable tournaments (MTTs) online, even topping a 1,326-person field in a $320 event on PokerStars to win $127,500. But it seemed that a completely smooth transition to her new profession was not in the cards for Lindley. Just months later, on April 15th, 2011 the major online poker sites were shut down in the US. As you would expect, online poker’s Black Friday was a huge blow to Lindley’s burgeoning career.

“I was completely devastated, because I had very little experience playing live poker. I traveled and got registered to where I could play online outside of the country. I had some big scores, but I’d miss friends and home, and with the cost of traveling and maintaining a residence in Vegas, it didn’t financially make sense to try to play primarily online.”

Lindley decided to switch her focus away from online MTT’s. She has been playing live cash games with even greater frequency, and has also increased the volume of live tournaments she enters in an effort to really hone her skills. Since undertaking this new stage of her career she has won the ladies’ event at the Venetian DeepStack Extravaganza, finished runner-up in a $300 no-limit event at the Card Player Poker Tour Wynn Las Vegas and also made the final two tables in the $5,000 buy-in CPPT Wynn main event.

“I’ve been working on my aggression and playing as well as I did online in a live setting. Playing cash a lot has been really helpful as well, because I feel that my deep-stacked play on turns and rivers has gotten so much stronger, which will help in these bigger live main events.”

Lindley is eyeing those major events, as her long-term goals include winning a WPT event, winning a gold bracelet, making the final table of the WSOP main event and maintaining consistency over her career. Of course, in the short term, it is hard to gauge success in tournaments.

“My goal for now is just to make it through an entire tournament without making any mistakes that I am already aware of,” said Lindley. “If I know to barrel in this spot, I know to check-raise here, I know to bet-bet-jam against this opponent, I know to adjust, I don’t spew. Nobody is perfect, but the goal is just to be able to honestly say that I played to the best of my ability, I think that is a success.”

With the summer just around the corner, Lindley is trying to build some momentum heading into the World Series of Poker.

“I think that by playing tournaments and grinding cash I’m really prepared mentally, and feel really good about my potential this summer.”

From the rural south to the runways to the final table, it’s clear that Lindley’s potential is nearly limitless. ♠