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Card Player Cruises To Celebrate 25th Anniversary

Founder Linda Johnson Talks About Business That Began In 1992

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Poker Hall of Famer Linda Johnson is celebrating Card Player Cruises’ 25-year milestone next year. For the WSOP bracelet winner, the business has provided a treasure trove of experiences and friendship.

Card Player Cruises, which started in 1992, has grown and adapted to the changing appetite for poker. According to Johnson, tournaments are more popular than ever, but the poker room on the cruises is still full of cash game action as well. Johnson’s Card Player Cruises partner Jan Fisher actually began as a dealer on the ships.

All of the usual cruise activities are offered, but poker fans always have access to their favorite game. The cruises have become popular for groups, but even if you don’t go as part of one, Card Player Cruises’ friendly and welcoming atmosphere builds the setting for new friendships to form. As Johnson says, it’s a vacation after all.

Card Player Magazine had the chance to speak to Johnson about the company’s milestone.

Brian Pempus: How has Card Player Cruises evolved over the past 25 years?

Linda Johnson: In the beginning we were doing three or four cruises a year, and now we are doing seven or eight plus a land-based event. In the past, we have had four charters where we took the whole ship. We have a huge repeat business, and it’s very beneficial to us because we know our players well. I think we have evolved by perfecting our staff. I often say I would put our staff up against any cardroom staff, and I think we would win the gold if there was an Olympic team. Our dealer skills are awesome, plus they have personalities and they go above and beyond. I’m really proud. It took a lot of time to get to where we are today with the staff, but we have the same ship bosses each time, and our basic team of dealers is the same. Some cruises we need more than others. It’s like a family, and it creates familiarity with our passengers, and they look forward to reunions with our home team.

BP: How does the “no abuse” policy at the poker tables fit in with this feeling of family?

LJ: We send out a lot of newsletters and emails before the cruise, and one of the things we put on there is that because we want you to have a good time, we won’t tolerate any abuse in the cardroom. I really believe once that is stated, and I also mention it at our Welcome Aboard party, then people understand what the expectation is. You’ll hear more laughter in our cardroom. We have mostly recreational players, and they are there to have a good time. They aren’t there to hear someone say, “How could you make that play?” That’s something you don’t hear because people know what is expected. Some [land-based] cardrooms tolerate abuse, and if you tolerate it, you are going to get it. In some of the cardrooms I go to in particular parts of the country, I know that there will be arguments and fights. I didn’t want that to be the case with Card Player Cruises.

BP: Do you think what you are doing with Card Player Cruises in that regard speaks to a general need for the poker community at large to make games friendlier for the recreational player? Perhaps this is especially the case now because people are trying to figure out ways to continue to grow the game of poker.

LJ: Yes, for sure. When people are having fun, they want to stay and play. When people are not, that will probably be the no. 1 reason to leave [the table]. I think creating an atmosphere where people feel protected from abuse is very important. We have a huge demographic of women on our cruise. I’d say 40 percent of our players are women. I think one reason we have more women percentage wise than other cardrooms is because they do know they won’t be harassed or subjected to any kind of abuse at the table.

BP: You really welcome all skill levels on Card Player Cruises. Is this something you’ve done since the beginning? You are trying to help people learn how to be better players, while at the same time creating that atmosphere you described.

LJ: When all is said and done, a cruise is a vacation. You want people to enjoy it. From the beginning, we have sold fun. It’s done very well for us. People know what to expect on Card Player Cruises. People also know that we will look out for them. We’ve had occasions where family members back at home have gotten sick, and we are there to help them get off the ship if they need to do that. I’ve also spent nights in the infirmary on the ship holding hands. People know that we are going to be there with them if something happens.

BP: Do you find that a lot of people are going for special occasions, whether it’s a honeymoon, birthday or family reunion?

LJ: Yes, we have gotten groups as large as 40 for a family reunion. We have had bachelor parties. We do a lot of anniversaries. We do birthdays. I love it when families cruise together. We had four generations of a family together on a recent cruise. There’s a lot for the kids to do during the daytime, so the parents get to have fun. I love the family reunions especially.

BP: Do you find that a lot of people make new poker friends on the ship?

LJ: Absolutely. We have some people who went on a cruise 15 years ago and still take an annual poker cruise together. They find which one they are going to go on and have a reunion every year. I emphasize that cruising is about making friendships, and these friendships can be long-term. We don’t get a lot of tables for two in the dining room, for example. I prefer tables of six, eight or 10. I recommend at our Welcome Aboard party that you don’t sit at a table for two. You can go to a bigger table and invite other people to sit with you. These friendships really last. We’ve also had single people on cruises meet and become couples.

BP: How popular have cash games and tournaments been over the years?

LJ: In the beginning, for the first 15 years or so, cash games were king for sure. We might have had two or three tournaments the entire week. Over the last several years, since there’s been more televised poker, more people have been enjoying tournaments. We have at least one tournament every day, usually we have two or more. In a week, we have at least seven tournaments. Tournaments are attracting a lot of players. People like having their entry fee and knowing that is what they’ll spend. Some people now only play tournaments. We had the Card Player Poker Tour for real tournament junkies, with 31 tournaments in 10 days. That’s for the hardcore tournament players. As for cash games, we still spread any game that we have enough people to play. We have low-limit hold’em as well as no-limit hold’em. We have an Omaha game, and sometimes a mixed game or H.O.R.S.E. We aren’t strictly a no-limit hold’em house.

BP: I read that your partner Jan Fisher began as a dealer on the cruises.

LJ: She did. She started as a dealer 24 years ago, on the first Card Player Cruises event. She dealt for the next probably five or six years. Then she became dealer coordinator, and then she worked her way up into a full partnership. One of the owners left, and so Jan bought into Card Player Cruises. Now it’s just Jan and me as 50-50 partners. It’s nice because we are also best friends, and get to travel together.

BP: For you, how much poker do you play on the cruises?

LJ: I still love to play. My main function on the cruise is to do PR and be a hostess, and to help start games and keep them going. I will never play in a game if we have a customer waiting. I play late at night when the games start to wind down. My main function is to keep games running. Some cruises I get to play more than others. I look forward to playing and socializing at the table.

BP: What kind of changes or plans for Card Player Cruises do you have coming up?

LJ: For our 25th anniversary, we are going to be launching a new website. We have been working on that for quite awhile. We’ve also hired two new managers, and they are making our system even better. As for on the cruise itself, not much is changing. We are having a 25-year cruise on Oct. 14 with a $25,000 guarantee. We’d love to have a lot of our good friends come celebrate that cruise with us. We are always figuring out ways to get in more tournaments. We are just hoping to keep improving our product.