Ema Zajmovic: “You Can’t Just Compete With the Girls”

Over the course of just under six years of live poker tournaments, Ema Zajmovic has “just” nine cashes.

Six of them are final-table appearances.

This past February Zajmovic won the partypoker WPT Playground main event to much fanfare as she became the first female player to win an open WPT Title.

That was just three months after making the final table at WPT Montreal where Mike Sexton won his first WPT title after 10 years of trying. After her win Sexton proclaimed himself Ema’s ‘biggest fan’ and that we’d ‘be hearing a lot more from her in the future.’

Three months after that big win we caught up with Zajmovic during a break on Day 1 of the 888Live main event in Barcelona.

Despite her recent success she doesn’t play poker full-time. With a degree in PR and political communication she still works for a PR company but is lucky enough to “have a boss who understands and lets me work from home or places like a terrace in Monaco Bay.”

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On the grind in two professions. (Photo: WPT)

Ema Zajmovic: “I work 20 hours a week but I’m not very reasonable with poker. I don’t think I can say I only play 20 hours of poker.

If you play tournaments they control your schedule. They tell you when to play and when you have a break and I feel guilty if I can’t get my other work done, so the only thing I can cut is sleep.

“I sleep four hours then I wake up and have to go to the gym. I have to read, I have to do this and that, and it just goes on and on. It’s physically and mentally exhausting but you have to be in a balanced state to play tournaments.

“I used to play only cash games. But after I won one I got the rush and I started playing tournament after tournament.”

PL: So what’s going to be your main profession in the future?

EZ: “Poker will always be important for me as I really love the game. When I started playing I was really bad. I don’t want to say I’m amazing now but I evolved.

“A lot of friends of mine didn’t have the same passion but I always will. But do I want to be a professional player? No.

“I need to do other things as well and I can’t go on playing as much as I do now. Just playing poker is also very selfish and I have difficulties with that.

“You create nothing as a player and you only think about yourself. It’s not what I want to become as a woman, it’s not what I want to do with my life. I don’t feel fulfilled just playing poker, that’s for sure.”

PL: You don’t have a huge number of cashes but they are from all over the world.


“I run good or I don’t” (Photo: WPT)

EZ: “I have enjoyed travelling but I’m getting a little tired of it now. Maybe it’s because I don’t really feel at home in Montreal and I’m lying to myself that I want to keep travelling.

“It’s only a question of time until I settle down more again. I’m jetlagged and tired all the time; I don’t even know where I’m going to be next week. I don’t plan ahead very much.

“Sometimes I don’t know where I’m going to be tomorrow. I’m a total mess now! (laughs)”

PL: Do you sometimes wonder where you are when you wake up?

EZ: “Sometimes, honestly, with the jetlag, I wake up and think ‘ok, that’s not my room, that’s a hotel, where am I?’”

PL: The trick is to check what language the room service is speaking. But now for something else. Almost all your finishes are very deep. Do you have a special talent?

EZ: “No. I run good or I don’t. If I run good, I badly run good. That’s the secret.”

PL: After your WPT win you said there was a lot of ‘competition between the girls.’ What does that mean?

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“it’s intimidating to be in that world where the guys see girls as service people.”

EZ: “It means that there weren’t many girls but the ones who started playing didn’t expect to be as good as the guys, so you want to compete with someone like you.

“Of course I was really young but I remember that at the time when I started it was a lot about sponsorships as there was much sponsorship around.”

“So we weren’t looking at what girl is good at playing but what girl got a sponsorship. It was in everybody’s head that girls just weren’t good at poker.

“It was really bad for the poker evolution for women, too, because I think guys support each other more. We lacked that support between girls.

“But now that’s changing. Now we know we can compete and we have more respect for each other.”

PL: When did you realize you can compete notwithstanding playing against guys or girls?

EZ: “At first, you’re just clicking. You don’t know where you are in a hand; you don’t know what you’re doing.

“Then at some point you realize that you get a feeling for what’s going on. The next step is you understand that you don’t understand anything, and then you learn the game.

“It’s a process that doesn’t end. You learn all the time. And you can’t just compete with the girls, because there are no girls.

“Why? Because it’s an old game and it takes time to change. Also, in poker, the girls are waitresses, the girls are massage girls. That’s just how it is.

“Thus it’s intimidating to be in that world where the guys see girls as service people. That’s the mentality and it poses an extra challenge.”

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