She was following the traditional path. Jamie Kerstetter graduated from college at Rutgers, then got her law degree at University of Michigan, then got a job at a law firm. The next 40 years of hard work, long hours, steady pay, and a comfortable, predictable life were mapped out.
Until, that is, her firm laid off all the first- and second-year attorneys about 18 months after Kerstetter was hired.
She was unemployed. And she suddenly had an opportunity to pursue the career she really wanted.
“I got really into poker in law school,” Kerstetter remembers. “I’d played a little bit with my brothers for fun when I was younger, but it was in law school that I started playing a lot. And I used to play when I shouldn’t be playing, like when I was supposed to be reading case law. I’d be reading all this dry legal stuff and have a sit & go on in the background.
“When I got laid off, I was like, ‘Oh well, I guess I’ll just take a little bit of time and play poker before I find a new job.’ And it just took over my life. I loved it, and I didn’t want to work as a lawyer anymore.”
For the first year or two, the Monroe Township native was able to get away with telling people she was “between jobs.” But 10 years on, nobody’s buying it. She’s a professional poker player and, as you know if you watched the first two days of World Series of Poker Main Event coverage on ESPN this summer, she’s a rising star in the poker media.
In 2003, Kerstetter was a 20-year-old college kid racing home to watch Lon McEachern and Norman Chad call the WSOP action that was sweeping the nation. In 2018, she found herself sitting next to Lon and Norm on Day 1A and 1B of the Main Event. That never would have happened if she’d been more diligent about distributing her resume to every law firm in town a decade ago.
Bumps in the road
As is the case for most players, Kerstetter’s path to poker success has been littered with cold decks and bad beats. There are the trivial and light-hearted ones, like her being close friends with 2017 WSOP Main Event champ Scott Blumstein and swapping pieces last summer with nearly all of her friends … except the guy who won $8.15 million. “I ran bad in that,” she jokes.
But then there are the seriously painful suckouts. Like so many people earning the bulk of their living playing online poker, Kerstetter’s darkest hour was Black Friday. When the U.S. Department of Justice shuttered Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars, and Ultimate Bet on April 15, 2011, Kerstetter was devastated.
“It was horrible,” she tells NJ Online Gambling. “I’d just had the best month of my life online. I had won like $40,000 on Full Tilt on an average buy-in of like 60 bucks, so I was like, ‘Holy crap, I’m doing this. I think I could really do this and not be a lawyer anymore.’ And when Black Friday happened, I had about half my bankroll locked up for several years and I had no more job. I didn’t know what to do.”
Kerstetter took the same leaps as many online pros circa 2011. She started playing more live poker, where, compared to many mouse-clickers who don’t have the patience for the pace of the live game, she made a decent transition. But that wasn’t quite cutting it, so she left the country.
“A year after Black Friday, I moved with some friends to Rosarito, Mexico, and lived there on and off for a year and a half playing online poker,” she says. “It actually was very cool. I complained a lot when I was getting ready to move there, but looking back, I had a really cool experience in Mexico and I don’t regret it.”
The government taketh away, and the government giveth back. When New Jersey legalized and began regulating online poker in 2013, the door opened for Kerstetter to come home — and not just as some anonymous grinder.
Warren Lush, who handled marketing and sponsorships for PartyPoker — which was preparing to launch a partnership with Borgata in the state — reached out to Kerstetter.
“PartyPoker was opening in New Jersey, and they needed an ambassador,” Kerstetter recalls. “I have no idea how [Lush] found me. But I’m a native of New Jersey, and they wanted a female pro because they had two male pros already, and he just asked me. I got to come home to my family and friends who thought I was going to live in Mexico forever.”
Kerstetter moved to just outside Atlantic City, and she had her old life back. And the online games in Jersey were nice and soft the first few months, which never hurts.
Right place, right time, right tweets
“There’s a lot of these little jobs that I’ve gotten,” Kerstetter says, “where I’m like, how in the hell did I get picked for this?” Maybe she’s being modest, maybe she’s legitimately gotten lucky. But it seems clear that part of opportunity repeatedly finding Kerstetter owes to her stand-out Twitter feed.
Kerstetter says she inherited her sense of humor from her late father, whom she describes as “that person who would make a slightly inappropriate joke when it was a little too quiet in church.” She’s not reinventing the social media form, by any means, but she’s steadily built a following by counterbalancing the drama, feuding, and whininess of poker Twitter with a subtle, clever sense of humor.
She gets the poker lifestyle:
It’s the only exercise I do most days https://t.co/kbqGDmXJll
— Jamie Kerstetter (@JamieKerstetter) July 4, 2018
She has a sharp emoji game:
— Jamie Kerstetter (@JamieKerstetter) May 25, 2018
She effectively incorporates her dog Crouton into her tweets:
Going home bc I miss Crouton is saving me somewhere between $565 and negative a million dollars
— Jamie Kerstetter (@JamieKerstetter) June 5, 2018
And when Antoine Labat gets screwed by kings two days in a row at the final table of the WSOP Main Event, Kerstetter cranks out the perfect sarcastic tweet to get shown on ESPN and celebrated by the broadcasters:
Why is anyone still playing kings
— Jamie Kerstetter (@JamieKerstetter) July 13, 2018
It’s hard to say this with certainty, but it seems Kerstetter’s ability to get her personality and wit across on Twitter has helped propel her media career. A key moment came several years ago when PartyPoker surprised her with a free trip to Italy, where she was asked to provide commentary for a final table stream. She got a rush out of it, and kept accepting every broadcasting opportunity that came her way, even those that didn’t pay.
Kerstetter got hosting jobs on Poker Night in America. She did commentary for the Heartland Poker Tour and for WPT Deepstacks. She spread her wings with the LFG Podcast, which she co-hosts with journalist Chad Holloway. And in the summer of 2017, she jumped in the booth with David Tuchman for the first time to provide color analysis on some WSOP PokerGO streams.
The Worldwide Leader
“I had not expected to get an ESPN job ever. In my whole life,” Kerstetter admits. But this summer, she got one of those gigs that ends with a paycheck featuring Mickey Mouse in the upper left hand corner.
Dan Gati, who produces Poker PROductions’ WSOP broadcasts, sent Kerstetter an email as the Main Event was nearing.
“He was like, ‘Would you be free for Day 1A of the Main Event?’” Kerstetter says. “I just ran downstairs, like, is this real life?”
A mixture of excited and nervous, Kerstetter called the action “live” (with a 30-minute delay) in prime time on ESPN alongside McEachern and Chad on July 2, then got invited back for Day 1B as well. She says the moment got to her at first, but after about an hour of clamming up, she relaxed and delivered the insights and laughs that Lon, Norman, and the folks in the truck were looking for.
“At the beginning, I was getting texts from my friends saying, ‘Hey, why don’t you talk a little bit?’” she says. “Doing it for the first time and having it be live, it’s scary. It freaked me out a little bit. I was telling myself, ‘Don’t curse on TV, don’t berate anyone, don’t say anything out of line.’ But then I relaxed and it was great. This is the mainstream — all my friends and family watched the coverage, and I heard from people I haven’t heard from in like 10 years.”
From good attorney to good at tourneys
Kerstetter couldn’t provide commentary on Day 1C, however, because she had a little $10,000 buy-in world championship to compete in. And for the third time in the last eight years, she cashed in the Main Event. It wasn’t a massive, life-changing score; Kerstetter finished in 982nd place out of 7,874, good for $15,920, a shade better than a min-cash. But she bumped her lifetime live tournament winnings to $635,388 and confirmed that the Main Event is her kind of tournament.
“This is a perfect tournament for nits,” she says with a laugh. “It’s a great tournament if you’re somebody who doesn’t tilt and can just let poker come to you. This Day 1, I bagged 21K from a 50K starting stack, and I didn’t freak out. It’s a great tournament because you can weather a lot of crappy things that can happen to you.”
That pretty well sums up Kerstetter’s journey in poker so far. She lost her job as a lawyer, then Black Friday took away her next job. But she’s managed to weather it.
She left New Jersey this summer, not just to grind the WSOP for a few weeks, but to live full-time in Vegas for a while. Kerstetter and her boyfriend are splitting a house with Blumstein, which works out well because bringing a millionaire along to pay a premium for the master suite affords you a bigger, nicer house than you might be able to swing on your own.
With the 2018 WSOP now winding down, Kerstetter is settling into her new life in the desert, figuring out how to spend her time at the real and virtual tables. She says she won’t be grinding the traveling tournament circuit too hard — maybe picking out three or four good series a year to travel to — while playing a lot of live cash and trying to improve her play on that front. Online poker wasn’t necessarily supposed to be the centerpiece of the plan, but …
“I did not realize that WSOP.com was going to be good,” Kerstetter says. “With the player pools in New Jersey and Nevada together, I’ve done really well this summer. The prize pools are great, I think a lot of rec players are hopping in. So I think I’ll probably be playing a decent amount online going forward.”
Kerstetter can’t predict exactly where the next bend in the road will take her, but she’s pretty confident it won’t lead her back into the legal field. Some people close to her thought poker was just something she was doing to pass the time until she got back to her law career. It turns out practicing law was just something she was doing to pass the time until she realized what she’s supposed to be doing with her life.