Kara Swisher

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Almost-Yahoo Bradford (and Her New Boss, Schneider) Speak!

After the news broke that former Microsoft exec Joanne Bradford was on her way to Yahoo as the head of its U.S. ad sales and more, I talked to both her and her new boss, Hilary Schneider, on the phone this morning about the move.

While the pair (pictured here, Schneider on the left and Bradford on the right) would not give specifics about how Bradford was hired, they both noted that they had gotten to know each other over the past year.

And Bradford added that she had met Yahoo (YHOO) President Sue Decker at a poker table several years ago while attending a women’s executive conference run by Fortune magazine.

“I won,” said Bradford proudly. “I beat her and everyone else [at the table].”

How much does BoomTown like a person who insults her uber-boss’s card-playing skills before she even starts?

Very much!

Actually, sharp gambling skills and a little in-your-face style are probably just what Yahoo needs, as the U.S. economy continues to tank and the company tries to recover from the Microsoft (MSFT) takeover debacle.

Combined with management drift and employee turmoil over the last year, Yahoo’s ad business has suffered accordingly.

“I had a laser-like focus on bringing in Joanne,” said Schneider, who said she always asks ad clients who most impacts their online strategy and Bradford’s name kept popping up. “There was a kinetic energy that made it a good fit.”

Bradford is taking over the job of Dave Karnstedt, who is headed to Silicon Valley VC firm Redpoint Ventures as an executive-in-residence. His departure has been long rumored internally.

According to sources, Bradford was unhappy at Spot Runner, the ad-services start-up that has received truckloads of funding, and even more attention when Bradford arrived.

Whatever the case, the former Microsoft exec left her job as national ad sales chief at Spot Runner, where she arrived just six months ago, to take the position of SVP of U.S. revenue and development at Yahoo.

Bradford will oversee sales, market development for advertisers, small business and HotJobs at Yahoo. She will report to Schneider, who is EVP of Yahoo’s U.S unit.

It will be a very tough gig. Yahoo is facing that soft U.S. economy, a weakened stock price after the takeover attempt by Microsoft and justifiable questions among advertisers about its effectiveness, as other sites like Facebook grow faster and with more attractive demographics.

Yahoo is likely to also have to deal with new regulatory scrutiny of its ad businesses, since it was reported yesterday that the Justice Department might block the deal Yahoo recently struck to outsource some of its ad sales to Google (GOOG).

Bradford insisted that Yahoo was still a major force, underscoring that for all its troubles, the company remains one of the top online ad sellers: “My approach has always been about giving advertisers the product they want. … Yahoo has a lot of assets for me to play with.”

Schneider added that the job Bradford has is larger than Karnstedt’s, in order to be able to offer ad clients as many different kinds of Yahoo ad product as possible in an integrated solution.

“It is a different role in that it aggregates all of ad revenue … and touches teams in all of our ad businesses,” said Schneider, who noted Bradford’s job does not include its overseeing its publishing relationships, including a controversial recent deal with Google. “It’s the whole magillah.”

And Bradford knows from gorillas. Previous to Spot Runner, she was a VP and chief media officer of MSN Media Network and has worked at the software giant for a long time.

At Yahoo, where she will start in two weeks, she will not be the only former Microsoft exec–content head Scott Moore, who also reports to Schneider, was a longtime exec there.

It’s a sneaky kind of Microsoft invasion, if you think about it.

Bradford, who left Microsoft right after it made the now-failed bid for Yahoo, said she looks forward to wrangling with her former company in the ad market, especially now that Yahoo has to carve out new roads following its decision to resist.

“Everyone needs good competition, and it will be fun to compete [with Microsoft],” said Bradford. “I think Yahoo is at an interesting point of changing and growing its businesses … but it is still in a leadership position and there is a story to be told around that.”