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WPT Ambassador Xuan Liu On High-Stakes Cash Games

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Apr 17, 2024

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Xuan Liu was born in Toronto, Canada, and attended the University of Waterloo as a Chartered Financial Analysis major. The popular university has a reputation for being a robust venue for campus poker games, and over the years has produced a number of poker champions. It was there that Liu built her poker prowess in local casinos, home games, and various online sites.

Liu exploded onto the professional tournament scene in 2011 when she finished third for $524,705 at the PokerStars EPT San Remo event. A few months later, she padded her roll with $600,000, taking fourth place at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure main event. She eventually became a World Poker Tour champion, taking down the 2016 CAD$2,500 Fallsview Poker Classic for $232,114. Liu has also scored wins on the Italian Poker Tour and Asia Pacific Poker Tour.

Over the last few years, she has been a regular on many popular live-stream cash games, including Hustler Casino Live, Bally Live, and Poker at the Lodge, as well as a fun battle with Doyle Brunson on PokerGO’s High Stakes Poker.

Liu sat down with Card Player to discuss playing cash games, her role as an ambassador for the World Poker Tour, and becoming the first player to play poker in all of Canada’s 10 provinces.

Craig Tapscott: You have recently shared some of your struggles with high-stakes cash on social media. Can you talk about the obstacles you’ve had to overcome to move up in stakes?

Xuan Liu: It felt like an entirely different game and situation almost every time I played. All the players knew me, and I didn’t know most of my opponents during these games. It was rough.

CT: What was one of the aspects of the games that was tough for you?

XL: I would say when the stand-up game was introduced into the games. I enjoy that game on a meta-level. However, almost every significant pot that I lost last year was due to some stand-up game factor.

(Editor’s note: The stand-up game, or nit game, requires a bounty to be paid to every player at the table by the last player to win a pot. When players are trying to avoid losing the stand-up game, ranges tend to be much wider and bigger pots will usually develop.)

XL: In the beginning, I was probably over-adjusting to it a little too much. The game puts you into the most egregious situations, and you consistently face ridiculously tough decisions. Some of those hands are chronicled on the streams, and some of them are not. But I think I’m much more comfortable in that format now.

CT: What advice would you give to first timers playing the stand-up game?

XL: It’s tough to give generic advice for this game. The game is good for the professionals at the table because it forces everybody to think on their feet. But it’s also bad for the pros because you’re playing in a game where players tend to be more passive-tight. It forces them to play out of their comfort zone and bumps up the variance for everyone. But obviously, that’s good for the rich, casual players.

My advice would be that after a couple of rounds, you will get a good sense of which players are adjusting early in the game and which players are not. That dynamic will allow an excellent player to play a super-exploitive style.

It’s mostly about having good fundamentals and doing fast calculations on your feet. Then, quite frankly, if the penalty isn’t that high, it’s often best to just put your ego aside and eat the penalty much of the time. Otherwise, you’re burning chips just trying not to lose.

CT: When you sit down with notoriously wild recreational players, such as Nik Airball at Hustler or Tesla at The Lodge, how do you adjust to their style of play?

XL: Tesla was like a curveball in the Lodge game for everyone at the table. But I knew what type of player he was after the first full day playing with him. Playing with these types of players at high stakes is always a privilege.

The Tesla situation was unique because he gave me more information after the stream ended. He told me he was a big fan and had watched all my streamed footage. He wanted to get into big pots with me, and it didn’t matter to him what the result was. If I had known that I would have played differently against him.

There was a big hand when I had aces against Tesla, and I made a super-exploitable fold. I definitely had good odds to call with my aces, but I was facing a double check-raise, which is a very underutilized move. It definitely got into my head.

CT: Why do you think he played that hand the way he did?

XL: I believe he was trying to build up the pot so he wouldn’t have any further decisions for himself because his hand was strong enough. Honestly, I didn’t even think he could be on that level.

Aside from that, you’ve got to keep the game fun and the recreational players happy. I don’t mind doing that at all. I have fun in these games. Sure, it sucks sometimes when I lose, whether it’s running bad or over-adjusting a little bit to these types of players, but I certainly enjoy the challenge.

CT: Have you walked away from a full schedule of tournament play?

XL: I don’t play the tour as much as I used too. Last year, I participated in several WPT events and a handful of WSOP events. I’m not sure if this year will be different. There are always going to be flagship events that I look forward to playing in, such as the WPT World Championship.

CT: You’ve always championed bringing more women into the game. We worked together once on a project with an organization called Poker Power.

XL: I love Poker Power’s mission to teach a million women poker. Their team of ladies will always have a special place in my heart. It’s all about empowering women to step outside their comfort zone. That message rings true for me.

I feel like there’s this space in my life where I want to keep encouraging women to play the game. I’ve been brainstorming about my next move in that arena lately. I’m sure I will come forward with some content ideas soon.

CT: What’s your best advice for women just getting into poker?

XL: Don’t be afraid to look silly, even just sitting down at a live game. It is a very courageous thing to do. You should give yourself props for trying anything new. And don’t forget to learn from your mistakes.

Secondly, in poker, we know aggression and competition are good. Women are often taught early on that it’s not nice to be so cutthroat and aggressive about certain things. I say there’s a way you can do it with class.

You don’t have to be ruthless at the table. You can do it without embarrassing your opponents and by giving them dignity. The point is you want everyone to have a good time. It doesn’t mean that you’re a terrible person if you want to take your opponent’s chips.

CT: Do women have any edge at the poker table?

XL: There are advantages and disadvantages as a woman at the table. If you’re a little awkward and shy like me, pay attention to what the other players are doing. If someone’s trying to manipulate you or soft play you to get your attention, etc., focusing on poker fundamentals and improving at the game is best. That’s a better approach than thinking, ‘I’ll wear a lower-cut top today and be a little flirtier.’

Often, you never know who you’ll get at the poker tables. But having a solid foundation within your game will help you against any opponent. Trying to exploit men with an aspect of your feminine energy will only work towards a particular kind of man. That approach will probably not be the best use of your time.

But that’s the beauty of feminism, right? It’s giving a woman the right to choose whichever path they want to lean in with. There’s no right or wrong answer.

CT: What tools do you use when you return to the lab to study the game or previous sessions? Do you speak with friends who are great players or jump into a software tool like GTO Wizard, etc.?

XL: I think all those tools are very indispensable. You can’t only use one and not the other. Because I’m an introvert, I tend to fiddle with the tools more on my own. I do a lot of self-studying, but I also have multiple coaches.

With the WSOP coming up soon, I’ll kick my study habits into hyperdrive. I’ll tinker with issues I may have here and there. Regarding the high-stakes games I’ve been playing lately, they’re an entirely different approach than tournaments. So, there’s never not enough studying to be done, but I’m making more of an effort.

Recently, I challenged myself to study for at least 45 minutes every day. That’s helped a lot. I think having a wide variety of people you can work with who approach the game differently is also helpful. Having a GTO bot coach in one corner and a live-oriented coach in the other is great.

CT: Let’s talk about your relationship with the World Poker Tour and your recent bankroll challenge across the country.

XL: Working with WPT and WPT Global is a career highlight for me. They are the most reputable brand in the industry. I feel incredibly blessed to work with the live team as well as the online team.

I was pretty burnt out from playing high-stakes poker and was recently leaning towards creating fun content on my YouTube channel. I had the idea to travel around Canada. I wanted to be the first to play poker in every province and territory.

CT: That sounds fun, except for the winter, snow, and cold part.

XL: (laughs) It was. I liked the idea. So, I pitched it to my boss at the WPT, [and he wanted to spice it up,] so we changed it to a bankroll challenge. [The idea was] I had to pay for all my expenses with my winnings, starting with only $2,000.

I had previously thought I would have a budget to travel for hotels and food. That wasn’t the case, so this whole challenge was another level of gamification and probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

My expenses had to come from profits I made on the road. I played in casinos and home games all across Canada. I met so many amazing people along the way, and I loved it.

Canada has a very special place in my heart. I hadn’t seen all of the country, and now I have. I hope to do more things like that with WPT Global in the future, and I’m looking forward to what I have planned for the coming year.

Find Xuan Liu on Twitter/X and Instagram @xxl23 or catch her YouTube channel @XuanLiu. ♠

  • Photos by WPT and PokerGO