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Xuan Liu -- Getting To Know Liu

An Interview With A Rising Star

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Xuan LiuXuan Liu now has just under $1.2 million in lifetime winnings despite only really focusing on live tournaments since early last year. She finished third at the European Poker Tour San Remo in May 2011 for $534,564 (her sixth ever EPT and her first EPT main event cash) and has kick-started 2012 in style with a fourth place at the PCA main event, earning her a tasty $600,000.

Card Player caught up with Liu to find out about the two most important live final tables in her life and to generally get to know more about the Canadian who has quickly become a force to be reckoned with.

Rebecca McAdam: How did you get into playing poker?

Xuan Liu: I’ve been playing poker for supplementary income since my studies at the University of Waterloo. I’ve always had a deep interest in the game, and any general strategy/skill/chance games for that matter. After I graduated I was swing trading while studying for my CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) designation, but wasn’t as motivated as I could’ve been since I was also grinding online. I actually first started playing online during the initial Party Poker days, playing sit n’ go’s and small stakes limit hold’em at local charity casinos for tuition. I also used to run my own home game and helped organise or deal at various games around campus and Toronto, so I’ve been connected to the local poker community for a long time. However, I mostly treated poker endeavours like temporary gigs due to the instability and stigma behind it. I also had experience in the real workforce and as a college graduate I knew there were options for me even if I took some shots and didn’t do well, so I kept aiming higher.

It was actually under the incessant encouragement of various friends to pursue tournament poker. They would advise me about my potential as a successful female in the game and taking my poker “career” more seriously. My mother also gave me a deadline to either accomplish something significant or quit forever rather than “hustle” indefinitely. Having been a cash player for a long time, I initially thought it would be an easy transition; I had considered tournament players to be very exploitable. I was pretty foolish and was in way over my head, even after selling action and pinching expenses where I could on the road. When San Remo happened I was beginning to become discouraged and almost didn’t believe how incredible the timing was.

RM: You often hear players say things like there is implied EV for a female in the poker world. What do you think of that opinion?

XL: I think it’s very shallow when someone states that the game is easier for females. There’s a different set of obstacles involved. There may be more opportunities, but it’s also harder to gain respect from your peers. If an established male player misplays a hand, it will often be attributed to him having an off-day or some other form of variance. If a female makes a mistake, many will automatically regard the error as a permanent reflection of her ability. At the same time, just because you’re a girl does not mean there is no hard work involved, that you don’t have to take the traditional channels to become a world-class player. If you want to be playing in the highest level tournaments in the world, you can’t just expect batting eyelashes to get you by. I have a lot of respect for females who understand this. At the same time, I believe utilising the element of attraction can also be a great tool to have in one’s arsenal.

RM: Have you left the financial analyst side of things behind or is this something you will return to?

XL: As much as I enjoy studying for countless hours and working in an office punching numbers, I really like the social aspect of poker and getting to meet interesting characters. It’s such a surreal experience traveling around the world playing a card game; I get to work on my own time and do everything I wanted to as a kid. The financial industry may also be a bit cutthroat for me. Even though you’re competing against other players directly in poker, there is an explicit understanding of this and there is generally a blanket mutual support amongst players. There are few things in the world that can take me away from this lifestyle right now.

RM: Now that you are traveling and so on, are you wondering why you didn’t do this before?

XL: Sort of! After I graduated I went to L.A. and some other cities to play cash games when I wasn’t ready by any standards. I almost decided to quit before I started doing well online again as I was studying for the CFA designation. I realised my passion was still towards poker and that I just had to work harder and smarter.

RM: Do you still play live cash?

XL: I really don’t have much time these days, this whole year has been pretty hectic. When I’m not on the road I prefer to be relaxing at home clicking buttons in my PJs. I do have my eyes set on playing the big mixed games at Aria eventually, but my only focus is on tournaments at this point.

RM: Tell me about the final table in San Remo and generally how it went for you.

XL: It was a six-day event where I felt the momentum throughout. I love Italians and their culture and was very happy to be in the city again after a win in an IPT side event on my last visit. My friends and I rented a villa nearby and I just did everything in my capacity to have a deep run in terms of eating and sleeping well, working out, and not staying out late. Although I was not a big stack going into the final table, I had the best position with Max Lykov, Rupert Elder, and Max Heinzellman in that order to my right and the amateurs to my left. I was also pretty lucky with getting hands to knock out a lot of players.

RM: Overall, a really good experience then?

XL: Yes, definitely, I wouldn’t mind making a few more final tables. I was actually a lot less nervous than I thought I’d be, but in the end the rush of simply making it so far got to me and I made some very costly errors three handed. Rupert and Max [Heinzelmann] were more experienced and had way better fundamentals than me at that time and it was my downfall to not adjust to this. I was pretty down about this for a while but these days I do my best to overlook mistakes and learn from them instead.

RM: Does it freak you out thinking that people at home are going to see your cards and make judgments about how you play? Does that go through your head?

XL: It definitely goes through my head. It might have been one of my major downfalls in San Remo, when I tried to meet aggression with aggression and ended up getting caught in battles I was uncomfortable with. I’m not a passive player but when playing that deep and out of position, I shouldn’t be three-betting or raising certain hands post-flop if I’m not prepared to face the consequences.

RM: Congratulations on your finish in the PCA main event! How was it in comparison to San Remo?

XL: The PCA main event was definitely very different from San Remo in almost every aspect. I had a lot more confidence this time around and was playing to win rather than allow myself to be satisfied with a deep run and lose focus. Skill-wise, I had improved exponentially as a player over the past few months and was not going to let myself commit the same errors that stripped me of a potential EPT title. The field was also a lot tougher since this PCA is one of the can’t-miss stops of the year for the best players in the world. I could not imagine a better tournament to redeem myself.

RM: Looking back, how was your year traveling the live poker circuit? Did you learn anything new?

XL: Even without the two major final tables I would have to say this was one of the best years of my life. Whether it was traveling alone or with poker friends, there were interesting discoveries and great food to be had in every city. I’ve always been very independent but the past year has been one very big risk, even for me. Now I feel like I can play the game I love for a living indefinitely so I am very grateful for that. I’m also very blessed to have become friends with some of the best players in the world who inspire me to constantly improve my craft.

RM: What are your hopes and ambitions?

XL: The abbreviated response is just to be content and happy with whatever I choose to do and surround myself with genuinely good people. Attaining financial freedom is important as well since it will allow for more time and energy to spend on making a positive difference. It’s unfortunate that poker in and of itself doesn’t really contribute much value to society, so I am motivated to find a way to use either the skills or resources I gain from the game to make the world a better place. Also winning a bracelet would be nice! ♠