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Liz Lieu takes on Erik Sagstrom at the Venetian

Heads-Up Match Between Two Online Poker Room Rivals


May 7, 2006 - Friday night marked the beginning of a three-day affair between poker's engaging Liz Lieu and online rival Erik "123" Sagstrom. Over Cinco de Mayo weekend they went heads-up in a $600,000 freeze-out series of three $200,000 matches with a $2,000-$4,000 limit structure. The event is fittingly titled "Beauty vs. the Beast."

Liz Lieu plays at, an online gaming site supported by a global team of elite poker professionals including; Martin deKnijff, Patrik Antonius, John Phan, Cecilia Nordenstam, Claus Nielsen, Alex Stevic, and more. Lieu is one of the most engaging and beautiful up-and-comers in women's poker today, and secured her professional status over four years ago. She played mainly cash games, but since entering the 2005 WSOP, she's ridden the tournament dragon with impressive results.

Erik Sagstrom plays online as "Erik 123" at 66Poker and is widely considered one of the best online players in the world. He also posesses respectable live tournament results.

The match started with a little "trash talking" while the two exchanged messages during online play. Sagstrom supposedly called Lieu a fish (although he said it in Swedish). Lieu took that as a challenge and invited him to compete against her in a live game. Live action usually provides her with a home field advantage and Sagstrom accepted the invitation. The two debated the format during the recent WPT Championship at the Bellagio and when they reached an agreement, the idea was pitched to the Venetian. The Venetian poker room staff and promotional team were all too willing to host the event.

With big name professional endorsements and the team rooting her on, Lieu got "down and dirty" on the felt with Sagstrom at the Venetian on Friday night.

Day 1- Round 1:

Both players started with $200,000. Liz swung into the lead early, maintaining a 150,000 to 250,000 chip lead until the break. We don't know what was in her favorite cup of exotic white tea, but when they returned to the felt, Liz went into overdrive and left Erik dangling on the ropes.

"I got him down to 60,000 three times," said Lieu after the match. "But he's like a cat with nine lives - he never dies."

At one point, Sagstrom was severely short-stacked and pressed with 9club 10club. Lieu called with pocket jacks. The flop came 9heart 8club 6club, putting Sagstrom on a flush draw, but Lieu was still ahead going into the turn, 4diamond. She felt confident the match was over for the day until a 9diamond fell on the river, giving Sagstrom a set.

"Ugh," said Lieu. "There was maximum action on that hand."

Sagstrom performed another great escape going into the second round. Lieu was on the button with king-queen suited (diamonds). Sagstrom had pocket sixes. The flop gave Lieu top pair with Q-10-5 and the turn kept her in the lead with a 9. But the river gave Sagstrom a set when one of the only two sixes came on the river. "Sick!" exclaimed Lieu with her tiny innocuous voice.

The two battled it out until midnight and then called it a day. Sagstrom had taken a modest lead. This was the score going into day 2:

Erik Sagstrom - $245,000; Liz Lieu - $155,000

Day 2 - Round 2

Both players agreed to put the first match on hold and start fresh with the second. Each was given another $200,000 in chips and play began around 5 p.m.

Lieu came out swinging. On the second hand of the day, she raised before the flop; called Sagstrom's two bets on the turn; and made it four bets to see the river. Sagstrom called to see Lieu's pair of deuces, giving her a full house.

She continued to apply the pressure; building a 16-bet pot after flopping a straight. Sagstrom called her down to the river and then mucked his hand after realizing what he'd run into.

The early action put Lieu up almost 3-to-1. It wasn't long before Sagstrom was shuffling his last $19,000 in chips going into the final hand of the match.

Sagstrom raised before the flop, Liz re-raised and Erik called. The flop came Jheart 7diamond 6heart and Lieu bet out. Erik raised and Lieu came over the top, pressuring Sagstrom to put his last few chips into the pot. Erik paired a jack on the flop with J-5 and Lieu turned over 8heart 9heart for the flush and open-ended straight draws. Lieu needed only a heart to decide the match. All her wishes came true when the Aheart fell on the turn; Sagstrom was drawing dead to the river.

Score after round 2:
Liz Lieu - 1; Erik Sagstrom - 0

Lieu's railbirds included long-time friend John Phan and the team from Martin's Poker. Lieu exchanged hugs and high-fives before going to dinner.

Two hours later, Lieu and Sagstrom returned to take care of some unfinished business.

Day 2- Round 1 (continued)

They started where they left off, with Sagstrom in the lead. Lieu stacked her $155,000 against Sagstrom's $245,000 and the game was on again.

This time, Sagstrom came out aggressively, winning two major pots in a row. Within 20 minutes, Lieu was down to her last $40.000. Ten minutes later she was all in with $12,000.

Lieu pushed on a flop of 9-8-6 and showed A-J. Sagstrom kept his hand concealed. The turn paired the board with another 9, but the river allowed Lieu to double up through Sagstrom when an ace came. Lieu continued to advance and won several key pots to put her back in action. But the rush was short and sweet and soon Sagstrom had her back on the ropes. It was clear from the beginning that this was Sagstrom's match.

With only $12,000, Lieu went all in on a flop of J-10-9 after hitting a straight with 8-7. Sagstrom had K-10 and made the higher straight when a queen came on the turn. Lieu needed a king to survive, but a 6 came on the river to complete the match and even the score for Sagstrom.

Score after round 1:
Liz Lieu - 1; Erik Sagstrom -1

Day 3 - Round 3

This match was clearly living up to the hype of "Beauty vs. the Beast." Word spread that this was the event to watch, and though the WSOP tournament circuit was drawing to a close at Ceasars, and the Mirage was five days into it's 2006 Poker Showdown, fans swarmed the Venetian poker room for the final shoot-out of Liz Lieu vs. Erik "123" Sagstrom.

The score was tied 1-1 and both players started with a fresh $200,000 in chips.

It appeared the competition would end early when Sagstrom won two monster pots right out of the gate. Sagstrom doubled paired the board of J-8-5-7-5 with 8-5 and Lieu forfeited her hand on the river, awarding Sagstrom a $50,000 pot. Soon after, he pulled in another $58,000 when his 6-9 made a full house on the river with the board showing K-6-6-5-9. The rhythm continued and within the first hour, Liz was down to her last $26,000.

Both Lieu and Sagstrom appeared tired and worn, and after two long days of prizefighting, Lieu was looking for a second wind.

Note: During Lieu's early days of high-limit hold'em ring games, she applied an aggressive L.A. strategy to the tables at the Bellagio. Bellagio players are known for grinding it out at the $80-$160 limits. But not Lieu - she had better things to do with her time. Lieu's hit-and-run tactics serve her well, as she exhibits a no-fear approach to raising and re-raising her opponents out of a pot, often in triumph. It was clear by her demeanor that she was employing the same strategy with Sagstrom. She wasn't afraid to put her money into the pot, but today the deck just wasn't falling in her favor. Still, with very few chips, she made it clear where she stood. "I'm not done with you," she said in her firmest tone (always accompanied by a dazzling smile).

Lieu fired at the pot, often after the flop, and trapped Sagstrom into giving her maximum value on her hand. By dinner break she had pulled ahead with $220,000, compared to $180,000 for Sagstrom.

It took only forty minutes for Lieu to tip the tables even further. Sagstrom was down to his last $70,000. He maintained his short stacks for several hours, finally catching the cards he needed to bring himself back to even, but Lieu went on a rush; steering Sagstrom closer and closer to the rail.

Lieu had J-10 with K-Q-9-A-K for a straight on the flop. Again, she recieved maximum value for the hand by making seven bets on the turn. Sagstrom obliged, losing a $64,000 pot.

Meanwhile - John Phan had just returned from the Mirage Poker Showdown where he finished the day as chip leader going into Monday's final table. While waiting for the Sagstrom/Lieu saga to play out, he put his name on the roster for the $1-$2 no-limit hold'em. (Yes, that's "one dollar - two dollar.") Needless to say, his table became another popular spectator's event, giving the Venetian poker room all the comedy and drama they could hope for.

Lieu won another $50,000 pot with Q-J against a board of A-10-2-5-K, for the straight. She had Sagstrom down to his last $50,000 going into the final hand.

Sagstrom bet before the flop, Liz raised, Sagstrom came over the top and Liz called to see Q-8-4. Sagstrom bet out, Lieu raised and Sagstrom called to see a five on the turn. This time Lieu bet, Sagstrom raised and Lieu called. The river brought a "dream three" for Lieu while it represented Sagstrom's nail in the coffin. Sagstrom turned over pocket threes for a set, but Lieu had A-2 for the runner-runner straight and the win.

Erik "123" Sagstrom was gracious in defeat, while he suffered several bad beats that put him behind during the final match. Liz Lieu had officially shed her title as "fisch" and the Swedish Sagstrom warmly congratulated her for an impressive comeback and fearless challenge.