Xuan Liu: The Idealistic Poker Heroine


I first noticed Xuan Liu when she final tabled the Main Event at the PCA in 2012. Liu was the first and until this day only woman to make a PCA Main Event final table. Liu finished in 4th place and took home $600,000 for her deep run. The year before the Canadian pro had got even closer to winning an EPT title, when she took 3rd in San Remo for €360,000. Since then Liu has continued to go deep in big events (both live and online), and she has become one of the most recognizable players in the world.

This year there is every indication that Liu is going to be even more in the spotlight. Liu is part of the lineup for the new poker reality series “Girl Got Game” that follow some of the most popular female poker players around the world, including Kitty Kuo, Danielle “dmoon” Andersen, Sabina Hiathulla, and Sofia Lövgren. One month ago Marc Andre Ladouceur also drafted Xuan Liu for Montréal Nationals – one of 12 Global Poker League teams. And as if this wasn’t enough, Liu has recently started to live stream on Twitch and to offer poker coaching for players “identifying as women” at a reduced price.

We caught up with Xuan Liu to hear more about her life, being a woman in a male dominated industry and her very busy schedule.

On your twitter-page you call yourself an ”Idealistic poker heroine”. What do you mean by that?
“I’ve had this moniker for ages and no one has really asked me much about it! The “idealistic” descriptor refers to how I can be somewhat of a dreamer and overly optimistic. I always strive to assume the best in everyone and hope they give me the benefit of the doubt as well, but it becomes “idealistic” when you know that reality can be much different than what you set your goals to be. “Heroine” is kind of a subtle rebellion to the general poker community and patriarchy as a whole, since all the hand histories I used to read and study refer to the player as “hero”.  Women can be the protagonist in this adventure as well, not just as a love interest, prop, or even the rake! I created the name when I was completely immersed in the game, and even though I am so much more than just a poker player I think it’s still what people would know me best for”.

You’ve have made a lot of final tables in major tournaments: finishing 3rd in 2011 EPT San Remo, 4th in the 2012 PCA Main Event and runner-up in a 6-max event at the Aussie Millions. Which of these deeps runs mean more to you and why?
“To be honest that 6-max was a pretty big deal for me in terms of justifying my abilities. The two six-figure scores were a break-through for me, but I barely had any expectations for myself at the time. The Aussie Millions score came when I had been on the MTT circuit for many years already, a few of them without any significant cashes due to diversified priorities. I had just restarted studying a lot right before so it reinvigorated my perspective on how hard work and a more systemic approach can pay off.”

You have been playing poker for more than 10 years now. How do you think the game has evolved since you started playing? Is poker still beatable – online and live?
“I think it’s incredible that I have been playing for so long, for better or for worse, but I still love the game and the lifestyle very much. I think some events and structures are very beatable, especially live, but you have to be very realistic about your expectations. If poker is your primary source of income you’d better have good bankroll management skills and an honest risk of ruin assessment that takes into account a modest ROI [return on investment]. After accounting for travel and other expenses profit margins become even smaller. There are definitely still spots online as well but recent rake increases and players generally being more skilled you really have to decide if grinding hundreds and thousands of games or hands is the best you can do to make a living wage, or if you’ll even enjoy it. Playing recreationally is a whole other story – if playing poker provides you with entertainment or gives you other forms of pleasure (and you can afford it), then who really cares if it’s beatable?”

What’s your take on the attempt by Alex Dreyfuss and the GPI to sportify poker?
“I am inspired by Alex’s efforts. I think the universe rewards those who dream big and work hard. Even if things don’t work out, this project has already had such a net positive impact on so many of us.”

Marc Andre Ladouceur drafted you for the Montréal Nationals with teammates Mike McDonald, Martin Jacobson, Pascal LeFrancois, Jason Lavallee and Ladouceur himself. Why did you choose to opt-in? And what are your expectations for the Global Poker League?
“I felt it was a complete free-roll and am generally excited about leaderboards like this involving anything I love. I know I have a lot to offer any team and agreed with the GPL’s mission. Win or lose, it’s a great platform to showcase my skills as well as those of my team to the rest of the world.”

What team do you consider the toughest?
“Us! We may not all be household names, but I think our team is the most solid. There are many teams with players who crush but play somewhat unconventionally, but I think with this hole card up on 10 min delay format our team will excel.”

You have recently started live streaming on Twitch. What’s the attraction and how has the response been?
“It has been a lot of fun so far. The medium is complementary to a lot of different things I’m currently working on, and it’s a perfect combination between my love of games, utilizing my tech-savvyness, and getting to do what I love while engaging with and helping others. I am however, a huge introvert so I need a good balance between days off and streaming for hours on end. So far I have some very loyal viewers and pretty decent reception to my first few streams, although I really don’t pay close attention to the numbers.”

You are also part of the line-up for the new reality poker show “Girl Got Game” that is set to air in mid-April. What has the experience been like? And what can we as viewers expect to see?
“We will be filming in two weeks so I will let you know soon! Expect to see some badass women having fun and kicking ass.”

There’s been a lot of discussion about sexism in poker lately – partly due to Cate Hall’s essay on “Poker’s Woman Problem”. Have you experienced misogynist behavior yourself? 
“Of course! Cate is taking the convo above and beyond and I simply adore her for it. Women experience sexism in some form everywhere we look, not just in poker. Most misogynistic behavior assumes it’s harmless, and most of it is in an objective sense, but only because all women have learned from a young age how we should expect others to treat and view us as females. I believe most people are just going by what they know with their learned selfish behavior, so while radicalism is useful, it isn’t always the best way to go about convincing people we ultimately want the same things.”

Is sexism in poker really a problem, and if so what can we do about it?
“It’s a reality, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a problem. Me being female has certainly both helped and hurt my poker industry experience, but there should always be that kind of balance in everything. The fact that the Royal Flush Girls exist symbolizes how sexist the industry could be, but I also think they are a very useful marketing tool. We can all stop reinforcing gender stereotypes and unattainable beauty standards in ourselves and our female friends. Encourage and praise competition and effort in girls, not only compliment them for their aesthetics from such a young age. It’s also up to ourselves to summon the courage to break through personal boundaries and not be shy about taking chances, looking stupid, and focusing so much on social expectations.”

We all want to attract more women to the game we love. Why do you think that poker in this day and age is still so much a man’s game?
“The collective mentality is definitely getting better. I sat in on Linda Johnson and Jan Fisher’s discussion at one of their Boot Camps listening to their experience as pioneers in the game and let me tell you, we have it pretty good right now. We can’t expect overnight changes, but we will definitely continue the conversation until things are more equal.”

If you got to be the President of Poker, what would you do to attract more women to the game?
“Emphasize how empowering and fun it can be!”

We are only two months away from the WSOP. Are you going to play the WSOP this year? And what events are you especially looking forward to?
“I will, but probably only a few events, if any, in addition to the main event. The Canadian tax withholding situation really takes away from upsides of winning a bracelet.”

Do you have any specific goals – poker-wise and in life?
“Remind myself to enjoy the journey, always have time for leisure, and leave a positive impact on those I come across.”


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