On the Button: Poker pro Xuan Liu

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Xuan Liu is a 27-year-old pro from Canada. To start 2012, she final-tabled the $10K PCA main event, finishing fourth for $600K. With more than $1.2 million in live tournament earnings in just three years, she’s a force at the tables, ranking 17th on the women’s all-time money list. Our Mike Owens caught up with her to discuss her life on and away from the poker table.

Where are you from and where is home for you now? I was born in Tian Jin, China, but I have lived in Toronto since my family immigrated here when I was 5. I am proud of my origins and feel very privileged to be a Canadian. I travel quite a lot, and although I’ve been to some spectacular places, there is nothing quite like the comforts of a familiar city you love. Toronto is still a great base for me, especially with the recent obstacles in other parts of the world with online poker legislation.

How did you progress to where you are now in poker? I attribute my poker successes to my passion for the game and a desire for a versatile lifestyle of travel and exploration. I had started playing in college but didn’t take it as a serious long-term option and only dabbled in a few poker road trips while playing small stakes online. It wasn’t until I was leading toward a path in finance and faced a crossroads in my life that I decided to take a risk and jumped onto the tournament circuit on my first trip to Europe in October 2010.

I am at this stage in my poker career because of the copious hours I have dedicated to improving my game, the lessons I have learned from the plethora of mistakes made along the way, some really good table draws and through my time spent with the network of elite players I have befriended during my time on the circuit.

What do you feel are your biggest poker accomplishments? Having two major final tables after being on the circuit for a relatively short amount of time is really great for my self-esteem, but ultimately I think the decisions I’ve made with my career that aren’t quantifiable are what I’m proud of the most. This includes having a great poker support system and making the most of my poker trips around the world.

Do you mainly focus on tournaments and play cash games on the side? Cash games had been my focus for a long time before I broke through to the tournament world. I had probably only played about a dozen random live tournaments over four years before the end of 2010. Some friends insisted I take the leap to tournaments because there is just so much more implied and non-monetary value in being a female in the tournament world.

These days I play mixed cash games online and occasionally live when there are good games. I would love to put in more volume and improve my no-limit and pot-limit Omaha cash skills in the near future. 

What would you say your preferred style of play is? Poker is a game of adjustment, so I will play as loose as deemed profitable at certain tables and as tight as necessary in others. My frame of mind also plays a role in how creative I can be, but I do my best to stick with fundamentally sound plays when there are predominantly probability decisions to be made.

Away from the table what interests you? I enjoy wandering around unfamiliar cities and eating. Being wined and dined is nice, but Anthony Bourdain-style cultural immersion is better. I like playing team sports, reading and grabbing beer with friends. A charity I like to promote is Because I Am a Girl Canada. They emphasize the importance of providing opportunities for girls in the developing world. It’s an issue I’d like to gradually increase my involvement in as I gain more autonomy in my poker career.

What are your feelings toward women’s events and those players who are opposed to ladies-only tournaments? I am a firm supporter of women in the game and think that ladies-only tournaments are good for everybody. They encourage camaraderie and non-judgmental atmospheres, which in turn provide a welcoming introduction for beginners. The reasons why women in general are not as competitive as men cannot be explained by oversimplifying the theory of equal opportunity. Ladies events are also legitimate for their explicit notion of competition between players and the sense of personal empowerment they instill, something women often do not have a plethora of experience with. People are entitled to their opinions, but I think those who oppose these tournaments tend to have limited life experiences. 

Do you have advice for our female readers? Of course, I wish I had more female mentors while getting into the game. Put in hours, study and be objective when evaluating your game. Discuss hands with players you respect and don’t ignore the ones who are still learning. Don’t be discouraged by putdowns from the cowards and bigots, and be wary of those who are a little too eager to help.