ON THE BUTTON: With poker pro J.J. Liu

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Joanne “J.J.” Liu final-tabled a limit hold’em event at the 1996 World Series, the same year she took up tournament poker. Today, she has four top-10 finishes on the World Poker Tour and ranks seventh in live tournament earnings among female players. Liu has careertournament earnings of $2.6 million and was inducted into the Women’s Poker Hall of Fame. Our Mike Owens caught up with J.J. to discuss her induction and her start in the game.

How old were you when you first developed an interest in poker? I was 10 years old. It’s our family tradition to stay up late on the eve of Chinese Lunar New Year. As my brothers and I were waiting for the New Year, we started playing Poker So Ha. It is a game with five cards, very similar to Texas Hold’em. My brothers beat me big time. I lost all the money I had in my savings. Losing $50 for a 10-year-old was a very painful experience and something I would never forget. I was determined to win my money back from my brothers. I pawned my gold necklace and I did. I won all my money back.

Where are you from and where is home for you now? I would tell people I was from MIT. Made in Taiwan. I moved to the United States to attend graduate school at Bradley University in Illinois. I majored in computer science and I was a software engineer in Silicon Valley for 15 years. Las Vegas is now my home, I love Vegas. It’s the best place to live. So much fun. It’s a city that never sleeps and there is always something going on 24/7, just how I like it.

How did it feel to be inducted into the Women’s Poker Hall of Fame? I felt deep appreciation and gratitude. My children are very proud of me and that means the world to me. Many of my friends and family came to honor me. It is such a privilege and honor to be inducted into the Women’s Poker Hall of Fame. For the very first time in my life, I had to give a speech in front of 200 people for a full 10 minutes in English. I was thrilled.

What are your thoughts on representing an online poker site? I would love to get sponsorship once Internet poker is legalized. I hope to be a poker ambassador for the Asian countries.

Where do you play the most these days, in cash games or tournaments? I play both. I usually play limit cash games in Bellagio and no-limit in Aria. I also play in the daily tournaments in the Venetian. I love that Venetian allows the use of comps to buy in to the tournament.

You have many poker accomplishments, of which are you most proud? I am most proud of my accomplishment in the Bay 101 WPT. I came in second place with $600K in winnings. At the time, I was five months’ pregnant. My baby is 5 years old now. I call her my miracle baby. I believe my pregnancy brought me lots of luck in my poker game. Thinking back, I could’ve won that tournament if I had called my draw hand and gambled.

What did you want to be when you grew up? Growing up, I looked up to my father. He graduated from Osaka University with a law degree. My father instilled in me the importance of education and having a degree so that I can take care of myself and not depend on my spouse or anybody else. It’s absolutely a revolutionary concept at the time, considering most of my girlfriends are expected to just get married and become housewives. Women are treated as second-class citizens because they’re completely dependent on their husbands to take care of them. With that in mind, what I always wanted was to get a degree, to be independent, to be a good mother and to be a champion in whatever I chose to do.

What advice would you give to somebody who was thinking about becoming a pro? Find your edge in the game and always give back to humankind. Like giving to charities or making contribution to the society. It is good karma and what goes around, will come back around to you.