I had an opportunity to interview Liv Boeree recently at the PCA and found her to be refreshingly candid with some really interesting insights on what it's like to be a female pro poker player, suddenly thrust into the glare of overwhelming publicity. Her San Remo win was what started it all, so that's where we start in this article, but the interview took place during the PCA when she was between tournaments.
When you win an EPT title your world changes overnight; and if you're Liv Boeree, the whole world comes knocking at your door. Or at least that's the way it seemed when she described it to me recently. Liv's win at the PokerStars 2010 EPT San Remo netted her € 1,250,000 and changed her life forever. It also brought her into the public limelight in a way she hadn't imagined. PokerStars was the first to come calling, but there were so many others that her phone "rang off the wall" for days. The BBC, the Daily Mail, and others kept her going at warp speed, just fielding all the calls. "I was in national newspapers and magazines," she said to me more than once, as if she still has a hard time believing it. "I was amazed at the positive reaction."
Watching her as she describes it all, I can see clearly why she has garnered so much attention. Not only is she stunning in a natural girl next door kind of way, with no makeup and dressed casually in jeans and tennis shoes. But beyond all that, the petite twenty-six year-old brunette has a confidence and an intensity that radiates from her to light up the room, and those around her. As I listen to her description of those few days, I'm reminded that Team PokerStars Pro players are chosen not only for their tournament wins but for their ability to connect with people and to be ambassadors for the game. With her media background as an announcer on British television and various other gigs in the public eye, she's relaxed and articulate, but there is something more. When she speaks, you can see and hear the massive intelligence that spurred her to obtain a degree in astrophysics at the University of Manchester. But beyond that is the enthusiasm she has for the game and for what poker has brought to her life, an excitement that translates into everything she says. But with all that excitement comes a certain level of stress too.
As she recalls it, "I remember winning the tournament and being really exhausted, then going out partying that night afterwards. I woke up the next day to the phone ringing and it was PokerStars calling. After that, the phone rang off the hook for two solid days." Being the toast of the town and all over the news would seem to be a poker player's dream, and it was "amazing" as she puts it, but all the attention came with its own stresses for a person like Liv who likes to be in control. "It was a very stressful week," she reflects, "basically because I hate the thought of missing out on an opportunity or not capitalizing on it fully, and there were just so many things going on." She says her family was "wonderful, and so supportive," and her mom helped her manage the phone calls and setting up interviews and the like, when it all happened.
But then she goes back to that niggling worry, "Every now and then I look back on it and think, "Did I handle everything correctly, did I miss an opportunity I should have taken better advantage of?" She comments that she now has "sort of a business manager," but she "likes to be in control of everything when it comes to my career. I don't like trusting anyone with too many of the details. I like to make the decisions."
As I imagine it, these are the kinds of things that Liv Boeree worries about on those nights when she can't sleep. Not whether she made the right move in that one particular hand, but those possible missed opportunities and small missteps. She has big plans for her career and for her life, and this is only the beginning. And she has to get it right.
She describes herself as being "absurdly competitive" in everything she does, and says that "it is important to be the best. I hate losing." But being the best in poker was not something she aspired to when she was younger, since she was never exposed to the game until she was 21. She learned poker for the first time when she took part in a reality TV show in Britain called The Ultimate Poker Showdown. Her achievements are all the more impressive when you realize that she learned the game only five short years ago.
She was raised as "basically an only child" in Kent, in the countryside outside of London and says she thinks she gets her competitiveness from her relationship with her dad. She says that they used to play ping pong "maniacally, and refuse to give up," while her mom was "laid back and lovely." She went to a girl's school from ages 7-18 and says that she wasn't around boys much at all during those years. She made up for that fact in a big way by getting into the rock music scene during college where she played heavy metal with a rock band and then again a few years later when she took up poker. Although I can't imagine it ever being much of a problem for an attractive female rock musician like Liv to attract men, poker has increased her attention from the male sector exponentially.
Liv says that up until recently "99.5 percent of her fans were male." She remarked that in the last six months or so "the vast majority of people who have come up to me to ask questions or get photos have been male." But recently, especially at the PCA, this has changed. She commented that the previous evening she had been in one of the clubs at Atlantis, and "three different girls came up to me independently to ask for photos and ask questions. It was really nice. I've never really had that before." This brought us to a comment that reveals what is really important to her about all the recognition she gets from the game. "It's nice to have male fans," she says, "but obviously it's easier to have that, I'm a girl." She continues, "But to have female fans, to be able to convince discerning females--and let's be honest, women are much more discerning--that's a real honor. Having the respect of other women is way more important to me than having the respect of men."
She mentioned that this year she saw many more women playing the Main Event than the previous year and that they "weren't the regulars" she was used to seeing, but new players she had never seen before. She said that at one point she looked over the table to her left and saw three women playing at a table of nine, "at a 10K Main Event." (The player list from the Main Event proves her to be correct in this observation, with 41 women playing this year, as opposed to the two previous years when participation in the Main Event was considerably lower, 14 in 2009 and 29 in 2010.) She also mentioned the amazing run from Ana Marquez, who placed tenth in the Main Event as a portent of things to come. "I think we're just going to see more and more women coming in." She remarked, "PokerStars is doing a fantastic job with the PokerStars Women initiative, and it is the only mainstream site that is actively pursuing women, and encouraging female players."
I asked her if being a representative and a spokesperson for women in the game was stressful in some ways. "I would be telling a lie if I said it didn't add a layer of pressure, but being a spokesperson for women, and for the game in general, is what my long term goal was and continues to be." She remarked that "once you have some major results (like the win in San Remo), people expect you to keep having those results, and of course you know that having even one major tournament win a year is way above expectations for anyone. But I actually like that pressure. It's easy to become complacent, and having that extra drive and responsibility of being a member of Team PokerStars Pro helps to keep me always out there always trying to improve. We're expected to be the best in the world and we're expected to perform well. But I like that; it's something I thrive on."
But can't it be difficult managing all those expectations and requests for interviews, photos, and other media? "It can be tiring when you have a full day of interviews and you're playing the next day, but PokerStars is so good at scheduling interviews and providing support. They make sure we are left alone when we're playing, so that really helps. But I actually love doing media, and I love those special events like tonight. We have a red carpet charity event and I get to get dressed up a bit and have my photo taken. I love that part! I don't wear dresses often and when I do on those rare occasions, it's fun to be a bit glam!"
Her three favorite things about being a Team PokerStars Pro? "Definitely the prestige and the lifestyle--the travel, the chance to live out the pro player's dream of playing the circuit and all that." After a few thoughtful moments, she came up with a third. "The third would have to be the celebrity. The chance to be invited to things you wouldn't ordinarily be invited to, the opportunity to meet all these wonderful people and players from around the world, and of course the red carpet type events like tonight."
Liv says that she definitely has a lot of goals that she hopes to achieve in poker, the first of which is to be the first person to win a second EPT Main Event bracelet. Her most ambitious goal is to go for the Triple Crown of poker--an EPT bracelet (which she already has from her win in San Remo in 2010), a WPT bracelet, and a WSOP bracelet. She says that she also has goals that are outside the realm of poker as well, and that she feels she has something important to contribute to the world in another area (she was a straight A student in college and had plans to go on for a doctorate). But she says that poker will always be a part of her life because she is always striving to be the best, and in poker, that's a constantly moving target. "The day you say, 'I'm great at poker,' is the day you stop being great."
For more information on Liv Boeree and other female Team PokerStars Pro players, see profiles and videos, along with other interviews at www.pokerstarswomen.com.
Evidence of that constant striving to be the best was illustrated when Liv won the Sunday Warm-Up on February 6 for $147,780 against one of poker's most feared online opponents, James "mig.com" Mackey (winner of the 2007 WCOOP and Event # 13 in the 2010 SCOOP Championship). They jostled heads-up for over an hour until Liv finally took it down after coming from 10 million behind at the start of the match.