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Xuan Liu on making history for women at the PCA

Xuan Liu is not the kind of poker player who immediately strikes fear in opponents at the poker table due to her demeanor or appearance. I'm guessing that the 27-year-old slightly built Canadian with the beautiful smile is a welcome addition when she sits down at most of the heavily male-dominated tables at the PCA Main Event. That is, until they realize who she is. Xuan holds the distinction of being the only women to play a PCA Main Event final table. Her fourth place cash in January of this year for $600,000 also puts her in the top echelon of final table cashes in the event, male or female.

Xuan was good enough to take time out from her extremely busy schedule to answer a few questions from PokerStars Women about the upcoming PCA and about what it's like to be a mentor for women in the game.

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PokerStars Women (PSW): Can you give us a little background leading up to your fourth place finish at this year's PCA?

Xuan Liu (Xuan): When I attended my second PCA I definitely noticed a huge improvement in my skill level compared to my first year, when I had just gotten into the tournament scene. It's one of the most prestigious tournaments in poker, so it was a highlight of my career to have had such a great run. Although the PCA has a variety of great events, I had no complaints missing them all by playing the six-day main event.

PSW: Did the fact that you were a woman factor into your preparations for playing the tournament?

Xuan: Unfortunately women are still an overwhelming minority in most poker tournaments so I don't think my approach was any different. I have a lot of experience and am comfortable competing in a variety of male-dominated arenas, so I didn't have to change my overall strategy. In tough fields like the PCA I feel there is very little gender edge anyway because many of the players treat you as they would an online avatar.

PSW: Once you got close to the final table, did the magnitude of it hit you, and if so, can you describe how it felt to know that you were making history?

Xuan: It was definitely very thrilling to have made history as the first female PCA final tableist, and I did my best to stay focused and follow my healthy game-day routine despite the nervous jitters. I am susceptible to anxiety from being in the spotlight, so I had to consciously ignore the distractions and remain competitive while simultaneously reminding myself that regardless of what happens I should be proud of what I have accomplished thus far. It really helped to have a great support system helping me along the way.

PSW: Who was your biggest supporter at the tournament?

Xuan: My parents have never seen me play in a major tournament so it was a huge disappointment when they were unable to make a last minute flight for the final table. I was lucky enough to have my boyfriend Nick fly in on day five to support me the rest of the way with his calming presence, and my friend and online legend Cal was there to offer a plethora of premium advice. I also had an incredible rail overall, which was perhaps as much of a personal success as the deep run itself.

PSW: Did you turn to anyone for advice?

Xuan: I'm lucky to have a wide variety of sources to tap into for poker advice, but most my life advice comes from my little sister. She keeps me in check and is the most reliable source when I need guidance.

PSW: What did you do immediately after your fourth place finish? Did you go party or call up a ton of friends and family? Or maybe just go take a nap?

Xuan: I was exhausted after almost six full days of playing poker, and was quite disappointed to say the least. I had a bit of the sniffles in the hallway while waiting to do the bust-out interview, but immediately felt better when Vanessa Selbst gave me a shoulder and reminded me that I could buy a lot of cheeseburgers with the prize money I had just won. I then ordered room service with Nick and immediately passed out after eating. I might have partied a good amount the night after at the official PokerStars PCA party, when it hit me that fourth place is still pretty awesome.

PSW: How do you see the future of women in the game?

Xuan: There is definitely a healthy upward trend for women getting into poker, but I don't believe the numbers will even out in our generation. Most of this is due to social factors rather than innate gender differences, although there is an argument to be made for female preference for risk-averseness given our evolutionary upbringing. Having said this, there will be a continued shift to decrease the gender gap in poker as women are becoming more empowered and gaining position in other male-dominated fields, so long as poker regulation down the road does not perpetuate a stigma for the game.

PSW: What would you say to young girls who see you as a role model and want to take up poker when they get older?

Xuan: I will always be humbled and amused by the idea of being a role model because I used to be a little girl who simply enjoyed playing games and often still see myself as such. I have always been fascinated with the idea of outwitting your opponents on different levels with your mind. Despite there being an element of gambling involved in poker, it is still much more wholesome to want to be competitive in a game rather than adhere to a lot of common unhealthy media portrayals of females out there. I am completely supportive and touched by girls who share the same outlook, but hope they realize that the hours and energy expended to become a world-class player is comparable to achieving professional status in any field. My best advice to dreamers is inspired by Paulo Coelho: When you want something badly enough, all the universe conspires to help you achieve it.

PSW: To women who are just starting out?

Xuan: Define your goals. Do you want to become a world-class player? A casual player who can beat the local $5/$10 game? Make steady income at home playing small stakes online? Have adventures with poker rock stars all over the world? Find an exciting poker boyfriend? Each one of these goals will have different paths and reveal experiences unique to our gender. You will be judged on your looks and who you socialize with, and the poker lifestyle can be as rewarding or as draining as you make it. Have confidence, be smart, and have fun!

PSW: Is there any specific title or goal that you are working toward in poker? Or do you just take it a day at a time?

Xuan: For me, it's less about having fame and glory than it is about having financial freedom playing a game I love. My goals will continue to evolve, and although it would be incredible to have a major title sooner than later, I'm not in a rush. I think it's important to have a balanced mindset and allow myself to enjoy my successes before going back out there to chase more pots of gold.

For more information on Xuan and other outstanding female players see the PokerStars Women News and Blog section. For details on the upcoming PokerStars Women Live tournament at this year's PC, check out this page.

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