There are many things about life that make 28-year-old Hana Soljan smile. From the memories of her father's love of card games and chess to the online poker site patch that she now wears, she glows when talking about poker.
Many poker fans will recognize this photo from the recent European Poker Tour stop in Barcelona, where Hana won the Women's Event. Out of the field of 86 players in the €330 NLHE event, she won the title, trophy, and €6,880.
Those who keep an eye on the EPT will recognize her from other events in previous years. She did win the EPT Prague Women's Event in 2010 and a PokerStars Caribbean Adventure side event in 2011. But most of her previous victories have been closer to home, either in her home country of Croatia or on the Eureka Poker Tour.
One could say that Hana's poker career started very early in life, growing up with a family of card and chess fans. She learned to play the games, including poker, from her father. Though she loved the challenge of gaming, she grew up with many educational goals and the mind of a businesswoman, which took her to the University of Applied Sciences. She graduated with a degree in Entrepreneurial Management and is now pursuing her Master's Degree. And while many players say that their scholarly pursuits help their poker games, Hana says the opposite. "I think that poker helped me to be better in school. When you play poker, you learn everything about people," she said. From reading her professors to studying, poker made her a better student.
No matter how busy, Hana always made time for poker. She and friend Zeljka organized the first ladies' tournaments in Croatia, always with the intention to encourage more women to play the game. For Hana, though, open events were just as appealing. Her first tournament win was in an open event in Croatia with 180 players.
Venturing outside of Croatia and on to events like the Eureka Poker Tour, Hana excelled there as well. Winning the EPT Prague Ladies Event in 2010 was special, not only as her first international win but one "for my country," she recalled. "That was a big deal."
Playing women-only events along with open events gives Hana a wide perspective on the poker industry. While she feels that she can read male opponents better than females, she loves women's events. "Women are always playing like they are competing for a million dollars and for life. It is very interesting and fun," she noted. Additionally, "The ladies' tournaments encourage women to sit at the table and play. When you are a beginning player, it is easier to sit with other ladies."
Hana's efforts through the years, whether as a player, organizer, or host of poker show "Sweat the Hand" on Croatian television, have led to her current status as Full Tilt Ambassador. It was a surprise to receive the email from the online poker site, as well as an honor. "To be a part of the Full Tilt team is a dream come true for me. They chose to sponsor a player who they believe in and me the opportunity to win some big titles. It is hope for lots of players in the world."
"Now I have more chances to play live and online, and I'm so grateful for that opportunity," said Hana. "And every win is not just mine, it is for the team, and that is the best part!" Her EPT Barcelona victory was the first as a sponsored pro.
But the wins are not just for her or for her team. They are for her father, her mentor who has since passed away. "Every tournament that I win is for him!"
As Hana heads off to Montreal for the Full Tilt Poker Montreal Festival from September 21 to October 3, she is prepared for a busy schedule ahead. Later this year, she will be representing her sponsor as the European Poker Tour joins with the Eureka Poker Tour in Prague.
And through it all, she will be continuing to encourage more women to join the great game of poker. "My best advice is to start with ladies tournaments in live poker and small buy-ins with lots of players online," she recommends. "And be confident and brave. We can do it as well as they do, if not better!"
Writer's note: Don't forget that you can win a PS Women Live prize package on PokerStars every Sunday! Click here for details on how to win your €1,100 prize package for as little as €1.10.
Jennifer Newell is a PokerStars freelance contributor.