As the APPT spotlight shines on Seoul, Vivian Im is doing everything within her power to nurture the game in her own backyard.
In the past four years that poker has become a livelihood for Vivian, she has enjoyed consistently good online results, gained Supernova Elite status, and used that online skill to satellite into dream tournament destinations. And then there was the time she became the first female APPT Champion in Cebu back in 2010.
Her poker pro life is worlds apart from that of the girl who grew up dedicating 15 years to dancing. Although seemingly worlds apart, both require passion, discipline, commitment, and timing things to perfection. Just like dancing requires learning certain movements and rhythms, you don't just pick up some cards one day and call yourself a poker player - a winning player that is. Hours upon hours of study are dedicated to mastering the intricacies of the game. Vivian recognized a lack of information accessible to Koreans about poker, so she wrote a book, "The Hold'em Story," to share her story and encourage the growth of the game in her homeland.
The biography, written in Korean, is about poker and documents Vivian's life and the game that has transformed it. "For the time being, poker is still looked down upon in Korea. Some famous Korean stars and political figures made a big mess with illegal gambling, so all kinds of gaming are regarded with extreme prejudice. I really hope I will do my best to change that," Vivian said.
The launch of Vivian's book this week and the planning of a poker room set to open in April, as well as APPT Seoul, are all promising signs towards integrating the Hold'em culture into Korean society. Koreans are not allowed to enter casinos in Korea by law; however a new poker room is opening in the one casino that is the exception to the rule, Gangwon Land.
"When I first started playing Hold'em, there wasn't much information about the game. So it was hard to learn. But now, including the Hold'em community site that I participate in, there are many learning materials for people to access, making it really simple for beginners to learn the game," Vivian added. "There are many live tournaments that people enjoy, so the overall impression of Hold'em is getting better."
Another hope for Vivian is that poker becomes more mainstream and is accepted as a kind of sport in Korea that can join the popular televised e-sports that are booming in the country. There is a strong gaming culture that is extremely popular in Korea, with Vivian's partner Gab Yong Kim having been featured on televised competitions. Gab Yong also shares a passion for poker, having finished third on the final table that sealed Vivian's APPT Cebu championship.
Having a partner who knows poker is a huge support. "It's probably hard to understand how much hard work this game requires and how stressful it is unless you've played it seriously. Having someone by my side understand all this makes a big difference", Vivian shared. "When on the poker table, we're both players first, so when we're playing against each other, there is no mercy between us. If we meet at the final table like APPT Cebu again, I promise there will be more fireworks!"
The game still fascinates Vivian as much as it did when she first started. "At the poker table, you meet with various people - black, white, and yellow. You play poker with them and chat with them off the poker table, and it's a good opportunity to make friends. Poker is a game to me, and the more I learn about it, the more interesting it gets."
Poker also allows Vivian to pursue her passion for traveling. One of her favorite destinations - APPT Cebu - was announced last month. "The blue sky and ocean of Cebu really comfort me. The natural and relaxing environment totally wipes away all the stress and nervousness. My personal favorite is the spa. Every time I go to Cebu, I try to visit the spa at least once a day. Cebu is a nice place to rest, and watching the fireworks at night while lying on the beach is amazing," Vivian reflects.
And then there are the memories of her famous victory there. It's no wonder that Cebu holds a special place in her heart.
For more on women in poker and interviews with the female Team PokerStars Pros, see the PokerStars Women page.