There’s good news and bad news for the many, many fans of Liv Boeree.
To deal with the disappointment first: she will not be winning the 2019 World Series of Poker Main Event. The PokerStars Ambassador became one of the early Day 1 casualties when she was knocked out of the tournament by her boyfriend Igor Kurganov. (At least the chips stayed close to home and Kurganov finished the day with 129,100.)
However, the good news is this: you’ll be seeing a lot more of Boeree over the coming months as some long-in-the-making plans come to fruition. In particular, Boeree has been spending a lot of time working on content for her YouTube channel, which has been given a complete overhaul. Ever the polymath, Boeree’s principal focus in recent months has reverted back to the world of science and philosophy, an early passion that led her to the University of Manchester and a first-class degree in physics and astrophysics.
All that was before she became a champion on the European Poker Tour and one of the most popular poker players in the world, endeavours that led her away from the lab and into the casino. But the fascination with the scientific world has never diminished, and the level of content on Boeree’s channel is a notch higher than you might expect to find when casually browsing YouTube. In previous years, she has examined the physics of snooker and waterslides, as well as the extraordinary engineering of the Panama Canal. And her most recent video, published last week, offers a taste of what’s to come.
In the first of a series titled Live Curiously, Boeree interviews an Oxford-based Swedish transhumanist named Anders Sandberg about a recent paper he wrote titled Blueberry Earth. The abstract reads: “This paper explores the physics of the what-if question ‘what if the entire Earth was instantaneously replaced with an equal volume of closely packed but uncompressed blueberries?'”
As Sandberg admits, “It’s slightly tricky to find journals that take papers about the astrophysics of berries,” but goes on to describe a serious hypothetical experiment. (Without spoiling the denouement too much, suffice to say it doesn’t end well. “You basically have a boiling ocean of blueberry jam.”)
PokerStars Blog caught up with Boeree in Las Vegas to hear how her new plans are taking shape.
PokerStars Blog: By your standards, you’ve not been putting the poker volume in recently. Why is that?
Liv Boeree: I’m working on some other stuff, basically. I’m launching my YouTube channel properly, which I’m excited about. It’s going to be mostly science and philosophy stuff, but with some poker thinking thrown into it. I’ve been working on scripting that. It’s a good learning curve. The content is me. I’m writing it, I’m hosting it.
Is it fair to say science writing is not as lucrative as poker can be?
That’s probably true, but I’m finding it more intellectually stimulating, and that’s kind of what I want to focus on. That’s my main goal. There’s still a lot of things I’d like to achieve [in poker], including this event, obviously, but I just needed to find more of a balance. I’m still playing, I’m just playing smaller volume.
Is it hard to find motivation for poker after so many years?
That’s the thing, that’s why I’m looking for other things that pique my curiosity. And it’s nice as well because when I go away and I do that, then when I come back to poker it’s new and exciting. Also the game is still evolving, and every time I come back it’s like: ‘Oh, so our three bet sizes are this now.’
What are the changes in poker?
The game is obviously moving towards this more GTO style. It’s a different way of playing, it’s a little bit less intuitive and more rote learning. Some people like that, some people like it less. Definitely some parts of it appeal to me, but I also like trying to outthink someone in a more intuitive way. Some tournaments there’s still some of that. It’s only the high roller tournaments where it really happens. The poker is so good, I have a little bit less of a desire to play it. I’m not willing to sit down and do the legwork and study for hours and hours and hours.
Is the WSOP a bit of an old school tournament in that respect?
Exactly. That’s why I love it. That’s why I still love the big main events. That’s why the PSPC [the PokerStars Players Championship, in the Bahamas in January] was so great. It had that old school feel about it. I think we’re going to see less and less of those, but when we do have them, I think they’re going to be really appreciated.
You’ve often said you would be a science researcher if poker hadn’t intervened. Are you slightly envious of your alter ego?
Yes and no. I’m very, very, very happy about how my life has turned out. I’m certainly in the upper percentiles of expectation. And, OK, I’m not doing science research in a lab or whatever, but what I’m working on right now, I’m trying to parse together different bits, the fringes of certain scientific and philosophical topics. Things we don’t know the answer to. I’m thinking about them. It’s not that I’m going to solve them, but I’m thinking about them at least. So it’s a form of research in a way. Igor and I have a really good working dynamic on that stuff. I’m pretty smart, but he’s even smarter. He’s a f—ing genius. He’s always having these great ideas but he’s not quite so good at communicating them. That’s more my skill set. Between us we’re hoping we’ve found a good team for communicating these ideas which I think are quite important for the world.
What are your goals, both short term and long?
I certainly have some goals that I would like to achieve. I have this YouTube channel, and it’s not that I want a million followers or anything like that. If that happens, that’s nice, but more my purpose for it is to attract people that should be interested in effective altruism type topics, but aren’t yet. [Boeree is a co-founder and ambassador for REG charity.] The type of people who would naturally find them interesting, and gravitate towards them, and therefore also be helpful. That’s one of the main problems that we’re facing in the world. There’s the issue of getting funds to fund the right project, but more than that, actually there’s a brain gap. If there’s some super-smart person out there who’s 21 and trying to decide what to do, they’ve got multiple directions they could go in. Maybe they could be a programmer. Maybe they could go and work in finance. Or actually maybe they could go and do fundamental research, solving problems across the globe. I know what they should be doing, but sometimes they haven’t been given the right inspiration to go and do that. That’s kind of my goal, to put a beacon out there to these really smart minds, who maybe could have gone and done something less efficient with their time, and instead do something that is more likely to help the world.
There’s some really irrational things happening in the world at the moment. How do you, as a rational person, deal with that?
It’s hard. I oscillate between hope and nihilism and frustration and understanding. I think it would be unreasonable to expect everybody to get everything. Also there’s a chance that our way of thinking is not right. We should remain epistemically humble about that. I think it’s most likely that having these trainings in rational thinking methods is just a generally good thing. There’s a chance that it’s completely wrong, and actually we should just be going with whatever our first emotion is. Doesn’t seem likely, just through looking at results. But I think it’s unreasonable to expect 100 percent of the world to suddenly be on the same page and be like, “You’re right!” But at the same time we need to find a way to increase, as quickly as possible, upgrade human thinking, on average.
And you’re dedicated to that?
I still feel a little scattershot. I’m confident that the videos I’m doing on YouTube is getting me in the right direction at least. It still might not be the best thing I can do. I’m working on a book project with friends, and that’s kind of been on the back burner with the YouTube channel. And maybe I should be working on that as a priority. Or maybe I should be putting that completely away. My problem has always been that I’m way too excited about too many things, trying to be master of all trades. That’s something I’m wrestling with a little bit, and at the same time keeping up appearances at poker as well. I’ve just been finding it all a little exhausting, which is why I’m actually, for the first time, now feeling comfortable stepping back and being like, ‘You know what, it isn’t my No 1 priority any more. And that’s OK. I don’t have to be No 1 in this, or whatever, playing the biggest games.’ At some point it’s reasonable to step back and focus on things that I personally find more of a priority to me.
How are things on the domestic front?
Now we’ve moved to Oxford, and I love it there so much. We’re having a great time. Igor is living in the country, which he’s never done before. We have some chickens! It’s very wholesome, and again it’s good for introspection and so on. I’ve realised that I don’t like living in a city anymore.
Is this maturity creeping in?
Maybe, maybe. Finally. At 35. My family is very pleased. They’re very happy to see I’m happy. They love Igor to bits. I put up the first video a couple of days ago, and there’s going to be a big hour-long interview with this brilliant, brilliant guy coming out hopefully in the next week or so. So stay tuned.
WSOP photography by PokerPhotoArchive