The Liv Effect

June Cover

01 June 2010

I went to an all-girls’ school. They were into the Spice Girls and dressing up, so I was a bit of an outcast.

Liv Boeree’s victory at the EPT San Remo is a big deal. Not since Moneymaker has poker garnered so much attention from the mainstream press, on this side of the Atlantic, at least. In fact, the media went mental. Suddenly poker players were smart and sexy. “£1 Million Poker Face” blathered The Sun. The Daily Mail almost lost its mind – model, astrophysicist, poker millionaire; they had found their Bionic Woman. Of course, to us, she’ll always be our mate Liv and we’re proud of her. Here’s the woman of the moment on metal, media and something about a neutron star that we failed to fully comprehend.

Have you always been a tomboy, Liv?

Very much a tomboy, yeah. That would be the best way to describe me. I was never a girly girl. I was an only child until my mum got remarried when I was 13 and my family gave up on buying me dolls and dresses, because I was obsessed with cars and aeroplanes. I had a poster of the Red Arrows on the wall. Anything tomboyish, that’s what I wanted. I was very into sport at school, but it was an all-girls’ school, so they were into the Spice Girls and dressing up and I just wasn’t into it at all so I was a bit of an outcast to start with. 

Is that why the very male poker world attracted you?

Yeah, I guess I’ve always been interested in things that are stereotypically male, even when I did Physics at University – there were very few girls. It’s definitely a more male degree. So yeah, part of the appeal of poker was that it had virtually no girls doing it and yet it’s something that girls can do just as well as guys. That’s one of the things I love about it, the competition. 

What were you planning to do after your Astrophysics degree?

I was actually looking at doing a Masters and a PhD and becoming a proper research scientist because I knew I was really good at that. I always had excellent grades – when I tried – but then I kind of grew up and saw there was more to life than just taking exams so I fell out of love with being a research scientist, and kind of met people, postgrads, and it just didn’t appeal to me by that stage. 

Could you tell us something mind-blowing, astro-physically speaking?

Let me think... ever heard of a neutron star?

Yes, but what is it?

It’s when a giant, giant star – much bigger than the Sun – comes to the end of its life and supernovas. The core of the star collapses in one of three ways, depending on density and so on. They’ll either collapse into a white dwarf, a neutron star or a black hole. A neutron star is something ludicrous, like 20km across, which is obviously tiny compared to even a small star like our sun which is millions of miles across.

Makes you feel kind of small, doesn’t it? OK, so tell us how you discovered poker?

I imagine by now most people know that I was on a reality TV show in 2005, having just graduated university. I applied to be on it and it was an UB show with Annie Duke, Phil Hellmuth and Devilfish teaching five people who had never played poker before how to play and I was one of those people. I didn’t do particularly well – the pressure got to me in the final – but I fell in love with the game so I started playing small tournaments down the Gutshot. I remember playing the £5 rebuy for the first time and I won it and just thought, “Wow, I can turn £10 into £650 in one night. This is the best game ever!”

I saw the professionals and how they lived and decided this is what I want to do. I want to make stupid amounts of money and travel the world playing this wonderful game. 

And how did your parents react?

They were veeeeeeeeeeery unsure. Mum said, “I don’t like you going to this poker club every week, coming back at 5am,” so I had to end up getting a nine-to-five job as a number-cruncher for an online ad agency. I would do that, then go down to the Gutshot in the evenings for a £20 freezeout. My parents were happier when they realised I was into hosting and presenting, but I kept it to myself that all I wanted to do was play. 

Presumably they’re more accepting of it now…

Oh yeah, they’re very accepting now. They understand, and they’ve seen me on the circuits and getting bigger and bigger buy-ins in the last year and appreciate that I’m making money and I’m careful with money. I have very good bankroll management. I’ll sell pieces of myself or get a stake into events. I rarely enter big buy-ins off my own back. 

Do you think your looks have helped or hindered you in poker? Was it difficult to get respect early on?

Oh, my looks definitely help and I’m never going to say that they don’t. I understood that the first reason people noticed me in the industry was because of how I look. I’m not ashamed to talk about it because I believe if you’re given something, you need to use all the tools at your disposal to succeed and get to where you want. I imagine my looks got me onto that original reality show. I think they wanted a young girl to spice things up a little. I was kinda weird looking then with long blonde hair and crazy clothes.

Similarly, I knew my looks got me my original deal with Absolute Poker – they needed a poker model for their site and I told them I wanted to be an actual player and they said, “We’ll see.” But they saw potential in me and ultimately I was just a model, which is fine. I had some results that were big to me, like a £50 rebuy, so I knew I had the potential to be a good player. It’s something that got me to where I am now and it’s still something I’ll continue to use for photo shoots to promote poker in the mainstream, as well as promote myself. I mean our photo shoot was obviously a little different to ones you do with guys.

Honestly, Liv, we hadn’t noticed…

If it helps promote me, my sponsors and the game of poker in the mainstream, and shows that poker isn’t a load of dingy, horrible people playing in a basement, then it’s got to be a good thing. It’s definitely been a huge help, but at the same time I’ve had a few people say she’s only around because of her looks. True, but I like to think I’m silencing those critics now, although I have to keep working hard at my game, bettering myself and proving I can win other major tournaments too. 

You’ve worked very hard at your game. Tell us about the learning process.

I read a few books like Harrington on Hold ‘em and Super System but I have to say they haven’t been that dominant in my learning, maybe even detrimental. But if you talk about a mentor, I had some lessons in 2008 with Annie Duke at her house in LA. I stayed with her for a week – a really intensive course, it was fantastic. She took me under her wing for everything from bankroll management to game theory to mathematics; things she knew I’d enjoy and that would help my game.

Then I got a bit of success in the European Ladies’ Championships and some final tables, so after that I felt like I was a bit good and actually became quite complacent, but in the last six months I travelled the US circuit and realised I was making mistakes. I’d talk to friends about hands and they’d say, “Why the hell did you play it like that?” and I’d go, “Good point. Actually, I don’t know.” I had become very lazy in my game and everyone else had got a lot better. I found myself being one of the worst players in the group and lost a lot of confidence, so I thought, “Shit, gotta sort this out.” I should be constant in my abilities and be ready for any situation, so I basically got a kick start and started working with players like Ally Prescott, Shaun Deeb, Jeff Madsen, and they gave me some absolutely fantastic advice. Ally, who I’m dating, is a very psychological player. The way he explains things is incredible. If a few months’ work wins me an EPT I can’t wait to see what happens over the next few years. 

What struck us about the EPT was your unflinching, unreadable thousand-yard stare. Have you been working on that?

It’s weird. Lots of people bought it up. Most said it tilted the hell out of them. My main reason for taking time was because one of my biggest errors was rushing into a decision or second-guessing myself, so now I carefully think through everything. I found the way to stop myself from rushing decisions under pressure – this was the first time I was at Day 5 of a tournament – was to keep calm. I found it was a good way to steady my nerves, calm me down and think things through. I found, for some reason, that for these particular players, especially the Italian guys, they didn’t know how to handle it when I would bet and then stare at them and never look away. It made me feel comfortable and it made them feel uncomfortable. I’ve never had a problem making eye contact anyway. I was always good at staring contests at school.  

Tell us about the tournament itself – the key moments.

You could argue every hand is a key moment. Day 1 was average to bad; I got about 40,000 chips which was below average, but alright. On Day 2 I got the major hand with 7-2 against A-A, where I sucked out. I had about 20BBs, was card-dead and every time I tried to steal I’d get I’d re-stolen and had to fold. I had a tight, passive image so I thought what the hell and decided to open UTG next time. I happened to have 7h2h and the guy next to me tanks for ages before just flatting, so I thought he had a significant hand because of my image. Everyone else folded quickly, obviously thinking, “Oh, the girl has J-J+.” I flopped 8-6-5 with a backdoor flush draw and got there against A-A. It was hilarious! After I doubled I started accumulating and accumulating. Obviously there were lots of vital hands like 3-3 versus K-Q on a K-3-2 board, which is handy. I didn’t play perfectly; I made a lot of mistakes and ran really, really well. You can argue that any hand is the pivotal point of the tournament, but it was just my tournament to win. 

How has your life changed? Has it been completely mental?

Yeah, you can hear how many times my phone’s been ringing and they’re all numbers I don’t know. Life is definitely very, very busy, but I’m not complaining; I’m a very happy girl. 

Do you enjoy the attention of the mainstream media?

Yes and no. I really enjoyed GMTV [UK breakfast television]. It’s a bit of an institution and I’m even on the BBC World Service tomorrow. I’m pleased about the mainstream attention because it will help my future career but, like I said, if I can have any role for poker in the UK then that’s great. Some things I don’t like – a few days after I won it was crazy with lots of aggressive press agencies going like, “We want this picture and this picture and one of your graduation and we’re coming round your parents’ house, etc, etc.” I thought, “Hang on a minute!” I’m not giving away everything because I intend to continue growing and growing. So I had my first taste of the aggressive British media but, in general, the attention has been positive. 

What’s the next step?

Obviously a bracelet. I want to find time to continue studying the game; that was my original intention. I want to go through all the hands of the tournament and talk through them with Ally and Shaun so we’ll be helping each other during the WSOP. I was going to go to Nottingham for the UKIPT this week but I had stuff going on and couldn’t fit it in. I imagine more interviews and press stuff for a couple of weeks, then off to Vegas.  

What to do with all that money, Liv?

Well, I was partly backed, so some of the money isn’t mine. I do have a significant bankroll now and could put myself into any tournament I wanted if I thought that was good use of the money, which I don’t. I want to continue being backed, continue playing satellites because I love them and I have a high success rate. A few days after San Remo I played a satellite to the High Roller – there’s such huge value in these things. They’re simple to play once you get it and you can consistently make money – so no, I’m not going to buy into the $50,000 HORSE because I don’t have infinite funds and I want to get on the property ladder and invest in things. Obviously, some of it is now a bankroll but the vast majority of it will be being sensible and I’ll continue to be backed. 

You’re famously into heavy metal. What are you favourite bands?

Metallica, Iron Maiden, Pantera, Children of Bodom, Machinehead… to name a few. I love thrashy metal. I like other stuff, too, like 80s rock and power ballads – but yeah, I’m very much a metalhead. They’re calling me “the Iron Maiden” and I got an e-mail from Iron Maiden’s PR asking to arrange something, which I’m so happy about. Metal is a lifestyle. It’s one of those things where, if you get into it as a teenager, you never ever lose it. I love rock clubs, head-banging in mosh pits. It’s just something I will always, always love.  

What’s the biggest bluff you’ve ever made in life?

Probably the fact that I’ve managed to convince the world that I’m sane. People who know me well can tell you I’m... odd. In a nice way.