Category Archives: Travel

Travel adventures

Year of the Horse Kicks Off

Happy New Year!

Nala meows you a Happy Year of the Horse!

Nala meows you a Happy Year of the Horse!

We’re already in month two of the Gregorian calendar and in the first week of the Year of the Wooden Horse for the Lunar calendar. I’m no expert on Chinese astrology, but my parents believe that this Horse will bring a thrilling year filled with opportunities that must be grabbed by the reigns. As someone born in the year of the Ox, my buddy Horsey is predicted to look out for me by galloping to my doorstep with favours while and dissolving my problems and difficult situations this year. Not a bad deal to receive a clean slate every twelve year cycle.

In December I was invited to Puerto Rico for WPT Boot Camp’s annual signature event as a guest instructor. It was my official first time teaching in a live setting and I enjoyed it much more than I expected to, probably because I was much better at it than expected to be. It was super rewarding learning to teach beginners and notice their progress, noticing their breakthroughs as the week progressed. I even agreed to show my cards after every pot I won in the daily tournaments, which created a lot of interesting hands and dynamics. I even ended up busting the main event of the camp in hilarious fashion. I ran a bluff against a woman who I had taken a similar line against and shown, only to have her tank-call me when she realized! But there was so much more to the trip than just poker training. It was an enriching experience listening to Jan Fisher and Linda Johnson talk about their days as pioneering women in the game, and I even got a few tips on how to be a better public speaker from the first lady. Being a guest on Nicky “Numbers” Brancato’s new radio show was also a highlight, as he is certainly one of the most talented and hardest working personalities in the game. I was certainly amidst an all-star cast of instructors, and some of my personal highlights of the trip were playing an animated game of shuffleboard against Todd Brunson’s team, getting some beginner golf tips from poker mindset coach Jared Tendler, and beating my good friend Scott Seiver in a friendly HU freezeout!

I was also lucky to have a few extra days after the students left to explore Puerto Rico and visit the semi-private island off the Waldorf-Astoria property. It was a perfect mini-getaway after an intense trip to China. I gathered some clips and put together this video of my daily journey to the Island.

The only downside of my trip was that I did not have the best Internet. Oddly enough, during this trip I was actually getting a turbo boost of publicity with a ton of messages linking to Asian articles about me and my poker successes. The mainstream media might be a little slow to catch up to this “news.” It was also slightly disheartening seeing myself plastered in Chinese headlines years after my last career highlights, but obviously it was still very flattering and a nice ego boost hearing about these features on an island thousands of miles away. Even CBC interviewed me about poker on the local morning show, “Our Toronto,” with a short reel on the 6 o’clock news! Think also, upcoming major Chinese fashion magazine photoshoot and talkshow invite. I know poker players know it’s a skill game, but doing mainstream publicity educates the majority and allows the average person to decide for themselves whether or not I’m a degenerate gambler who feeds off castrating men at the tables. You’re welcome.

Due to copyright laws I can’t embed the clip here, but here’s a link to the feature on the CBC site: http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/Canada/Toronto/Our+Toronto/ID/2432472283/

A nice shot my sister took of the CBC feature on her laptop

A nice shot my sister took of the CBC feature on her laptop

All this publicity is nice, but it’s also making me anxious to win something soon. Yes, my lifetime ROI is still pretty sweet and the actual main focus when doing these interviews for me is to draw awareness to the game, but I’d rather take a confidence boost in the form of a final table any day.

It can also be somewhat testing to explain to people that while yes, I have a nice big figure to my career winnings, I haven’t bought my parents a house yet because the amount I’ve actually kept is much more modest. What’s really worth focusing on is the incredible lifestyle and experiences being in the poker world has given me. My 2013 has been a turning point in my life as I’ve mentioned before, but this year I am determined to play more and crush. I’m taking the next few weeks to stay put and get all my paperwork in order so I can do just that. I also promise you I have no interest in just being a female poker celebrity; I thrive and am often my most authentic self at the poker tables.

Which brings us to the topic of self-improvement. I know it seems like it’s all the rage these days, and really, what’s wrong with that? The widespread access to information has had a truly democratic effect on the pursuit for a better life. Why would a healthy human adult not want to be the best possible version of themselves?

A few weeks ago we were invited to check out the Las Vegas Indoor Skydiving Center on the strip. Skydiving’s always been one of those activities I wanted to do when I was young, so I could be one of the first amongst the people I knew to say I’ve done it and prove how cool I am. Then I became a poker player and no longer needed validation in that department, so I never went out of my way to do it. I can’t attest to how “genuine” this experience was to the real thing, but it was a lot of fun and I did not fear for my life at any point.

I suppose fitness appeals to me the same way that World of Warcraft used to. It’s something that has a guaranteed return on investment. If I grind x hours in a dungeon or at the gym, I am guaranteed to earn y XP/muscle mass+fat burn. That’s very appealing when there can be so much uncertainty in the industry I’m in. Even if I’m having a bad day, feeling small or directionless, working out is one sure way I can to improve my life for the better, so I’ve actually begun to look forward to this one habit I can control. I am in the best shape of my life, and instead of feeling confused and embarrassed at the gym on my own, I’ve been drawing confidence and self-esteem from my physical discipline. I’m still a beginner in comparison to most gym rats, but I’m no longer afraid to ask questions and sweat like a monkey.

I mentioned in 2013 that I made a conscious decision to travel less than I did the previous years. I don’t know if I actually did {*counts on fingers* Bahamas (PCA), Korea (APPT), Monaco (EPT), Vegasx6, Costa Rica (Family vacation), New York (wedding), China (WPT), Montreal (WPT), Puerto Rico (WPT Boot Camp), Raleigh (holidays)}, but for the first time I’ve reached Star Alliance 35k Elite status. I was actually very close to 50k, but I realized too late that being on top of your air miles is important! There’s like, secret societies on the Internet (forums) with a ton of tips and tricks to make the most out of your reward plan. I recommend everyone, not just frequent fliers, to do a little homework on how to get max benefits out of the often confusing but valuable offers that are out there. I know I’ll be getting international upgrades this year and have enough for a round-trip fare to Asia just from collecting in 2013 alone!

I am currently house-sitting in the burbs of Toronto. I am with my twelve-year old cat whom I have neglected for most of those years, so it sure was sweet when she started sleeping in my bed. I also think I might also be addicted to snowboarding, which is great hobby to have since I’m actually in the North during a year of record snowfall. I had actually never been to a ski resort until two years ago, and am just starting to really enjoy myself instead of only having room to worry about not dying when I’m on a hill. Whistler was the first place I had ever left the bunny slope on, so I felt I was going to die a lot my few times out. There’s some great weekday deals in the area, so I’ve been pretty content bundled up and alone on he slope like the Michelin man with that -30 degree Celsius windchill in my face.

Let it snow!

Let it snow!

WPT Fallsview is coming to town in a few weeks. It’s a $5k now, but back in 2007 it was the first $10,000 tournament I’d ever played back when it was the North American Poker Championship. I was a local $5/5 grinder on probation from college who won a seat and chopped another by grinding SNGs. I used a seat, obv took 100% of myself (minus some small swaps), and realized whenever I was in a hand with anyone other than the local grinders I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I got to play with Vanessa Selbst, Kathy Leibert, met Barry Greenstein, John Juana, and was busted by Action Jeff Garza whose bald head would pop up to haunt and crush my dreams of glory for a long time afterwards. I’m a little better now, but have yet to cash in a tournament on home turf, so hopefully this will be the year!

Good luck and have fun out there.

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WPT China in Sanya

Recently I was invited by one of China’s leading social gaming sites, Ourgame, to attend WPT China in Sanya, Hainan. I always look forward to my visits back to the motherland and this time was no different. My only other experiences playing poker in Asia was in March when I qualified online and final tabled APPT Seoul, and in 2010 when I was still a cash player who diverged to Macau for a few days on a family visit one year and also satellited into the Macau Cup. I final tabled a side event and cashed in the main, so my tournament track record in Asia was in the money 3/3 events with 2 final tables.

I started adjusting my body to the jetlag while I was still in Toronto. Waking up at 11pm and sleeping at 3pm EST while eating according to that schedule really confused my body for the first few days, but I had 0 jetlag in Asia and was able to function at 100% for the duration of my trip. A heads up for thse who would like to know more: all the paid iOS apps that claim to have some secret scientific formula to helping you prepare for your jetlag are terrible. You can easily Google “jetlag diet” or and get some quick easy tips.

My first night in Beijing I got off the plane and basically went straight for a tour of the Ourgame headquarters. What a geek’s paradise! It looked more like a gaming net cafe than an office that catered to a player’s base the size of the entire population of the United States. I was greeted and introduced warmly to their staff and realized for the first time that I had fans in China. I felt very special to be recognized for my talents, but also a sense of irony considering that this would all not have been possible if I hadn’t grown up outside China. It always makes me nostalgic imagining what my life would be like if I had never left.

The next day I had an early flight to Sanya. Four hours later I was in the Hawaii of China! No really. Sanya is about the same distance from the equator as Hawaii and has a pretty similar climate. The MGM Grand venue where the event took place reminded me of The Cove at the Atlantis. If you’ve been to the PCA you will recognize this to be the most luxurious ocean-side hotel on a poker player’s schedule. I was thoroughly impressed, and I don’t generally like resort-style vacations.

My mom and stepdad also took this opportunity to visit me in Sanya. They had been traveling around South-Eastern Asia for the past few weeks and wanted to check out the festivities while I was on the same continent as them. I was very relieved that they were able to get a much better understanding of poker culture after this event. I didn’t have too much time to hang out with them, but they had a great time mingling with the players and staff with no language barrier. At the same time, business trips with parents present are not without stress. Imagine busting out of the main event with QQ<AT and having them tell you the reason you didn’t cash was because you didn’t understand how Chinese player’s play!

The players came flocking in a few days after I arrived, as did the vendors and sponsors. You know how on North American tour stops the snacks outside the tournament room are pizza, sandwiches, and salads? There’s dim sum, fried noodle, and BBQ pork in China. And as much as I love my dearfoam slippers and having the oxygen girls entertain players at the Rio during WSOP, the vendors here ranged from segways to red bull to ecommerce sites. That’s a lot of effective publicity and marketing energy for an event hosted by a play money site in its second year of infancy.

As sponsored players, David Chiu, Johnny Chan, Maria Ho, Liz Lieu, and I were warned before the event that there would be many players who would attempt to kamikaze their stacks into our tournament life for the glory of busting an international pro, but my experiences on Day 1 were pretty tame. I was a little surprised there weren’t more complete beginners at my tables, but a predictable field is probably just as good as a highly-volatile maniacal one. I was able to run a stack up relatively early on and cruised through the end of the day one, but day two was less fruitful. It started off well after flopping a set vs. an overpair, but winning pots became difficult when players behind me consistently took turns re-shoving 30-50bb stacks against my opens and not being able to make pairs for a few levels. I disappointedly busted around 160th with 113 or so players paying when I was at my low of 14bb. A dent on my perfect record in Asia! The six-player final table will be delayed until WPT Jeju in December, led by a bright and sassy girl from Shanghai. That’s definitely who I’ll be cheering for.

Being eliminated from the main event was upsetting, but I was still surrounded by great company.  You know what a smashing night in China celebrating the birthday of a Royal Flush Girl consists of? Karaoke of course! Our incredible group must have gone through 100 songs, and we all had a memorable time serenading/rapping/whelping to some of our all-time favourites against boot-leg music videos with the most absurd themes. We would’ve stayed all night if they let us.

Our last day in Sanya was actually a little worrisome. Haiyan had just hit the Phillippines and the remnants of its terror came our way. For eighteen straight hours the storm wailed outside and anxiety levels amongst the stranded hotel guests rised. I felt grateful to be surrounded by great company at a five-star hotel, and really felt bad for the suffering and displaced, especially in the Phillipines. Luckily I don’t think there were casualties in Sanya, but I did notice that some unfortified structures around the city were crushed. There were intermittent electricity outages and parts of the hotel leaked as the storm raged and winds howled tirelessly outside, but ultimately we were able to leave unscathed and still on a positive note.

I ended up having to push back my Beijing-Toronto flight after being stranded on the floor of Sanya airport for most of 5 hours, but I was glad I was able to get out at all! Tensions were high in a chaotic non-air-conditioned tropical airport with all the flights from the previous day cancelled. I was tired and cranky, but I know for certain I didn’t have the worst of it. Besides, missing the second leg of my flight really wasn’t all that bad since I had the privilege of spending one more night in Beijing.

I was quartered that last night at the Westin Hotel in the middle of the main foreigner’s district in the city, so I wouldn’t have known I was in China by the count of languages that were being spoken in the lobby bar. It was the perfect transitional stop back to the West. The next day the conceirge was even kind enough to take me to find my favourite food of all time. Literally every time relatives ask me what I wanted at the end of their visits to China I would ask them to bring this one thing back for me. My trip was complete after I happily had my Jianbinguozi, a local breakfast specialty with fried Chinese donut, green onion, and a special sauce wrapped in a freshly-made egg crepe. An essence of my childhood!

I am currently in Montreal visiting my sister while playing the WPT in town. I advanced to day two with a healthy 80,200 chips, and will posting updates on Twitter. After this I will be off to the beautiful Waldorf-Astoria in Puerto Rico where WPT Boot Camp is hosting their signature annual event. There is also still a chance I will be making another journey to WPT Korea in mid-December, so stay tuned for updates!

Ourgame WPT China

I’m representing Ourgame at WPT China!

Super excited to be representing China’s leading social gaming company, Ourgame at WPT China this year. It would be an absolute dream to make a deep run in beautiful Sanya, Hainan. The video is in Mandarin Chinese but you can use the “closed caption” feature for subtitles.

Ourgame WPT China

Xuan Liu WPT Poker Battle Puerto Rico 2013

Join me at Poker Battle in Puerto Rico this December!

Join me and the WPT Boot Camp team at Poker Battle this December for an unforgettable poker vacation at the Waldorf Astoria in Puerto Rico. Meet and learn poker from some of the best poker instructors while competing for over $100,000 in prizes!

Click below for more details.

Xuan Liu Poker Battle WPT Puerto Rico

Xuan Liu Costa Rica

Family Vacation to Costa Rica

After WSOP my mom, stepdad, sister and I decided to go on family vacation. I personally just wanted to stay put for a few weeks having just been in Vegas for almost two months and Monaco and Seoul before that, but it was true that our family didn’t spend a lot of “quality” time together and it ended up being one of the best trips we’ve ever had. I’m going to be honest and say that I chose Costa Rica for my own selfish reasons. My lease had just expired in Toronto and my boyfriend and I were considering trying out somewhere warmer for the winter, and Costa Rica was up there on the shortlist.

I had just as much fun researching on where to stay and which beaches to visit as I did while I was actually out for the week. I decided on Guanacaste, the Northwestern area of the country that’s also the sparsest and known for its world-class beaches. I always feel a little weird about going to a small country as a tourist, not knowing the language and reaping the benefits of their land and culture. The people did seem happy and generally unfazed by the foreigners, but I think I would have certainly hesitated before I shared my personal paradise with the world.

We stayed at a beautiful villa steps from the beach and within a half hour drive to about a dozen other gorgeous beaches. We went on hikes through rainforests and visited two different volcanoes, one being the Rincon de la Vieja, literally translated as “The Old Woman’s Corner,” named after an allegory about a girl who became a recluse living on the mountain when her lover was thrown into the crater by her father. What a brilliant way to scare your daughters into obedience! We saw a boy and his dog herding their cattle on the beach and enjoyed tropical treats from the local fruit stand named “Tourist Trap” every day. Other highlights included horseback riding, waterfalls, scenic drives, natural mud masks, being ambushed by butterflies, watching locals teach expats how to surf during low-tide, and frolicking beneath some of the best sunsets possible.

Pura Vida!

Journey Through Zion

Zion West Rim

It was a fine decision to go to Zion National Park after the WSOP. Even though I’ve always loved camping, fishing, and hiking growing up, as a city girl I didn’t have much experience other than the occasional family outing and the basic Red Rock hikes I had only recently been introduced to in Vegas. There was also a courage-shriveling moment after a fall on a hiking/rock climbing trip with my volleyball team when I was 12. I was glad to have the online “Lucksacks,” Kevin MacPhee and Dylan Linde, and Nick and Michael Binger as my fellow wilderness explorers

Zion is just a two and a half hour drive from Las Vegas so it was a good choice for post-series detox. Kevin and Dylan had originally proposed to hike the “Narrows,” a river-submerged trail between the canyons that would have required aqua shoes and been practical for the desert heat, but as poker players, we had only concretely decided to go hours before take-off and were disappointed to find out in the morning that there was a flash flood warning for that hike. Unwilling to abandon our Zion decision we made the road-trip anyway, assuming there would be other fun picturesque trails at the park.

My Recently Expired Passport

The guys were all seasoned outdoor veterans, so we prepared ourselves with tents, freeze-dried food, blister bandages, water purifiers, and plenty of sunblock. It was a smooth drive to the polygamy capital and the Zion Visitor’s centre was busy upon arrival and occupied mostly by families with school-aged children. Having active outdoorsy vacations is a very smart way to create lasting positive memories with your kids! The souvenir shop sold passports where children could collect stamps from all the National Parks they had visited. I would’ve thought that was so cool as a girl, though I suppose collecting real passport stamps is pretty neat too!

Start

The park ranger highly recommended we hiked the West Rim, saying it was his favourite trail in the entire park. It was a beautiful but often strenuous 15 mile journey that we split up into two days. We drove up to the North West corner of Zion and parked at a peak to start our hike in the afternoon. We were fortunate enough to fade rain, and made our way towards our camping site at a leisurely pace through vast fields and tranquil forest. We did not encounter another human soul on day one, but did manage to spot a snake, some lizards, and soak in one of the most epic views I have ever seen. The soft sunlight a few hours before dusk landing on a valley of mountain ranges created a symmetrical pedestal-like centerpiece. It would have been a suitable setting for a Tomb-Raider or Indiana Jones movie, or perhaps a hidden valley where dinosaurs thought to be extinct would still thrive.  

The Opening

The Opening

We soaked whatever heavenly energy we could before hurrying onto our camp site against the setting sun. This portion of the hike flew by as we decided to play the Last Letter game, where we took turns naming Game of Thrones characters and terms that started with the last letter of the previous word. Dylan (read each book more than twice) and Nick (read most of them more than twice, wikis GoT in his spare time) were the biggest nerds, followed by Michael (GoT fresh in his brain as he was currently reading the books), and Kevin (has only watched shows) and I (had only read book 3 just a year earlier) pretty close in last place. I am proud to say that I will be well-prepared for the next match since I am now almost done book four.

We were welcomed to the camping site by a vivid rainbow and colourful clouds over a clearing surrounded by light forest and backdrops of mountain peaks. Upon pitching our tents we were greeted by some curious deer who would proceed to circle our camp and stalk us for the rest of the night. I could not make this up! They often came within a few meters of us, and made sure to make their presence known with their bold and noisy behavior. We speculated that we may have stopped in the middle of their living room. We slept under a blanket of stars that night before moving onto day two.

Rainbow Welcome

 

Stalker Deer

The next morning we realized after cooking our freeze-dried huevos rancho that we were almost out of water. The mapped water source near our campsite was but a thick swamp, so we decided to hurry on to locate the nearest spring many miles away before the sun took its toll. I was prudent enough to apply preemptive blister bandages on my baby callouses, and was taught that the secret to comfortable feet was to change socks often – dampness amplifies friction. Unfortunately I had only packed two pairs, so I could only switch between them several times on the hike. Weathered skin may show character, but it certainly does not look attractive through cute summer wedges.

The trail immediately took us from the comfortable, steady path of day one to a treacherous steep uphill climb over and around countless mountain ranges for most of day two. There were often miles of road without any shade, which, combined with our near-empty water supply and the heavy packs on our backs, made for an intense experience. If I had been with any other group I would have been a whole lot more concerned! At times it was also impossible for me to physically and mentally keep up; my biggest barriers present themselves when there is uncertainty as to where the finish line is. It was the toughest work out of my life.

Finding water made things a lot easier. We took a sock-changing break by our oasis near a cliff overlooking a brand new landscape of gorges and terrain. In actuality the spring was just a puddle-sized well with tadpole-looking creatures swimming in it, but boy was the crisp-bleachy taste of that purified water incredible! We armed ourselves with full canisters for our next segment of the hike, which while often still upwards, took us on a beautiful path that ran along the edges of breathtaking stone mountains.

No pictures could do the experience justice. The depth and curvature of each range was more majestic than the last. We consensually agreed that while the hike so far had been pretty cool, this segment was why the park guide had named the trail to be his unequivocal favourite. It felt like being on a pilgrimage across an ancient land, and we often joked about orcs catching up to us when we didn’t keep pace.

“Walter’s Wiggles” Switchbacks

I guess I failed to mention that I had a flight back to Toronto that evening. We had a strict deadline to finish the hike, grab a quick bite, take a shuttle to our car at the visitor’s centre, drive back up to the start of the trail where the second car was, then get me back to Vegas with time to pack. I had briefly accepted that I would likely miss my flight, given that we didnt even see our first fellow human until about 3 miles left in our adventure. By this time we were all beyond exhausted, but I think if we didn’t have the time restriction we would have gone a few more miles out of our way to hike “Angel’s Landing,” a dangerous and exhilarating highlight of Zion characterized by a narrow cliff trail guided by a metal chain. We were now on a steady downwards descent, and the end seemed near as we encountered more hikers and even whole school groups. How deceiving! There would be about two more hours of steep descension and switchbacks ahead. The journey down was brutally unkind on our feet and joints, and sharing the path with those who had only climbed the few miles up to Angels Landing would’ve made me feel like an outdoor elitist if I wasn’t being humbled by the sweltering heat of a sun at full mass.Zion.JPG

My enthusiasm for the end rapidly turned into a stream of miniature stumbles until we were finally rewarded with the sanctity of the refreshing Virgin River. Our race against time was gladly ignored for a much-needed baptism back to civilization, and I was then able to declare that the West Rim in Zion was now one of my proudest triumphs! I passed out most of the way back to Vegas and was able to make my flight home that evening.

I will always remember the nature of my lusts as we weaved up and down those celestial valleys. No existential angst or worldly desire can compete with my appreciation for an ice-cold beverage and dry socks!

APPT Seoul Trip Report

I was on PokerStars one Sunday and decided to enter a satellite for APPT Seoul when I noticed there was overlay. The event would overlap with EPT London, but I decided to play satellite roulette and head over to whichever continent the poker gods had decided for me. I had never been to the land of kimchi, Wonder Girls, and Gangnam Style before, so I was excted to take a solo trip back to the Orient when I won the package. I had a tinge of hestitation upon following the recent demonstrations of North Korean aggression, but I was confident nothing dramatic would happen in the short week I was there, and made the most of my trip with lots of poker, beauty supply shopping, and being a good tourist.

Day 2

I flew to Icheon Airport from Las Vegas through Vancouver. It was a 17 hour journey, but I am blessed to have the gift of being able to fall asleep anywhere. In fact, I did not experience any jetlag heading Westbound, and was only moderately punished coming home. The first thing I did after baggage claim was rent a portable wi-fi modem. This country has the best Internet in the world! How else could they breed the most elite StarCraft and MMORPG players? The device with unlimited bandwidth was only $7/day, and was more than capable of handling my Twitter updates, vlog upload, and other data usage through my iStuff. I read that the best exchange rates would be easy to find throughout Itaewon, the ex-pat district my hotel was in, but still withdrew a modest amount of spending money from an International ATM at the airport. These machines are hard to find, and if your bank is compatible, the rates are much more competitive than anything you could find at a local bank. English is not generally-spoken in Seoul, but everything was clearly marked and it was simple to navigate to a shuttle bus that dropped me off directly in front of my hotel. I did my research before arriving in Itaewon and was excited to explore the eccentric neighbourhood. Businesses sprouted around the area surrounding the US military base, so there was a huge range of restaurants, shops, and clubs. You would be able to find everything from a block of upscale Italian restaurants and tapas wine bars to kebob and hot dog stands in the back alley. The streets were blocked and patrolled by cops on the weekend when club patrons overflowed off the sidewalk. The Outback Steakhouse, I hear, is quite the popular hangout in Seoul, and there were St. Paddy’s day celebration posters up on the Irish Bars near the African-owned cell-phone shops and restaurants. It was quite an exhilarating first impression as I weaved through the streets on that first night. As much selection as there was, I ended up at a Korean restaurant and ordered some Kimchi Chigae.

The nicest International Terminal in the world?

YVR: The nicest International Terminal in the world?

Checked-in at IP Boutique Hotel

Just checked-in at IP Boutique Hotel in Itaewon, Seoul

Day 2

I reserved Day 2 for exploring. I made some complimentary red ginseng tea, did a 20-min hotel workout through Workout Trainer, had a nice light healthy Korean lunch, and took the advice of Remko to explore Gyeongbokgung Palace. I was surprised that there were more similarities between Northern Chinese and Korean culture than I thought, and basked in nostalgia from trips I’ve taken to the Forbidden City when I was much younger. I took my time wandering the serene palace grounds until I was hungry again.

It’s such a plus when travelling to unfamiliar cities when they have an efficient and easily-navigable subway system. Seoul’s extensive lines were definitely a cut above, with unaffected cellular reception to boot! I basked in the hustle and bustle of commercial street ambience and treated myself to steamed meat buns, duk bogi, exotic shellfish, and fish cake skewers. These cultural and culinary experiences are what I crave for and thrive on, while poker is the vehicle that gets me there.

Being a good tourist at Gyeongbokgung.

Being a good tourist at Gyeongbokgung

I did not buy this.

I did not buy this

Duk Bogi (Spicy Rice Cake), Soondae Bokkum (Blood Sausage with Mint), Various skewers

Duk Bogi (Spicy Rice Cake), Soondae Bokkum (Blood Sausage with Mint), Various skewers

Variations of Luxury in Namdaemun

Variations of Luxury in Namdaemun Market

Day 3 – APPT Seoul day 1a

The scenic ride from my hotel to Paradise Walkerhill Casino was breathtaking. I did not imagine Seoul to be as much of a metropolis as it was, with waves upon waves of condos and suspension bridges. I was eager and excited when the PokerStars signage came into sight. I had never played an APPT before, and having cut back my time on the road playing poker has made the anticipation of a live event exhilerating. The only players I recognized in the field was JJ Liu, Joseph Cheong, and Sam Grafton, David Steicke, and team PokerStars pros Bryan Huang and Raymond Wu, so it was going to be a fun day. Chipping up wasn’t an issue, but I did make a mistake going all-in for a lot of chips with QQ against a button short stack and cutoff being a player I had been very active with throughout the day. I lost against both AA and KK, but luckily I doubled up my leftover 10bb fairly quickly to be able to finish the day with an average stack.

Bryan was gracious enough to take a bunch of us out to one of the best KBBQ restaurants in Seoul. The meat was special because they used select cuts that could not be found outside Korea, and even as a light meat-eater I was able to appreciate the quality. There was plenty of Soju, beer, and plum wine, and I allowed myself to indulge a little since I would have the next day off for the 1B-ers. We then headed to a bar in Gangnam and met up with some PokerStars qualifiers and staff for a fun night of darts, matching screen names to faces, and watching impressive bar tricks.

View of Suburban Seoul on Ride to Walkerhill Paradise Casino

View of Suburban Seoul on Ride to Walkerhill Paradise Casino

Day 1A

Day 1A

KBBQ Feast!

KBBQ Feast!

Canadian Moosehead Beer in Gangnam

Canadian Moosehead Beer in Gangnam

Day 4

I was relieved to have a day off between 9 hour tournament days after Soju and Mooseheads from the night before. I spent the early part of the day nursing a mild hangover until it was time for the PokerStars-organized trip to Seoul Tower. For the first time on the trip my handy commuting apps failed me and I got lost. Did I mention very little people in the city speak English? It was a headache. By the time I made it to the tower there was barely any time to appreciate the 360 degree view of the city from the top. I also had very limited time to enjoy the traditional buffet, which was far more disappointing. Luckily I still managed to take a picture in front of the tree of heart lock thingies with a poker player who was once a Australian Nintendo Champ! Yes, listening to him describe what that meant was as cool as it sounds. Unfortunately our large group got dispersed soon after the tower, so instead of heading to a landmark night market as planned, I took the rare opportunity and called it an early night.

Long story short, couldn't get an actual photo in front of the lock trees, but here is an excellent artistic rendition w/ Nintendo Champ Kelvin Beattie

Long story short, couldn’t get an actual photo in front of the lock trees, but here is an excellent artist’s rendition w/ Nintendo Champ Kelvin Beattie

Day 5 – APPT Seoul Day 2

My chipstack fluctuated a ton on day 2 of the tournament. I doubled up really quickly in the day when a lady 3b me on a dry flop with airballs. I had AA and felt kind of bad her read was so off, but somehow spun it into a question of paradigm about how I am perceived to certain demographics in my head. I did this fun video with the lovely Kristy Arnett on first break:

Chipping up was pleasant and as we got closer to the bubble there were some misadventures. I ended the day very short, although there were several others shorter than I due to the long bubble with several shortstacks blinding down to no chips. A mutual friend, Ted Wang of China’s only relevant poker community, www.dzpk.com, took Chinese poker icon Celina Lin, fellow final tablists Juicy Li and Nicky Tao, and I for an extravagant Korean dinner at the conclusion of day 2. This was the kind of meal and deep run I came to the country for.

I made a vlog before bedtime that night to recap my day if you are interested:

(To clarify, the 77 hand wasn’t when there were two stacks of 2bb left, it was when we had just reached the bubble. It’s still a bad call, just less bad than some assumed from my vague description of the hand.)

Day 2

Day 2

Day 6 – APPT Seoul Final Day

We returned the next day in the money with 21 left. I got a lucky double up with when my Kitchens flopped two pair from the bb after button limped against my 8bb. The field dropped like flies, and the final table was created soon after PokerStars Team Online’s Naoya Kihara played a monstrosity of a pot against his big stack nemesis Aaron Lim to give him a 4x advantage over second place. I fought hard but was dejected from the tournament in fourth place for 44million Won, roughly $40k USD. I was sad but knew I played pretty well so there was no lingering remorse.

As the leftover players negotiated a deal I watched Joseph Cheong work his magic at the baccarat tables while taking advantage of the free beers and frozen yogurt. We moved over to the W Hotel bar afterwards and although fine conversations were had, the night did not meet the usual high chaos levels that most last nights in foreign cities are known for.

Day 3

Day 3

Day 3 Final Table with Juicy Li

Day 3 Final Table with Juicy Li

Final Table

Final Table

Day 7

My last day was rushed and I barely made my flight. I was a little anxious in the morning since I only had a small window of time to trade the Won notes for money usable in the Western realm. I went to a back-alley exchange shop alone and was nervous when I handed the lady my stash. She made a phone call for a guy on a motor cycle to show up a minute later handing her a bag of US currency. There was definitely a non-zero chance I was just never going to see that money again, but hey, I probably got the best rate in town! I was able to trade at 1089 ₩ = $1 when the xe.com rate that moment was 1082. I was able to exhale when I got some familiar-looking crisp bills in return, but still had to play spy and make sure I wasn’t being followed throughout the day. Complete relief was not to be had until my bank accepted the Ben Frankies back home in Toronto.

Obligatory 20,000,000₩ Flash ^^

Obligatory 20,000,000₩ Flash ^^

I wanted to reserve some time to maximize value of Asian goods before I left. Korea is known for their innovative and high-quality beauty products and K-pop inspired fashion, but I got lost on my way to the clothing market so I only stocked up on face masks, bb creams, and ginseng. Did you know snail mucus is the latest secret ingredient to keep your skin smooth and supple? ^^I am now back in Toronto trying to be a normal person while simultaneously feeling guilty about not playing more poker. My skin is the nicest it’s ever been and I am working out and eating really well. I don’t think EPT Berlin is a go, but I will definitely be at the EPT Grand Finals in Monaco and bracelet-hunting in Vegas for WSOP 2013.

My next few weeks of yoga with my mom, visiting my grandma, doing my taxes, and waiting for Game of Thrones Sundays may be a bit too boring to write about, but hopefully some other exciting projects will come into fruition and allow me to make more regular posts. Thanks for tuning in!

Annyeonghi gyeseyo!

There and Back Again

The Story So Far…

January 2012 kicked off with a bang as I became the first ever female PCA final tablist, and by December I had landed my first magazine cover for Poker Pro Canada. Everything in between was A-OK, with a few more final tables and memorable trips to here and there. With the support of my family, friends, Twitter followers, and fans, I feel triumphant and eager to dive into my poker career and any other projects on the horizon for 2013. A while ago I entertained the idea of posting video blogs to replace these written ones, hoping I would have more fun updating my site regularly. I recorded a bunch of footage in one sitting, but the editing process weighed me down so I pushed the endeavour aside until the post became outdated.

2013 came subtlety, and PCA was another great trip. This time I had my mom, stepdad, sister, and cousin with me to root me on. It was not as glorious as a deep finish in the main, but I still managed to make them proud with my picture on the billboard and a final table finish in the ladies event. It was nice to feel their support breathing down my neck.

Seriously though, I think everyone had a great time, which is what’s most important to me.

Ladies Event

Ladies Event

Live Pro

I am currently in Las Vegas overlooking the Strip as I sweat the results for Day 1 of the NBC Heads-Up tournament. For those unfamiliar, the event has a rich history dating back to 2005 as the first poker event to be televised and produced by a major American network. I don’t generally watch poker on TV, but it’s a lot of fun predicting winners for each bracket and sharing them with players, media, and fans while receiving live updates on my Twitter feed. My fun predictions below are based on 70% skill, 10% media-training, 10% momentum, 5% favouritism, and 5% superstition :). I don’t have money on this so I will be entertained either way, but I would like my room mate and good friend Scott Seiver to win. No introduction is necessary for his talents, and his TV presence and table talk would be very entertaining to watch.

My NBC HU picks

My NBC HU picks


The event field is a mix of top-ranked GPI players and players who are “good for poker.” I aspire to be one of those rare hybrids (like Scott) who has mad skill and is also a fine ambassador for the game. The reality is that the changing nature of the industry has gotten even the elusive Phil Ivey to monetize his name. Yes, he badly needs a new ghost Tweeter and Team Ivey recruiter, but the players who put themselves out there for public scrutiny are doing us all a favor. Not only do they keep the demand high and player pool fresh, it should be a pleasure watching them connect with people in profound ways simply by playing the game. Anyone with this gift should pass it along without insecurity or guilt.

Which leads me to my (unofficial) announcement: I will be on the next cover of WPT Magazine. I haven’t seen the photo yet, but I did the no carb thing for a week during WPT Montreal so it’d better look decent. I’ll probably be wearing a green strapless dress with my phonetic name in an Oriental-inspired font and my Chinese name attached horizontally on the side. Hopefully this will be just as good for the poker world as it will be for my self-esteem and my family’s honour. I hope my arms won’t look fat.

I know poker in Asia has been trying to expand for some time now, but I sincerely believe that 2013 will be a huge year for the game in China. I missed WPT China in Hainan in December, but I have been brushing up on my Mandarin skills in preparation for the market to break through. I can finally do an Asia backpacking trip and spend months away abroad playing poker, eating delicious food, and achieving inevitable enlightenment.

Gratitude

I’ve been travelling around the tournament circuit and playing MTTs online for about two years now. At first I was a doe-eyed wanderer, easily influenced and thirsty for knowledge. I had nothing to lose. After a while and some scores I became anxious and uncertain. What if I was just lucky? Surely it’s not time to celebrate results yet. Don’t become complacent, still a long way to the top. That is the goal, right? Work harder, become more cut-throat. It was hard to find peace, and little things started to bother me. I know these transitions are not unique to the poker world, but the intensity of the poker pro experience magnified the instability. I did not feel good about my assimilating identity, and I had trouble embracing the present.

I was skeptical and got dragged into attending a personal development/leadership program in Vegas. The experience is different for everyone, but for me it’s been a personal retreat to examine some of my personal flaws and untapped potential. I’ve always nurtured a desire for self-improvement and feel like I am more self-aware than most, but this program has really been critical in helping me visualize the kind of footprint I want to leave. Most importantly, it’s convinced me I shouldn’t do it on my own! The processes of the program are not without criticism, but I truly believe that most people can benefit from it. This is by no means a paid endorsement and all opinions are my own. I would be more than happy to have a conversation with anyone interested in attending regarding my experience.

Giving Back

One of the opportunities that has opened its door for me is my role as board member for the inaugural “Against All Odds” Charity Poker Tournament for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Along with the hospital’s Las Vegas chapter Chair, Daniel Negreanu, Michael Binger, and Nick Binger are just some of the powerhouses also on the committee. The tentative date for this black-tie optional event is November 13, 2013. We will be organizing an unprecedented multi-tiered SNG format event with awesome prizes, people, and activities. At the top of our wish list for prizes is a Virgin Galactic trip to space! We will be working hard in the next few months to gather the best donations possible to make the event a rewarding experience for all. Please save the date!

If you are unfamiliar with St. Jude’s, they are a cutting-edge research center and hospital for children that no family ever has to pay for. We are currently seeking sponsors and donations at various levels. If you are interested in helping or have questions, please contact me or any of our board members.

Next Final Table

Since there are no final table opportunities in Toronto I will be travelling across the pond for EPT Berlin, WPT Barcelona, EPT London, and of course, the EPT Grand Finals in Monaco. I will also be playing every Sunday and the occasional Zoom session when I am in Canada.

As an EPT Players Council Member I would appreciate feedback and suggestions for the upcoming events. I know that PokerStars already has a fantastic support team, but channelling ideas through different outlets can be quite effective. No question or matter is too small!

Until next time,

Xuan