A long-time ambassador for the poker world, Kathy Liebert is a player’s player. Feared and respected at the table, Kathy is dangerous on the tournament circuit. She is the first woman ever to win an event with a $1M first place prize – the PartyPoker Million. A shrewd investor who used to work on Wallstreet, Kathy knows how to get the most out of her money. We had the opportunity to talk to her about the current state of the poker world, playing online, and of course, TILT.
PL: How long have you been playing serious poker?
Kathy: Over 10 years – I started playing tournament in 1994. I first started low-limit games in ’91, but got serious in ’94.
PL: What has helped your game the most?
Kathy: I’d say reading books, talking to other players. For tournament strategy, TJ Cloutier’s and Tom McEvoy’s books are great.
PL: What about strategy? Do you think that there is really much of a difference between women and men in how they should approach a game?
Kathy: It depends. Sometimes, as a woman, you sit down to a game where a lot of the guys see you as a weaker player and play you softer – so you have to adjust your game. Or if they’re bluffing you a lot, raising with a lot of junk cards, then you have to wait patiently until you get something and let them have it. Then they start to respect you a bit, and if you don’t think they have strong hands, you get them out.
PL: Do you believe that advice is a bit of a lead-in to a “poker for women” book?
Kathy: Yes, I’ve been considering writing a book, with both strategy for the beginning player, as well as tips for the women players.
PL: Do you have any preferences as to who you play with – women or men?
Kathy: It really depends on the players. If there is a table of players who don’t play as well, women or man, then I’d rather play there. There are good women players, and there are beginners – but you can tell that with some experience and strategy behind them, they could be good as well.
PL: Before you played poker, you were with Dunn and Bradstreet – do you ever miss the “regular” world?
Kathy: Right. I do miss the corporate environment, but with poker, it is so much more competitive and exciting – you make your own hours, you don’t have to be at work everyday. So the benefits of being a poker player do outweigh the good points of a daily job.
PL: Has your recent growth in popularity and the overall boom in poker changed your daily schedule?
Kathy: Sure- there has been a much higher demand on my time, doing the invitational events, TV shows, and that type of thing. So it’s made it more interesting as well as more profitable, but it also takes more effort to stay on top of it all.
PL: Speaking of televised events, you won the Battle of the Sexes, and you’re involved in the Poker Superstars event. Do you use those to help boost your income and hedge your regular play?
Kathy: Well, I suppose so – I do enjoy both of those shows, and I also happen to make money at them, which doesn’t hurt. There’s another show for GSN coming up called “Pro Vs. Celebrity”, which is another opportunity to make some extra money.
PL: Speaking of celebrities, do you still work a lot as James Woods’ tutor?
Kathy: Well, he’s always asking questions about poker. He goes to a lot of people, always trying to learn and improve, so he doesn’t just rely on my help alone. He takes it real seriously, is very intelligent, and has learned a lot.
PL: So tell us about your job as PartyPoker spokesperson.
Kathy: I’ve been doing that for a few months now and play there a lot – the games there are great. I recently came back from the PartyPoker Cruise, which was fun. I enjoy spreading the word about online poker, and that you can make money by going online and playing. So it’s kind of a combo of wearing their logos and letting people know abou the site.
I play several times a week, except when I’m in a big live tournament. But I’ll often play the low-level tournaments on Sunday, as well as various games throughout the week.
PL: You’re mostly a tournament specialist. Do you ever get very involved in ring games?
Kathy: I do play the $15/30 games online which are very loose with a lot of action, and you can sometimes sit down for an hour and make a lot of money.
PL: What kind of goals have you set for yourself this year?
Kathy: The tournament world is very volatile – you never know what’s going to happen. You’re going to have your final tables and your wins, you just hope that the wins come in the really big events. But my major goal is to win as many major NL tournaments as I can. Winning one of those a year usually makes for a very lucrative year!
PL: Does it ever bother you that you had to grind it out for so many years, and now, first-time players can win one big tournament and be set for long time?
Kathy: It’s actually a good thing – now, there are many more opportunities throughout the year to win $1 Million. In the past, you only had the WSOP $10K buy-in event. Now, with the WPT, PartyPoker Millions, and many other events, there are a lot more chances to really grow your bankroll. Hopefully it’ll be my turn again soon. It’s been a little while since I won a big tournament…although I’ve gotten close in a bunch of the $10K ones recently.
PL: It seems that unless you cash farely often, playing these big tournaments can quickly break you, with the expenses and all.
Kathy: Yes, it is very expensive to play in that many events. Used to be, your bankroll was $200K to play in all of the big tournaments in a year. Now, you need a lot more, especially with the $25K buy-ins. And yes, the travel expenses can really add up too.
But, with the big events all paying a $1M purse, you win one, and you have a comfortable lifestyle, as well as all your buy-ins covered for awhile.
PL: How about the new crop of younger players coming up through the tournament circuit – Scott Fischman, Thomas Keller, etc. What are your thoughts on them?
Kathy: It’s interesting you mention Scott and Thomas – they have been invited to play with me in the Pro vs. Celebrity event. They are both very good players. Scott mixes it up very well at the table, and “Thunder” Keller is a very good, aggressive player, so I’ve been very impressed with these guys.
It’s amazing how quickly these new players are honing their skills online.
PL: How great was it to win at the WSOP last year?
Kathy: Well, that’s a milestone. Winning at the WSOP is such a major accomplishment. Winning a bracelet is always a great event and very respected. But now the $10K buy-in events are paying so much in both the WSOP and WPT, that they are all very prestigious to win. So this year I’ll be focusing on those major circuits (WSOP and WPT) because they are the most fun to win with the most recognition and money.
PL: So have you already bought-in for the $10K WSOP in Vegas?
Kathy: Well, no, not yet. There are so many satellites, both online and live, that I might as well give those a shot first. PartyPoker alone has said they’re sending 1,000 players to the WSOP. That’s the way most people are going to do it, because it’s low-risk.
But if I don’t win my way in, I’ll definitely be buyin-in.
PL: Tell us about the EPT (European Poker Tour). Do a lot of players go back-and-forth between that and the WPT?
Kathy: Actually yes. Mel Juda plays on both tours, and I think you’ll see more and more Europeans coming over here, and vice versa.
PL: Maybe have a US vs Europe tournament, like the Ryder Cup in golf?
Kathy: Actually, there is already a little bit of that going on, where some people from the states have played some of the non US players.
PL: I remember John Juanda wanted to play in something like that in Monaco and was unable to get a Visa.
Kathy: I know John has a visa now and most foreign players can go back and forth relatively easily, but I guess since he’s foreign born it take a while longer. I know he went to the one in Aruba this year.
PL: He made the final table.
Kathy: Yeah he did, him and Daniel (Negreanu), what amazing years for those two…they were outstanding.
PL: John seems to make just about every final table and always coming close to big win.
Kathy: Obviously it’s tough to make the final table and tough to win, with a little luck I’m sure he’ll have his fair share of wins, just like the other top players. It’s becoming more volatile with the large tournaments and there is always a skill and luck element to each tournament, so the fact that he makes so many final tables is proof that he’s playing extremely well and is due a win.
PL: You mentioned what you like most about the Poker Pro lifestyle (flexibility etc…) what do you like least about it?
Kathy: That’s a tough question…It’s GREAT when you’re winning, it’s a lot of fun and can be a lot of money, but at the same time it can be very stressful especially when you’re on a losing streak. It can be fun and competitive and I’ve been very fortunate overall, but there are certainly some players who have had bad streaks or don’t manage their money well and you have to be a good business manager as well as a good poker player to be successful.
PL: So basically, stay away from the Craps table?
Kathy: Yes, stay away from the Craps table. You also don’t have to enter every single tournament, sometimes you have to manage yourself a little bit. Obviously if you are winning tournaments and are running good you don’t have any worries.
The key since you don’t HAVE to get up and go to work everyday is to maintain your discipline and your focus, you have to manage yourself in such a way that you’re not overdoing it.
PL: Speaking of focus, in the recent past tournaments used to last a day or two, now they last 4, 5, they say the WSOP is going to last 9 days this year, how do you maintain discipline and focus for that length of time?
Kathy: It’s very hard to remain focused for those lengths of time, you really have to be ready to play poker and be at your best, you have to want it, and one of the keys is getting enough rest. I think I and some other professionals tend to over do it because there are so many great tournaments we want to do it all, but sometimes you need to relax a little bit, take it easy and get away from the poker table and get your mindset back where it needs to be, thinking about your decisions and making the best decision each and every time, which is not easy to do and is really what separates the best players from the rest in the long-run.
PL: So what do you do away from the tables to recharge your poker battery?
Kathy: Obviously I travel a lot and I like to Ski and read books, right now I’m working on writing a few things and getting some ideas on paper. Certainly I like to do all the normal things, go out to dinner with friends or watch a movie, do some mindless things to get away from the poker.
PL: Are most of your friends poker players or are the “regular” people with regular jobs?
Kathy: I tend to be friends with poker players, simply because we all travel together and that’s who happens to be there, but I have other friends outside of poker.
PL: Your Mom’s advice whe you were younger was, “Do what you love and the money will follow”, so has this proven to be true and what did your family support your decision to be a poker player?
Kathy: Yes they have, my mom has been very supportive and has always been there for me and is a great friend as well. She went on the partypoker cruise with me and we had a great time together. So Yes, her advice was very sound.
PL: What do you think you would be doing if you weren’t a professional poker player?
Kathy: My two other interests are Financial Planning, I love to follow the stock market and do financial research, and Law, in the past I thought about going to law school and becoming an attorney which I think I would have been good at as well.
PL: That seems to be a common thread among poker players, a lot of attorneys and people who attended Law School, the old image of the Poker player as being a risk taking riverboat gambler is being blown out of the water.
Kathy: Definitely, the old westerns were very fun to watch but the truth is most players don’t fit anywhere near that profile. A lot of the players are well educated, intelligent and enjoy a challenging game and poker provides that, there are a lot of different types of people that play poker but more and more we’re seeing people from other professions who play and see that if they play well, they can make money and it’s a little more fun than working as a doctor or attorney.
PL: ESPN’s portrayal of the poker lifestyle on the show Tilt was perfect and 100% accurate right?
Kathy: (Laughs) That show was ridiculous, it’s obviously nothing like that, it’s seems as though they were trying to portray a Vegas of the past with scams and cheating, but it’s nothing like that today. It’s a shame they went that way, people can see with the advent of the WPT and the WSOP that it’s nothing like that show. Unfortunately, they decided to go back into the dark ages and put a slant on poker that’s not realistic at all.
PL: We read about the group of professionals who decided not to play in the Poker Superstars Invitational or the WPPA events, are these pros trying to form a Player Union?
Kathy: There has been some talk of Poker players forming an association, obviously with each tournament you can decide to play or not play. Some of the players thought they should be getting paid to play on TV rather than have to pay the buyin. The Poker Superstars is a $40k buyin, they did add some money to the prize pool, but you’re not being paid like an actor for being on television. Maybe down the road we will get paid more for being on TV but right now most of the televised events are the one’s you have to buyin for, if you win you make money but if you lose you don’t get a lot of money just for showing up.
PL: There has been a lot written about the need for an association and corporate sponsorships?
Kathy: That would be great if the poker players could work together and get sponsorships, but it’s difficult to do in some ways because poker is such an individual sport and everyone has their own interests in mind. To really form an association that can work with the players and sponsors may come in the future but no one knows how to put something like that together and get most of the players involved. Obviously there are some players working with different online sites from one another and it’s a very individualistic thing and coming together will be difficult.
PL: The best analogy I’ve heard is the PGA, which self regulates and the golfers pay to play but the prize pool is much larger than the cumulative buyins.
Kathy: If the players can work with the casinos and sponsors to add a lot of money to the tournaments and have it be self regulating and act as a group would be ideal, but right now everyone is trying to get individual sponsorships and are unsure which direction to take poker and what opportunities are involved. It will take a few poker individuals to take the issue on.
PL: Are you surprised by pokers “sudden” popularity? Do strangers recognize you from TV?
Kathy: It is surprising, a lot of people saw growth and sponsorships coming but no one predicted the huge popularity of poker on TV and the increase in televised events and so many more big tournaments. In came on so fast, we thought the WPT COULD be a success but we didn’t know there was going to be so much interest in doing many many more poker shows.
PL: What a great “score” for the Travel Channel to land the WPT, they probably received a great deal since the WPT was unknown?
Kathy: I think several other channels turned down the WPT and now they are all scrambling to get poker shows on TV.
PL: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.
Kathy: My pleasure.
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