Liz Lieu Interview

Don’t let Liz Lieu’s looks fool you; she’s a terror at the poker table with an aggressive style of play. Her friends describe her as Beauty and the Beast; a beauty away from the table and a beast when you’re up against her at the tables. Liz has only been playing tournament poker for about a year and has already won $379,000; keep reading to find out how this high limit cash game player got hooked on tournaments, her controversial first big tournament win, and why being a pro is tougher than it looks.


PL: Tell us about getting back to back Aces cracked?

LL: You just have to bring up the bad memories! At the Rio I was the chip leader on day 4 and got Aces on the button, a middle position player made a 15k raise, I then made it double his raise; the small blind thinks for a little bit and then moves all in for almost $100k, of course I call; he flips up pocket 3’s. The flop comes 5-6-7 so now he has a lot more outs than he should have, turns a rag and the river is a 3. So after that I was crippled.

It sucks but what can you do!

The second one was the $25k one. I had aces the flop came KQ9, I bet out; he goes all in I call and he flips over pocket kings. At the Bay 101 this year the same exact thing happened, same exact flop and everything. I knew it was a scary flop because the small blind called a double raise preflop meaning they either had a big pair or high cards; but I didn’t have much left in chips, maybe $6-$7k. So that’s 3 consecutive main events where I’ve had aces cracked.

PL: How do you play differently in tournaments vs. cash games?

LL: I don’t really play too differently, except in cash games when you’re running bad you can always get up and take a break and cut my losses. In tournaments if you’re running bad you are stuck there. My basic strategy is the same, the first thing I do is size up the table to see if it’s loose or tight and base my strategy on that.

PL: How about as the tournament goes on, how does your strategy change?

LL: My strategy stays the same, as the tournament goes on and the tables combine, my strategy just varies based on who I’m playing.

PL: What’s the first WSOP event you’re playing?

LL: The $1,500 on July 27tth.

PL: Isn’t that event the one that you made your big tournament splash in last year.

LL: Yes it was, and I hope to do it again! Back to Back! That’s when I first started getting into tournaments. I had played a few events at the Commerce but I hadn’t given tournaments all that I had yet; but I was always getting very close to the money in every tournament I played. At the time my strategy was more like a live game player because I really didn’t know how tournaments worked. For example, whenever a tournament gets close to the bubble, everyone locks up their chips. When I first started tournaments at the Commerce I always played to win…I don’t want to just get my money back, I want to win. I’m a very aggressive player, so I’m willing to push my luck…so of course I bubbled, bubbled and bubbled.

I told John Phan that I’m not playing tournaments anymore since you end up playing for 12 hours and end up with nothing when I could be downstairs playing in the $400/$800 game making a lot more money.

He talked me into playing the World Series last year; I made the final table and got hooked. It’s that simple.

PL: You and John Phan are part of the poker team at, how did you get hooked up with the Knife (Martin de Knijff)?

LL: Martin actually personally asked me to join the team which was a huge honor.

PL: To the casual fan it seems as though you came on the poker scene very quickly, when in reality you’ve been a winning cash player for years out in California, does it ever bother you to be lumped in with other female players that haven’t really earned their “stripes”?

LL: No, you know what; it doesn’t bother me at all. I want to see a female player win a bracelet this year. I think all the females that are known are good…otherwise they wouldn’t have lasted this long.

PL: There do seem to be a few female players that have just come on the scene and signed big deals with some poker sites without having achieved much at the tables…

LL: The newcomers you’re talking about seem to play well and I think they’re going to make it. Everyone has to start somewhere; as you play more you learn more. When I played my first final table I was nervous as hell. I was up against 5 bracelet winners in Allen Cunningham, Scott Fischman, Devil Fish, An Tran, and Can Hua.

PL: Who was the toughest of that group?

LL: Allen was the toughest….he got all my chips!

PL: You have a lot of friends in the poker world, how tough is it to play against people you like? You are basically going after each others livelihood day in and day out.

LL: We all know that everyone does this for a living and we’re friends, but at the table we’re not. Even when it comes to my best friend, John, I tell him to go at it. There is no mercy. I tell him check raise me all you want because I’m going to do it to you!

However, there are some players that will just check it on the river no matter what comes, they’ll play the hand out and then on the river they’ll just check. That’s not my style.

PL: Would you want to be on the show High Stakes Poker?

LL: I wouldn’t mind it, because I play that level anyway. I don’t really know how the show works. Now I have a business manager and less to worry about, so maybe in the future.

PL: It sounds like you’re going to be making big waves at the WSOP this year; you have a press kit, business manager…

LL: I hope so; I plan on playing all the Limit and No-Limit Hold’em events this year.

PL: Do you plan on playing any of the other non-hold’em events?

LL: No, I’m not very strong in those other games and I never play in a game that I don’t have an edge. You never want to play in a game when you know you’re the donkey. Until I’m at the same level at Stud and Omaha that I am with hold’em, I’ll stick with hold’em.

PL: There’s enough hold’em to play anyhow…

LL: Exactly…the rest of the time I’ll just enjoy the sun!

PL: You also play some online and don’t seem to shy away from the big online names, you played a live $600k heads-up match with Eric Sagstrom (Eric123) and have played Dustin “Neverwin” Woolf, how did that Sagstrom match come about?

LL: We were both playing in the $200/$400 game on MartinsPoker heads up and he was catching cards and I was running bad and was stubborn and didn’t quit when I should have. I ended up losing $32k and later on someone told me that he called me a bitch in Swedish. So Martin had a talk with him and told Eric that he didn’t think that Eric could beat me live heads-up, so we agreed to the three matches. We decide on three because one match wouldn’t really prove anything.

I won two out of three, there was a lot of luck involved and he’s a great player. There were ALOT of bad beats.

PL: It was a limit game, so you couldn’t just shove your chips in and get lucky so it probably took a long time.

LL: In a heads-up match like that there is a lot of luck involved, there is also a lot of skill but the luck ran both ways for each of us. (To read a detailed account of the match: Click Here)

PL: On your website you’re described as a poker diva, what exactly is a poker diva?

LL: Other players actually gave me that name…

PL: Do you consider yourself a diva?

LL: Well there are a couple ways the word diva can be taken, good and bad (laughs). A poker diva is just someone who’s good at what they do…right? I’m not saying I’m the best, just that I’m good at what I do. I also have expensive tastes in clothing and my lifestyle got the other players to give me that nickname.

PL: You WERE easy to spot at last years WSOP…

LL: Laughs…why was that?

PL: Uhhh…the ipod headphones…and the colorful dress…

LL: I didn’t have my ipod on ALL the time! Everybody in that room has an ipod.

PL: What do you listen to while you’re playing?

LL: A lot of hip hop, some reggae, love songs, it depends on the mood. No alternative and No rock-n-roll.

PL: I’ve tried the ipod before, but it seems to interfere with my interaction at the table, how does it affect your listening to the table talk and getting a feel for the table?

LL: To tell you the truth, I am so used to wearing it…I was playing a tourney at Foxwoods and it was so big they had some of us playing in the main poker room which didn’t allow ipods…I couldn’t wait for them to break our table.

PL: Early in tournaments I can definitely see the advantage to an ipod so stave off some of the boredom…last year I saw one player watching “The color of money” on a small DVD player…that guy was bored…

LL: Laughs…especially in tournaments…it gets so boring because some players play so slow. I think some do it on purpose to put players on tilt. It has its pluses and minuses, you may miss some vocal tells, but sometimes especially for a girl it’s a good excuse to not have to talk to someone.

PL: Any advice for young players to turn pro?

LL: Don’t play it! It is not as easy as people make it out to be, it’s very very stressful. The lifestyle is great but it’s such a roller coaster that it’s very tough.

PL: Do you still enjoy playing the game or do you get burned out?

LL: I haven’t played a lot of live games lately due to all the travel so I’ve played a lot online on MartinsPoker, so I haven’t had a chance to get burned out. I’ve really gotten into online lately and to tell the truth, I’ve learned a lot playing online. The foreign players are very very good and I’ve picked up on a lot of things.

PL: You used to work as a poker dealer in the past? How did you like it?

LL: I really didn’t work that much, I really did it to get the experience because I wanted to become a pro. It was one of the best ways to learn the game, I’d try and put the players on a hand and see if I was right.

PL: So would you recommend becoming a dealer to someone who wanted to learn and become a pro?

LL: No…When I dealt the majority of the dealers would get knots in their shoulder and back muscles from all the repetition. I feel for the dealers, they have a tough job.

PL: We’ve talked to a lot of young male players and they’ve talked about how hard it is to maintain a relationship due to the poker lifestyle, do you find the same thing as a woman?

LL: Yes…it is very difficult. You need to find someone that understands the poker lifestyle. If you end up with a guy who’s not a poker player and you come home and tell them, “Oh honey, I just lost sixty thousand”…they would hit the roof…they wouldn’t understand.

On the other hand when you find a poker player, how many good guys are poker players, how many of the good ones are already taken?

For me, relationships have been very difficult.

PL: Do you ever see a time when you might take a step back and only play a few events per year?

LL: Eventually…but I’m never going to give up poker. It’s the only thing I’m really good at and interested in. However, I don’t want to be playing poker 24/7 when I’m older, I want to do other things as well. The way poker is booming there are all kinds of opportunities; you never know I might get lucky.

PL: Seems like there is a new poker show every week…how do you like playing the made for TV events? They seem to be good exposure?

LL: Sometimes exposure is good and sometimes it’s bad…there is a good side and a downside to everything. Maybe a few years down the road I’ll give up poker and become a housewife.

PL: I doubt that, you’ll probably start up a housewives poker game and take their grocery money.

LL: You know what…you’re probably right! I don’t think I could stay home…

PL: Tell us about your charity work?

LL: At the beginning of this year I decided to give something back and started doing some charity work. I’ve been through a lot in my life, family problems…it made me cherish my view of life and now that I have the opportunity to give…this is so hard to explain… It’s a blessing to be able to help people; and I really believe in what comes around goes around. I told some poker writers that if/when I win my first trophy is when the charity work will start. This way of thinking gives me motivation to do well, and I did, I won the $1k event at the Commerce.

PL: You actually took a lot of heat online for the way that tournament ended (some people accuse Liz of buying the title for the publicity).

LL: I did take a lot of heat; a lot of people don’t really understand why I did what I did and if they did, I think it would have been different.

I had done that interview where I said I would donate money to charity if I won an event two days before the $1k event at the Commerce; I asked a very well known friend of mine if he had any recommendations for a charity to donate to if I won. I had been thinking about 2 or 3 if I won one of the big ones…and without hesitation he said MS (Multiple Sclerosis), I asked why and he said because my mother is going through it; he told me that every penny helps and that he donates all of his promotional money towards MS. I thought it was a great idea and promised him if I won I would give the majority of my donation to MS.

While I was playing the event I had this weird feeling that someone was helping me play…at the third or fourth level I was down to about $1k in chips and climbed all the way back to the chip lead; then I took a huge beat and was knocked back to $24k near the end of the day.

The next morning I got an email from my friend’s mother, thanking me. She told me, “a thousand words cannot tell you how much I appreciate your gesture.” That email really got to me, it was so touching. That day I was playing my A game, hitting cards and was big chip leader all the way through. When we got to 3 handed the short stack offered a deal, and I said lets calculate it out. The deal seemed fine to us and we split the prize money. We decided to leave $10k out of the split to give us something to play for; once we get to heads-up the other player has a 2 to 1 lead over me; and we played for about 10 to 15 more minutes and I was crippled at one point but had climbed back to even. Then we ended up chopping a huge pot and he had 2 more chips than I did. So rather than play 3 to 4 more hours I offered him a deal. He would get $7k of the remaining $10k and I would get the title. These are my exact words, “I would be more than happy to play this out with you but because I want to keep a promise to a friend and the only way I can is to win and I want to be fair so I will give you $7k.”

PL: So basically it was a gift to your friend and his mother.

LL: Exactly, I’m a $400/$800 player and this is a $1k event in which we had already made a deal; the money didn’t really matter to me…I wanted to lock it up for my friend. It wasn’t for publicity like some people think. I wasn’t playing a big name pro that I’d be afraid of, he was a regular player, and I offered him the $7k so he wouldn’t feel as if he got cheated out of anything by making the deal.

I took the criticism kind of poorly since a lot of people who criticized me didn’t really know the details. The person who reported on that tournament asked me for a few minutes after the tourney but I got distracted by the tournament director and the tourney photographer and told him I’d meet him in a few minutes; I never got a chance to talk to him and he wrote the story the next day that was completely wrong. He wrote that when the deal was made I was completely dominated in chips, and he didn’t know why I did what I did…he just wrote what he thought had happened.

When I read the report, I got upset since it was not true; I talked to the tourney director about the chip count before the deal and she confirmed what I remembered.

PL: Did you ever talk to him about the report?

LL: He asked me what was wrong about his report, I told him the chip count was wrong, and that the title was misleading.

PL: You’re not still feeling any affects from that story?

LL: Not really, people can say what they want, but I know I did the right thing. The people close to me know why I did the deal.

No matter what you do, you cannot please everybody. The only thing that saddens me is that a lot of people need help so badmouthing people that want to help may actually keep some people from helping.

PL: So tell us a little more about MartinsPoker.

LL: The two people I respect the most in poker are Barry Greenstein and Martin (de Knijff), he’s so generous and when he approached me with the endorsement deal; I told him I wanted to do a lot of charity work. He told me that when your part of his team you are just like family and they would help in any way they could; so I joined the team and have been playing there ever since.

PL: Thanks a lot Liz and good luck at the World Series.

LL: Thanks guys.

If you liked this interview please consider making a small donation, all proceeds will go toward my children’s college fund, Thanks.

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