Liz Lieu is not just noticed for her pretty face and fashion style when she walks into a poker room. She is noted as a fierce competitor at the tables. If players are smart they will look past the contagious smile and the high heels and wonder where "the Poker Diva" is in her game and the right strategy to play against her because I can guarantee that is what she is thinking.
Liz started her career in poker at 18 when she and a friend started a poker/pai gow home game in their local town in Colorado. Her main focus when she started playing poker for a living was to provide her parents with a future of no worry and ease. She played regularly and is now a common face at the $400-$800 limit cash games.
When long time friend John Phan suggested that Liz play in the $1500 no limit hold ‘em event at the World Series of Poker neither knew where it would nor where it could lead. She ended the tournament in fifth place. That same year at the WSOP she cashed in three events. Phan’s suggestion guided her to a new phase of poker and new potential. She showed just how much potential through out 2006 with her numerous cashes and her first win in the 2006 LA Poker Classic $1000 limit hold ‘em and then again in the 2007 LA Poker Classic $1000 no limit hold ‘em event where she again took home the trophy and donated 20% of her winnings to charity. All together Liz has cashed thirteen times in the short time she has been enjoying tournament play.
In 2006, Liz was honored by the WSOP and ESPN as a Final Table Grand Marshall along with Johnny Chan. In the introduction by poker player/writer Nolan Dalla, she was referred to as the next likely woman to win a WSOP bracelet.
WPP: What is the draw to poker for you?
Liz: My main objective when I play is to support my parents. When I decided to play poker professionally I told them not to worry about anything. That I would take care of them. There is not a time that I sit down at a table that I don’t think about them and what I need to do to keep them comfortable. There are also the charities. When I first started to play tournaments I promised to donate 20% of my tournament winnings to charity. I have kept that promise. When I win, my family is happier. And I am always thinking about the future.
I am also very competitive. Poker is all about competition and outwitting opponents.
WPP: I read in several places that you like to let loose and just have a lot of fun. How do you turn that part of your personality off when you sit at a table?
Liz: I separate the two very easily. Business is business. I have responsibilities so when I play and work on my sites and the promotion side that is where my focus is. In my game I change gears all the time and need to maintain where I want my game to be at that time. I can’t be fooling around. It is all about focus. I like things in my life to be right and if I see things that need to be done, I have 100% focus on the task at hand. After work is done…well that is a different story. I can put aside work and just play. I don’t mix the two. I feel if I combine the two something will sacrifice and my family will suffer. I cannot let that happen.
In poker I guess it is just something I do. I play high limit games. It is possible to lose $60-70k with in an hour so I have no choice but to concentrate.
I don’t let my personal side affect my play. It wasn’t always that way though. I went through a very rough time a while back due to a personal relationship. I had no focus; I had no discipline at the time. I became friends with John Phan who continues to be my best friend. He gave me some great advice to take the pain I was feeling and turn it into strength. I cannot thank him enough for that advice. I took all that I was feeling and put it aside and came back to play better and stronger than ever. I have never let that happen again. I have a great personal life but I prefer to keep it away when I am working.
WPP: You and John have been very close since that time?
Liz: Oh yes, John is an amazing friend and a great poker player. We have become like brother and sister over the last few years. I know that there are some who assume we are boyfriend and girlfriend. But that is so far from the truth. We are so much like family. We support each other on and off the tables. We talk about everything. We do charity work together. It is nice to have a close friend like this who plays poker also. He understands what it is like and what the pressures of traveling all the time and poker itself can bring.
WPP: Tell me a little about your charity work.
Liz: I promised to donate twenty percent of my tournament winnings to charity when I won my first bracelet or trophy. Which I did last year at the LA Poker Classic at the Commerce Casino.
WPP: What made you decide to get into Charity work?
Liz: I just feel that we should give back something. As professional players we have the means and the voices to do some good in the world. I am a big believer in Karma and “what goes around comes around.” If we are good people inside and do what we can to help others, it comes back to us one way or another. I truly believe that if we do not do what good we can it will bite us in the ass.
Plus the feeling of being involved is like nothing else. John and I did a lot of work in Vietnam after the Betfair Asian Poker Tour. We delivered over 150 tons of rice to the poor people of Vietnam. We traveled to the boats with shanties on them and hand delivered the rice ourselves. They were so gracious and it was a great feeling to be involved instead of just giving money. It was a lot of work but it was so rewarding. I am the type of person who likes to be involved, not just watch others do it. It means so much more to me and to the people that we are able to help.
WPP: You have a flair for style. Do other players treat you differently because of how you dress?
Liz: I dress the way I do because that is the way I like to dress. I don’t believe that dressing nicely and looking good should affect the way other players treat me or give them any insight to how I play. Every one has a different preference on how they want to dress and portray themselves at the tables. I can be a good player and look good at the same time. One should have nothing to do with the other. I like to be unique and I like to be seen. That shouldn’t have any affect on the way I play or the way others play against me.
I think many times I get the reputation of being a little spoiled because of how I look. I am also kind of quiet when I first meet people so that might give them that idea also. I don’t really chit chat until I get to know someone a little better and play with them for a while. When I play poker, I am there to make money so many times I can use what they think of me to my advantage. It is usually very apparent in the very beginning. I play poker to win and to support my family and myself. It doesn’t bother me much what people think of how I dress.
WPP: What is your greatest strength in poker?
Liz: I have a very good memory. I remember conversations with people which gives me some insight to their play when we sit at a table together. I also remember hands that I have played and how they panned out against other players. It helps me tremendously when I sit down at the table with them again.
WPP: What are your thoughts on women in poker?
Liz: I see so many more women playing and I couldn’t be happier. I heard that the number of women in the WSOP $10,000. Event tripled from 2005. We just need for women to have more guts to enter the larger tournaments.
WPP: Where do you think women are headed in poker?
Liz: Poker has always been male dominated. My goal is to see that change across the globe. Women are just as good as men and just as smart. I would like to see many more women realize that they can be just as respected in poker as the men are. The men have just been playing longer so it is natural that the number of men is going to be larger than the number women in the bigger buy in events. Women need to gain a little more courage to sit at the tables and play. I think women are very competitive in other areas of their lives but need to bring it out and into poker. I, personally, have a very competitive nature and I hate to lose. It is just how I am.
Like when Eric 123, the online player called me a “fish.” (Laughing) I was very angry that he would call me that. I took it as an insult.
WPP: How did the heads up competition between you and Erik start?
Liz: Erik”123” Sagstrom is known as one of the best online players. We played some heads up online and when he won he called me a fish in Swedish. I took that as the ultimate challenge. The result was heads up match set up at the Venetian between Erik and me during the World Poker Tour Championship. Game On!! I wanted to prove my point. I am very confident in my game and being called a fish just set me on edge.
We played three sessions of $2000-$4000 limit (hold'em) and each session was on a different day. We bought in for $200,000 for every match. The match would end when one of us was out of money.
The first day I had him down to almost nothing at least four times but he kept coming back. After about six hours of playing we called it a day. He had me out chipped by about 45,000. I was down but certainly not out of it.
The next day we played the second session with me winning in about 2 hours. We still hadn’t finished the first session so we decided to head to dinner and then come back to the Venetian to finish the first one.
After about a half hour into play, he had me down to $12,000 in chips. I hit a straight on the flop and pushed all in. Erik made a higher straight on the turn. That put us at a tie. We each had one win.
The third day we played for about 8 hours. He played very aggressively and I had no cards at the beginning. Finally I started to pick up some hands. There were some sick beats both ways. At one point he had me down to about $26,000. I pushed all in with Ace Jack and won the hand. I climbed up in chips to finally win the third session and to win the whole game. It was a great experience and Erik is really a nice guy as well as a great player.
I think I proved not only that I am not a fish but the bigger picture. That women are just as strong as poker players as men. For many it is not easy to get out there and just play but once women get comfortable being in what used to be just for men, I feel that women will make a huge splash in poker and get the respect that we deserve at the tables.
This article originally appeared in Woman Poker Player Magazine print publication Spring 2007.