I didn't know much about poker before attending the PokerStars Championship presented by Monte-Carlo Casino® in Monaco last month; but I know that I didn't have a whole lot of respect for the game. After learning how to play myself and meeting lots of poker pros, I quickly realised what a fascinating game of skill it is.
There aren't many female professional poker players, but the few that there are, are highly intelligent and all have fascinating backgrounds and previous careers.
I got the chance to sit down with the incredibly smart and interesting Liv Boeree, whose brain power is up there with the best. She went from being an astrophysicist to traveling the world playing poker professionally. She is literally living the dream and has shared her tips on how to go after what you want in life.
You're very academic and you've got a real scientific mind. Do you think that helps with playing poker?
Yes, definitely. I think that's a big part of it. It's a game of analysis. There's a lot of sort of crossover between the scientific method and poker e.g. experimentation and analysis. It's all about finding out the truth of the situation and that's what's good in poker too. I might WANT my opponent to have a worse hand but it doesn't make the truth any different. It's all about getting to the bottom of it, and that's what science is about too.
Do you get the same satisfaction from being a poker player as you did from studying astrophysics?
It's just different. Science definitely keeps your mind very busy, but so does poker. Are they both worthwhile? Well, it depends on what your goal is. In terms of making money, poker is obviously better for me; but I'm not going to find out the mysteries of the universe. It just depends on your definition of worthwhile. I find them both stimulating and deep.
Do you feel as if you are living the dream now?
I have to pinch myself regularly about how lucky I've been. I wanted to become a pro. I wanted to be part of Team PokerStars. I wanted to win an EPT tournament. I wanted to travel the world and find love, and I've achieved all of those things. I'm a very lucky girl.
What advice would you give people who are struggling to get the confidence to go after their dreams and change their life path like you did?
Definitely be confident, but confidence comes and goes. I think we all go through phases where we're more confident, and then have times when we're not. I think one of the things that comes out of low self-esteem is feeling bad about the fact that you have low self-esteem, and the quickest way to stop that in its tracks is to say to yourself "okay, I'm feeling like this right now, but that's fine".
People think of me as a confident person, but I definitely have my down days too - not just days, but periods of time when I'm down on my game, or my career etc - just that dissatisfaction. Then I just have to go check into myself and remember that it's okay, you're not invincible. You have swings and up hills and down hills, and so I advise people who are struggling with their confidence, to just go "okay that's fine. I'm feeling low confidence, but that will pass”.
In the meantime, as an motivator to going after your dreams, remind yourself that you only live once, and that life is very short, so get on out there and if you screw up, that's totally fine. We all screw up all the time. I've screwed up countless times. With the social media world though, we only ever see all the glory. People can cherry pick the best bits to put on social media, so that creates an imbalance in the picture that people see of the world and of other people, and then we compare our own lives to that. But no-one's perfect like that. So, just remember that even your idols and your celebrities have plenty of shitty days and have things that they wish they hadn't done. I think that's where you can draw confidence from.
Talking about life being too short, did any of your friends or family judge your change from something that was so highly academic?
I don't know about 'judge', but they definitely had their concerns at some point. I think now, they're extremely happy with what I've done. I don't think there's anyone in my family that's deeply disappointed. So it's good, and it's not like I'm giving up the whole science thing completely - I'm following it a lot and reading about it a lot. So, if they judged me, they didn't tell me.
What are your tips for focussing your mind on the task and keeping positive in times of failure?
Tips - if you're really struggling to keep your mind on the task, take some time out and go do something else. I've been trying to do some writing lately and I have days where I'm making myself do it because I'm feeling the time pressure. But if you are trying to do something that you really care about, you want to do it right; so don't force yourself if it's just not coming. Take a break, go outside, go for a run, walk around, dance, play music or take a couple of days off. And then when you do feel that vibe again, jump back into it.
Have you learnt to pick yourself up when you lose quite quickly now?
You become de-sensitised to it a little bit, so it doesn't always affect me. But then again, it depends on my mood - some days if I'm feeling down and then I lose, I will take it harder and I will still go and kick things around the room occasionally. That happens, but generally speaking, I'm seeing a trend of not being so bothered by things.
Apart from poker and science, what are your other passions in life? How do you relax?
I love being outside. Out in nature, in woodlands, on beaches, up mountains, anything like that. That's my favourite thing to do.
If you haven't looked into poker, I really recommend that you do. You don't need to gamble with real money - you can just treat it as a game of skill and play with the many available free apps.
Main Image - Neil Stoddart