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Fatima Moreira de Melo: Mastering Poker, Crushing Dutch Survivor
Olympic gold medalist. World Cup champion. TV presenter. Singer. Jewelry designer. Masters degree in law. Model. Winner of the Dutch version of Survivor. PokerStars pro.
Still just 35 years old former Dutch National Field Hockey Team striker de Melo has a list of accomplishments that makes Ryan Seacrest look like an underachiever.
Her latest checkmark? Winning the Dutch version of Survivor - Expeditie Robinson - this year and, you know, completely revolutionizing how the game is played there in the process.
Making the transition to poker a few years ago de Melo now has her sights set on conquering the game and the odds, based on her amazing CV, seem in her favor. PokerListngs Spain's Esther Amores Diaz caught up with her at EPT Barcelona.
PokerListings: You seem to be a very competitive person since you are a former hockey player and this is a skill needed to be poker player. What are the similarities that you find between poker and field hockey?
Fatima Moreira de Melo: It's mostly focusing on becoming better at what you are doing. If I'm doing something I'm focused on becoming the best that I can be in that certain area.
Hockey is a really physical game but there is still a lot of mental stuff like dominating on the field, putting pressure also mentally on your opponent. It's not same as poker as the physical aspect doesn’t come in to play but there it's more an expression of your mental state.
Try to separate the two a little bit, just to be able to get your skill level up there. But in poker all is mental.
PL: Imagine that you could create a new sport combining poker and hockey. What will you take from each sport?
FMM: I think if you do that you quickly get to tennis. Tennis is more mental game. I started to play tennis after my field hockey career and my boyfriend is a tennis pro.
It's point for point, each ball you make a decision like in poker with hands. You still have the ball like in hockey and the skill level has to be up there and also you play mentally against your opponent.
You may try a quick serve, going outside or going inside. It is combining the two. I really like tennis.
I am playing tennis now and I will never get to the high level, I am enjoying it a lot and becoming a better player. The mental game is really present there.
PL: You do lot of physical sports. Does it help you be better at the table when you play poker?
FMM: Of course if you have to play poker at the table for like 12 hours or maybe sitting at home playing online, it's good if you have muscles that support your back.
Then you don’t get too tired and you'll have more focus and focus is everything in poker. The more focused you are, the more information you can pick up and your choices will be better.
I think your physical state is very important. For some people they feel better if they train one hour per day.
PL: What's the main reason you decided to become a poker pro?
FMM: To be honest I was 30 when I stopped playing field hockey after the Olympics of 2008 in Beijing.
I played three World Cups, several European championships and we won everything and I just felt that I was done with it. I couldn’t become a better player in my point of view.
There was nothing more to learn. Then poker came by and I was already playing poker with friends when I was still playing hockey.
I always loved the mental aspect and the fact that it is an individual sport because you are not depending on any other players and you get all the credit when you do things right.
I like that part of it and I was ready for that.
PL: Do you see yourself playing poker in five years?
FMM: Oh, yeah. I definitely see myself playing poker in five years. Most of it is because I think still I can become a better player than I am now.
As long as you're growing and, well, I have to support myself too. I have to be able to make money, so I will be playing.
I always make decisions along the way, though, because life is always changing. That’s why I think planning ahead is a little bit silly because you never know what will happen to you that you haven’t planned.
So why have you already made a decision for five years from now when you don’t have all the information? That’s like calling off the hand if you don’t know who you are playing against. I don’t know if I am going to call that hand at EPT Barcelona 2018, I don’t know. It is like life.
I think poker is a lot like life. Things change all the time and everything changes everything. Every little decision, every little move you make changes what happens next.
PL: I hear that you have a jewelry line. You're very creative, aren’t you?
FMM: Yes, I like to be creative. I used to be a fashion designer but then I always wanted to be a lot of different things. I just have different interests and in society it's normal that you just become one thing but that’s not me.
I think our generation is more and more into doing different things in life and enjoying.
I am a creative person and I have my own jewelry line in the collection of Zinzi. I can be creative and that’s cool and I like thinking about the marketing strategy. Like we did a photo shoot, I thought of the location, the image.
PL: In one interview we read the writer defined you as an "eccentric" person. Do you define yourself as eccentric?
FMM: I think they think I am eccentric because I am not like all women. I have a high level of testosterone, I am really competitive. I like to do whatever I think is right. I am not really kind of eccentric. I guess reality kind of eccentric, maybe.
I like to do things differently, make things my own, so maybe that’s eccentric.
PL: You became really famous in Holland with the reality show Expeditie Robinson in 2012. How fun was that experience?
FMM: The experience wasn’t "fun" really as it's like Survivor. It wasn’t fun but it was very interesting.
I felt that I was ready to take that experience on because they asked me a couple of years ago and I wasn’t ready because I was enjoying my freedom too much after playing hockey and always being on a team.
PL: How many days were you on the island?
FMM: 33 days, almost five weeks.
PL: Did you take advantage of your poker skills?
FMM: I totally did. I was lucky enough to see Matthias and Christophe De Meulder there, they are poker players as well because it was a Belgium and Dutch combined show.
Usually Dutch people are always against Belgium people and I was with the Belgium people. But it was our strategy too.
We discussed a lot of strategy. We were basically the people that introduced strategy into the game in Holland because I know in the States it's all about strategy but in Holland it was just about being on a beach and trying to make friends.
We just made it a tactical game and not about who you like or who you don’t like. We made it about how will we have the biggest percentage to win if we ever reach the final -- otherwise it's better to just lose efficiently and go home.
We wanted to make sure that if we made the final - and in Holland the final is with four people and you do solo challenges - we wanted to make sure that the physically stronger people are already voted out. We always put that into our minds.
Other people were just voting people out because they didn’t like them or because they could eat more rice or whatever. It wasn’t the most efficient way to play.
In Holland the people have to get used to that. This is about strategy.
They just distract you with the island and no food, the people get hungry, get mad …. the emotional part gets into the game but this is what poker players have learned not to do it. You can´t bring your emotions in to the game.
We loved a guy that we voted out, he was really nice, but he was a really good player so he had to go. It doesn’t mean you don’t feel emotional after but in the game, like in Monopoly, I'm not going to give you all my streets because I like you.
I'm going to try to take them off you. And your money too and everything.
PL: That´s why you won the show.
PL: Will you do it again?
FMM: No, I will never do it again. I know what the experience is like and I don’t think I can optimize any further, I think I played my best and I don’t think I can become better.