Kellyann Heffernan: "I Can Certainly Hold My Own at Any Poker Table"

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(Photo: Danny Maxwell, PokerStars)

In the world of poker at-large it's pretty hard for a platinum blonde, former gymnast/beauty contest winner to stay under the radar for too long.

In the small, cutthroat world of heads-up No-Limit Hold'em, it's even harder.

Enter Glasgow, Scotland's Kellyann Heffernan.

Making a few waves earlier this year when she asked Dan Bilzerian for some advice and via some public confusion this summer over an unrequited heads-up match with Dong Kim - the self-professed HU specialist known as @platinum_kell on Twitter has seen her public poker profile soar lately.

Rising up through the stakes over the past few years while at times fighting a debilitating illness, Heffernan's poker story is certainly one people have been curious to learn more about. So here it is.

Lee Davy: Who is Kellyann Heffernan?

KH: I have an old soul. I believe I was born in the wrong generation. I wouldn't have it any other way though as I am blessed to have the family and friends that I have and I wouldn't change them for a time machine.

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Old soul (Photo: Full Tilt Poker)

Growing up I was always a little bit, em, different shall we put it. When most four-year old girls were into Barbie dolls and girly things I was absolutely fascinated by sharks, the universe and building toy train tracks.

I also had a strange fascination with ancient Egypt to the point my mother thought I must have been Cleopatra in a previous life. I grew out of the train-track fascination but sharks, ancient Egypt and astronomy remain huge interests in my life to this day.

Growing up I was sure I wanted to be either a shark biologist or an archaeologist, though after finishing school I decided to study psychology and left when an amazing job offer came up doing business-to-business sales.

I was only 19 years old and the money was insane so that was to be my life for the next seven years. It was an amazing job with amazing people selling telecommunications to corporate businesses. The commission was unbelievable and I soon found myself becoming the top sales person in Britain for a very large company.

It was a lot of pressure but the money was more than worth it. It gave me a huge start in life as well as a bankroll to start playing poker. So I left the daily grind to become my own boss, as I've always been a free spirit.

I also made some sensible investments with my money and the rest I keep in a savings account and another account for poker. 

LD: What games are you involved in?

KH: I started off playing low-stakes online tournaments when I was still in my day job, then started to go to local casinos and play tournaments. Back then I was hellish at the game but it fascinated me.

I switched to playing cash games online and it's taken me a long time, and a lot of practicing and experience, to evolve into the player I am today. 

LD: Why did you choose to play heads-up?

KH: After moving through the stakes multi-tabling 6-max cash I decided to switch to HU cash a couple of years ago. It's most definitely the most fun yet toughest form of NLH.

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Hard to top meeting Aaron Paul.

I was doing very well, moving up the stakes and made great profit. I've never used a HUD and don't play Game Theory Optimal (GTO), to me that's just number crunching and robot like, it takes the fun and thrill away from poker.

The only way to beat a GTO player, over a large sample, is to also play GTO and that to me is just extremely boring. I much prefer playing exploitative and the higher up I moved in stakes the more 'robots' I'd encounter.

I was still a winning player; overall it just became tougher to find decent action and I had to adjust to playing a more balanced style against 'robots.' Bum hunting is not my thing either.

So when I say I'm a HU specialist I mean it's the game I've made most profit from overall and the game that I am personally best at. It’s not a statement that I've bankrupt Victor Blom, as some people seem to take it!

After becoming very ill after EPT Barcelona last year I spent a lot of time moving up the stakes and made a lot of profit. Then I took a break because of my health.

I want to concentrate on playing more live tournaments now that I’m allowed to travel again. My sample size of live events is very small but I just missed the cash in the latest EPT in Barcelona and I've had a few deep runs so I have no doubt I'll get where I want to be live tournament wise.

I’ve been to Vegas twice, for the Main Event, and didn’t get a flag, but got to meet Aaron Paul, who was really cool. Every big event I have played pocket kings have been the death of my game. I think they are my curse.

My psychology background certainly gives me a great edge in live games and my style of play has evolved to a much higher standard than previous years. In poker one is always learning and evolving.

LD: Who are the nicest players you have encountered in the live game?

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"Plays like a maniac"

KH: At the recent EPT in Barcelona my table got broken six times! I got to play with Patrik Antonius. He was a lovely guy and a gentleman, but plays like a maniac.

I also got to play at Ike Haxton’s table. He was very chatty and is a great ambassador for PokerStars. He chats to everyone and I saw his stack go from over 200k to just over 30k within a few hands and he was happy and unfazed.

He's a really cool guy. My Day 2 table draw was pretty sick as well with the likes of Craig McCorkell, Ben Pollak, Manig Loeser and Brian Roberts at my table. It was a fun table with a lot of action. 

LD: What one person was most prominent in you becoming a professional poker player and why?

KH: My mum: she has always told me to follow my dreams and supported every decision I've made. When she saw I could make more money from poker than my current job back then she was 100% behind me. 

LD: Tell me about your recent illness.

KH: I became very ill shortly after EPT Barcelona last year. I had been feeling run down for a few months beforehand. I was then diagnosed with a rare blood disorder (chronic neutropenia).

The doctors had no idea what was causing it. After a bone marrow extraction and biopsy (the most painful experience of my life) they found another blood disorder. I've since had a blood infusion and I am starting to feel so much better.

My neutropenia is out of the severe bracket and I am allowed to travel again, though I still have regular check ups and need some more tests. For almost a full year I could barely do anything.

Your health is your wealth for sure! I think that's something a lot of people take for granted. 

LD: I read this on your Twitter account: “I’ve got big boobs and blonde hair there is no way that I could be intelligent.” What is your experience in the poker world in terms of misogyny?

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Standard Bilzerian.

KH: I do get some funny looks because of the way I look. It's just our luck what body we are born into and I believe it has no reflection on your soul and certainly not intelligence.

So anyone who believes it does is just narrow-minded and moronic. Life is all about perception and some people have tainted interpretations.

It honestly doesn't bother me, I like to get to know people on the inside and would never judge someone on the way they look. As cliché as it sounds it's like judging a book by its cover.

My mind is very open and much deeper than the average person. I am by no means a 'bimbo' and I can certainly hold my own at any poker table. There are always going to be judgmental guys and that is their problem, certainly not mine.

LD: Talking about misogyny I believe you once sent a message to Dan Bilzerian to ask for advice and he asked for a naked picture in return. How did that turn out?

KH: Oh goodness! That man honestly riles me! He has so much money and ability to make a difference in the world, for the better, and decides to blow it all on hookers and guns!

I truly believe God put me on this planet to make a difference and if I had his money that's exactly what I'd be doing! As soon as I make enough from poker that’s my goal.

LD: What’s your view on men in general?

KH: The men in my family are absolutely amazing people. My brother is extremely talented, and influential, with wisdom, and my nephew is the most adorable and intelligent little boy I know. I also have a few good friends that are men, they aren't all male chauvinistic pigs like Dan Bilzerian and a few other men I know. There are good guys out there.

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Health is your wealth.

LD: When I mention the word successful who immediately springs to mind and why?

KH: My Mother, for bringing up three kids on her own and giving us a magical and happy life. We wanted for nothing and always had a beautiful and happy home.

She is the most selfless and amazing woman I know. We just adore her, as do her grandchildren. She really is my hero and also my best friend. 

LD: What are your aspirations for the future?

To get my health back on track and to live a happy life. What would make me the happiest is to make as much difference as I can during my time here on earth to people who need it the most.

One random act of human kindness at a time. I never close my eyes to people in need.

What is the thing that gives you the most joy in the world?

Watching my nephew and niece grow up. They are my world, family is everything to me. 

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