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Chantilt! - The Interview
Chantel McNulty, professional poker player and subject of endless forum gossip, was here in L.A. for the main event of the LAPC. Unfortunately she was shortstacked from the beginning and busted out fifteen minutes shy of the end of Day 1. Chantel came to meet me here in the Crown Ballroom on Day 3 to sit down and talk.
Let's start by talking a bit about your trip here to L.A. and how this event went for you.
I'm actually getting kind of tired of tournaments, I seem to bubble right before the money or in the main events right before the end of Day 1. I'm more of a limit cash-game player, so I don't think my strategy and my mindset is right for it. I feel like, as a cash-game player, I probably make more in a year than people who just play tournaments. Tournament players will usually just hit one a year, if that, and end up spending a lot on buy-ins. Cash games I think are more profitable, but I've been working a lot on my tournament play.
Who are some of the people who have given you the most help?
James Van Alstyne is my best friend, and he's an amazing player, obviously. He's been working with me, but the thing is that people never really tell you how they play; they just tell you the basics. I know the basics but you have to mix it up. You can't just play tight and wait for big hands, you really have to mix it up. I think when you take too many different people's advice, it messes up your game and your thought process.
Tell us about what you've been up to these days. How's your game going right now?
Well, I live in Vegas. I stopped playing so high in cash games. I used to play $500/$1,000, and it was more of a gamble for me because I had such big swings. I had problems with some friends over money, and I decided to just treat this more like a business. I have to set goals. I usually play $100/$200 or $200/$400 online, short-handed, and I just set an amount to make each week, and when I make it I quit.
So my life is a lot less stressful, and I'm not putting too much at risk. I mean, $100/$200 is still good stakes and great money. I'm only 22 years old. I'm doing a lot if investing right now and trying to make something so if poker dies, I'll still have something to fall back on.
Now that you have a bit more time for yourself, what have you been doing?
I do a lot of charity work. This summer I'm going to try to go to Africa and donate money and time. I just want to try to help people. When you have all this money, you realize that it doesn't make you happy in life. I have all the Gucci and designer clothing that I want, but I'm sitting in a room with a bunch of miserable people all the time. When I win $20,000 it's just another day for me, I feel like if I can help people it's more of an accomplishment. It's given me a different view on life for sure.
What things are you doing in your life right now that make you happy?
I've been volunteering a lot, going to elderly homes to visit people. I've been taking care of my grandfather for the last three months who had heart surgery and just looking out for my family. In the long run you realize that your family's going to love you when you have money and when you're broke.
That's another thing in poker; you find out who your friends are when you have a lot of money and when you're broke. It's interesting to see the change in people's attitudes when they have a lot of money. It's sad. A lot of my friends win these tournaments, and they were never really anybody before, they were just an average person.
So all these people give them so much attention, and they start lending out money, and then a few months later, all their money's gone, and they trusted all these people, and no one's there to help them when they're in a bad situation.
You talked about charity work, and I know a lot players who are really involved in different things, but you also mentioned these sorts of fair-weather friends, do you think poker players in general are a genuine group of people?
No, not at all. I think poker is a way out for a lot of people, it's a mental game. I'm not saying that all players are bad people, I was really impressed that John Pham and Liz Lieu went to Vietnam with rice and even though it's just rice, just to put a smile on a kid's face, that was really impressive to me. Giving a bunch of money is different than actually going and doing it and seeing the pain and suffering that other people are feeling.
You spoke about your experiences with poker players, tell us about what it's been like through your career so far, through the highs and lows.
Well, being a female poker player, guys pretend to be your friend, and they're always hoping for more. I'm in a man's world, so I have to expect it a bit. I get a lot of negative attention online. I feel like no matter how well I do in poker, I'm never going to get a lot of credit. People will always think I'm being backed or I have a sugardaddy. I have a few good friends, there's probably three, that I can trust 100%. But I've met a lot of bad people.
I feel like when I come in here and get comments and stuff said about me, if I can't handle it, then I shouldn't be in the room. I really don't care because I don't plan to do this for the rest of my life and I'm making great money. I'm probably making the most money I can with out taking off my clothes right? (Laughs)
I just sit down and I try to be friendly to everyone, and if someone makes a negative comment, I just make a joke and try to laugh it off. I see a lot of girls who get really offended by it, and yeah, guys shouldn't talk to girls like that, but you're putting yourself in that situation, and you really can't expect anything more.
What would you be doing if poker hadn't become such a big part of your life?
I used to model before I was a poker player, but I probably would have finished law school and done something with that. I have about a year left in school, and I will finish for sure and open a business. But it's nice to be able to graduate from college and have some money. I feel like 10 years from now I'll feel a lot better saying that I did something with my life other than just look good in a card game.
I think poker's sad though; it's ruined a lot of people's lives. When it got big, a lot of young kids - I know because I see them playing at the Bellagio - would quit their jobs or drop out of school and try to come play, and they'd be gone in like three weeks. Poker's not as easy as people might think it is. It's actually kind of sad to me.
I mean, I like it a lot but it's so hard. You have to have a lot of discipline. Money management is number one. A lot of the best players in the world are broke because of pit games. Most of these people don't really care about money, they just like the gamble.
Do you think that's something that differentiates you from the average player?
I don't have a lot of gamble in me. Obviously I have some. I've only been playing poker for two and a half years, and I've been successful, but I've had highs and lows. I've had half a million dollars, and I've been broke. People say I don't have the hustle. When I'm at the table if I like someone, I'll tell him my hand. That's why I play online, so I can check-raise you and not care.
For example, this kid at Bellagio, he came out on a weekend trip, and he had $10,000, which is a lot of money for an average person, and he was playing in my game. He had like $600 left, and I flopped a straight and bet into him and he was going to call. So flipped my hand over and said "Listen, you have $600 left. Raise me, I'll fold my hand, and I want you to take your money and go home, and I don't want you coming back to this casino unless you have more than a hundred thousand."
Does that sort of attitude hurt your game though? Poker's pretty ruthless, and it sort of necessitates putting those kinds of feelings aside.
The thing for me is that money doesn't really make me happy. If I know that I can help someone's life in any way, then that's more important. His extra $600 isn't going to make me any happier.
You mentioned earlier all the attention you get online in the forums. What do you think about all the things that get posted?
When I first read it, I'm not going to lie, I was really upset. It made me depressed. But then I actually met some of them in person, and they were playing like $2-$4 limit drunk. I mean, I'm one of the youngest girls who plays cash games at high stakes. This is a man's world, though. I've slept with half of the guys in the poker room I don't even know. The stuff they say about me is ridiculous. It makes no sense. If they have the time to sit there and write about me, sometimes I feel kind of flattered by it.
I saw you back at the hotel today, and you told me that you had a consultation with the doctor. What made you decide to get your breasts enlarged?
Ummm, I don't know, it's a clothing thing for girls. It's not to impress guys. When you're one of the only girls in a poker room, you get enough attention. I actually told all my friends, and they told me not to do it.
Did that reaction really surprise you?
Yes, but I think when I get them done, it might change. I'm not going huge or anything, so don't get too excited.
Alright, thanks Chantel, and we'll see you soon.
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Despite what's been said about Chantel online, she's a pleasure to speak to. As a cash-game player, she's not a regular presence on the tournament circuit but with a little help from her friends that may soon change. We wish her all the luck, and I for one am looking forward to seeing her again very soon.