Eleanor Gudger is one of the few professional poker players in the UK fortunate enough to have a sponsorship deal.
Her online home is PKR, where she plays as "Elz442," but last November she emerged from the laptop long enough to win the £140,000 top prize at the WPT500 at Dusk Till Dawn.
Gudger overcame 2,133 players to win that title. In 2013 she came sixth from a field of 954 entrants in the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Ladies event.
She has something. She definitely has something.
Lee Davy: How did you get into poker?
Eleanor Gudger: I started playing pub poker in London. One day they held a PKR Live tournament in there.
That’s how I managed to get involved with PKR. I think that was back in 2007. I met the PKR crowd and moved to playing online more.
Hesitant at first but PKR now home.
I wasn’t too sure about online poker at first but after meeting the people at PKR and realizing they were normal human beings, I moved to play online more.
I was working full time in operations at an IT company at the time. Then the winnings in poker became more.
I won packages to go to Vegas, and in 2013 I made the final table of the World Series of Poker Ladies Event. That was a big cash for me.
It was about $28,000 and it was also on the back of my best online poker year. I was at the point where I had to make a decision. I could have stayed in London or moved to Leicester and move in with my partner.
I chose the latter, and that’s how I started playing professionally.
LD: I guess the pub was a very heavily male-dominated environment?
EG: It was, but it didn’t bother me. I worked in IT sales and that was a very male-dominated industry.
I remember being the only woman on the floor at one point. I am used to that environment so it’s never been something that’s off putting for me.
LD: Are you a very confident woman?
Turns out online players are normal!
EG: Yeah I am and that helps a lot. I am able to start conversations at the table where other people may just sit there quietly.
LD: You said that you were a little tentative about playing online poker initially. What were your concerns?
EG: For me poker was always a fun social thing to do. It seemed odd to play online.
Who were these people? Were they machines that were very precise in their thinking and strategy? Were they having fun?
Then I started meeting these people and I realized they were normal. No different from myself.
LD: Did you enjoy your job in IT?
EG: I actually quite liked my job towards the end. When I left I was in a very fulfilling position.
I had built my team up from the ground and it was made clear that I could eventually move into a Director’s position within the company.
I was working very long hours and my whole life was centered around work - much to the detriment of poker and my relationships.
LD: They must have thought you were nuts?
EG: Pretty much, but it came to a point where I needed to make a decision. I had worked for nine years, straight out of university.
Winning WPT500 in 2014
I decided to go for it. I wanted some time off. I was fortunate that no sooner had I moved to Leicester, PKR offered me a sponsorship deal and that really helped.
LD: What were the attractions of becoming a pro poker player?
EG: The people who tend to move into poker for money are younger people - possibly students, or people on low wages.
For me it was more about quality of life. I didn’t want to live in London for the rest of my life.
You can only afford a flat, where elsewhere in Britain I can buy a house. I also valued the time and freedom that poker would give me.
It was definitely a quality of life decision in the end.
LD: What do you play on PKR?
EG: I am a tournament player.
LD: How did you become a great player?
To get good, get obsessed.
EG: The most important thing is to become obsessed with the game. That will be true with anyone who has had success in the game.
I read everything out there, used forums, talked to other players and I'm always looking for articles and books to read.
It’s also important to talk to players about hands and strategies. When I wasn’t at work I was either thinking about poker, or playing poker.
LD: Is your partner a poker player?
EG: Yes. We actually met through PKR. He is a very successful MTT player on the site.
We met at a PKR Live event, knew each other from playing together online and went from there.
LD: How do you manage to get the right balance in your relationship? Is balance important to you?
It’s difficult to get a good work/life balance if you are a successful poker player.
EG: It has its difficult moments. When we are both running bad, and frustrated, we sometimes need to take a step away and do something else.
He still works full time but poker is our main hobby and interest. It can be all consuming.
But at the end of the day we love playing poker. Our holidays tend to center around casinos and tournaments that we can play.
It’s something we love to do as a social thing. If we want a night out we will often go to the local casino and play a low buy-in freezeout where it’s all about having fun.
LD: Your greatest challenges within the game?
EG: When I was working it was difficult to find the time to play. Tournaments are very demanding on your time.
It’s difficult to get a good work/life balance if you are a successful poker player. I was often tired and was playing when I shouldn’t have been.
Now I have a lot more time to play so it’s easier to manage. Playing more cash sessions, to give myself a bit of variety - that keeps the fire going.
LD: Have you been affected by sexism in poker?
EG: In one of my first Vegas trips I was playing in a cash game at the Imperial Palace. It was a really cheap low-limit game and I was in a pot where I had raised, he called, and it checked all the way down.
He had kings and told me he didn’t want to bet me out of the pot because I was a girl. I was taken aback that someone would play a hand so badly just because I was a girl.
Some people play differently when playing against girls. They may call down a lot more because they don’t want to be bluffed by a girl, or always think the girl has it.
Filling the shoes of Sofia on PKR pro team.
I have never encountered horrible sexism at the table in terms of not being friendly.
LD: Has it been tougher for you because you are a woman?
EG: No, not really. I have the confidence so I have always thrived in these types of environments.
I am able to take advantage of my situation. But I can understand why a lot of women would prefer to play online than live.
It can be a pretty intimidating environment.
LD: What do you feel most proud about outside of the game?
EG: I am pleased that I had a career before I went into poker. I have worked my way up the corporate ladder, went into management, built my own team.
I feel like I have done the hard work and now I get to enjoy it more. I get a lot of free time and get to do what I love.
I can appreciate it more because of my previous employment history.
LD: What do you do outside of poker?
EG: I enjoy reading a lot, going on holiday when I can, and playing computer games. I am currently playing The Witcher.
I like RPGs. I find them quite involving. I’m not a first-person shooter type of player. I like something with more of a storyline and character development.
LD: Was it poker that got you into gaming?
EG: I have always been into games. I never played poker when I was in Uni but I used to play a card game called Tarot.
RPGs great for unwinding.
We would play that rather than going out clubbing. I have always loved games.
LD: What are you reading at the moment?
EG: I’m reading The Game of Thrones books. I haven’t seen the TV program, and I have really loved the books.
I enjoyed Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, and I like the Freakanomics type of books.”
LD: What principle, gleaned from a book, would you impart on your child?
EG: I suppose the Malcolm Gladwell book Outliers has an important message. The way you get good at something is by spending a lot of time doing something.
As a teenager it’s easy to get bored after a while. In poker, you have to play a lot in order to get good. That means playing through the period when you are frustrated.
You just need to pick yourself up and keep playing.
LD: What’s your strongest personal quality?
EG: I think it’s probably confidence. I am an only child so that has helped me. You go through the world on your own a bit.
You have to make the effort to be friends with people and are naturally more independent.
LD: What’s the one thing you will never do again?
EG: Go to a kettle bell lesson. I did a whole hour. I enjoyed it at the time but I don’t think I have been so much in pain the day after.
I had muscle aches in muscles I didn’t even know I had.
Being a poker player is different from having a normal job.
LD: What are your fears?
EG: Being a poker player is different from having a normal job. There is constant pressure to continue to improve and be a winning player.
I sometimes worry about future legislation that could affect my profession.
LD: Like tax?
EG: I feel very blessed that I am in the position I am. There are a lot of countries that aren’t so lucky.
As edges get slimmer, if you're paying tax on winnings then that would be tough.
We have had changes recently, but the main effects are cutting back on VIP programs and increases in rake, but it’s not too terrible when compared to other countries.