About Joanne Liu

Joanne Liu
Joanne Liu

As you glance out over a sea of poker players at a major tournament, many people will stick out of the crowd; some because of their status in the poker world, or some because of their unique dress. Joanne "J.J." Liu is one of those people who stands out for both reasons.

Not only do the distinctive hats she wears to events help her stand out in a crowd, Liu is one of the most successful female poker players around these days as well.

She started playing poker after walking into the Bay 101 Casino in San Jose, Calif., in 1996. That same year, she also started cashing in tournaments, including a final table finish in the $3,000 Limit Hold'em event of the World Series of Poker.

There really isn't much from her background, though, that would lead a person to believe Liu would one day drop into the poker world and take it by storm.

Liu was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and grew up speaking Mandarin Chinese. She and her three brothers and one sister were well-versed in Chinese gambling games at an early age, but she wasn't exposed to Texas Hold'em while in Taiwan.

After graduating from Ming Chuan College, Liu moved to Peoria, Ill., where she worked on a master's degree in computer science at Bradley University. From there she went to work for Space Systems/Loral in Palo Alto, Calif.

As a bright young software engineer, her mind was suited for working with computer chips, but it didn't take long to find out she was suited for poker chips as well. She honed her Limit Hold'em game for several years while continuing to work in Palo Alto.

During that time she also started to shift to No-Limit Hold'em as it gained more and more popularity.

By 2004, J.J. - as her friends call her - had racked up a laundry list of poker tournament cashes, including two more final table finishes in World Series of Poker events. The money and her enjoyment of the game prompted Liu to give up her day job and become a full-time poker pro.

With nearly $1 million in cashes over the years, it's easy to say Liu made the right decision.

Since going pro, Liu has cashed in a few more WSOP events as well as making the final table of the 2005 WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic in Las Vegas.

Her fourth-place finish in that tournament as well as her various other poker accomplishments in 2006 caught the attention of WPT organizers, who invited her to play in the WPT Season 5 Ladies Night Out. There, she went up against Vanessa Rousso, Erica Schoenberg, Anahit Galajian, Kelli Griggs, and defending champion Jennifer Tilly.

Ladies Night Out was Liu's time to shine. Given the nickname "Mac Truck" by the WPT's Linda Johnson, Liu played an unusually quiet game while the crowd favorite, Kelli Griggs, worked over most of the other opponents.

When it came down to heads-up between the two, though, Liu's patience and experience paid off for her first WPT Championship win. She later commented that she isn't always an aggressive player, but likes to evaluate her opponents first to figure out what strategy will work best.

2006 was not only lucky in poker for Liu, but lucky in love. That year she married fellow pro poker player Dan Alspach in a ceremony true to their perfectly matched flamboyant personalities. (She loves fun hats and zany outfits and he wears custom-made matching shirts and visors during tournaments.)

They were married on the flight deck of the Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas. Alspach was dressed as Captain Kirk, and Liu and her sister were Orion princesses. Now the happily married duo splits their time between Palo Alto and Las Vegas when they're not busy traveling the globe for poker tournaments.

Perhaps the two will join the ranks of many other poker couples who've both made it big. Of course, they will have an added advantage - Liu's mother is also a pretty wicked poker player despite being in her 80s.

At the 2006 WSOP Alspach decided to back Liu's mother, Kuei Chi Chang, for a couple of tournaments. Liu had taught her mother to play Texas Hold'em so she'd know what her daughter does for a living, and Alspach watched her play during a cruise and thought she'd be hard to knock out of a tournament.

It turns out he was right as Chang ended up cashing in both of the events, her first ever attempts at tournament poker.

Though brains were definitely an asset for Liu - not to mention some good gambling genes from her mother and maybe some luck too - she credits her success to having studied Sun Tzu's "The Art of War."

Sun Tzu is another link to Liu's Chinese heritage - a heritage she is proud of and hopes to put to good use as an ambassador of poker to the Chinese-speaking world some day. She would like to conduct poker seminars and host tournaments in East and Southeast Asia as the game of Texas Hold'em takes hold there.

With big gambling centers such as Macau opening up and the relaxation of gambling laws in some countries, it's only a matter of time before Liu realizes that part of her career as well and solidifies her place in poker history.

Tournament Placing

Place Winnings Tournament
13 $51,736.00 WPT Season 8 - WPT World Championship
80 $5,892.00 2009 WSOP - Event 52 - $3,000 Triple Chance No-Limit Hold'em
13 $9,954.00 2009 WSOP - Event 17 - $1,000 Ladies No-Limit Hold'em
61 $7,432.00 2009 WSOP - Event 13 - $2,500 No-Limit Hold'em
44 $45,500.00 EPT Season 5 - PokerStars.com EPT Grand Final
34 $26,645.00 WPT Season 7 - Festa Al Lago
18 $31,781.00 2008 WSOP - Event 46, No-Limit Hold'em Six-Handed
15 $9,395.00 2007 WSOP - Event 34, Limit Hold'em
2 $600,000.00 WPT Season 5 - Bay 101 Shooting Star
17 $4,596.00 2006 WSOP - Event 44, No-Limit Hold'em
43 $11,868.00 2006 WSOP - Event 13, No-Limit Hold'em
4 $362,140.00 WPT Season 4 - Bellagio Five Diamond
90 $3,470.00 2005 WSOP - Event 22, $1,500 No-limit Hold'em



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