Poker isn’t the first thing that comes to most people’s minds when they think of China, but that could soon change.
“It’s actually insane how big poker is in China,” said Xuan Liu, who competed in WPT China last November.
The tournament was held on the Chinese island of Hainan, a place commonly referred to as the Hawaii of China.
The tropical island spans 741 sq miles and is home to 685,408 people, as well as China’s first major poker tournaments. But while poker's popularity in China is undoubtedly increasing, its legality is less secure.
“It’s so tricky because of the government. Like, if some politician’s son or something likes poker, then they’re going to make it legal and give the profits to their family,” Liu said.
“You really gotta tiptoe around things, you know, it’s kind of like the US.”
Strong Ties to Chinese Roots
Liu, who was born in China, moved to Canada at the age of five and now resides in Toronto. Despite living in Canada for the majority of her life, Liu still has strong ties with her Chinese roots and is fully fluent in Mandarin.
This is what led Ourgame, a Chinese-based integrated online entertainment service provider, to invite Liu to play in WPT Sanya.
Liu played cash games in Macau a few years back and was surprised by how much poker has evolved in the region.
“Here [at the WSOP] they have Natural Light, NetTeller and GPI as sponsors, but in China they had one of their major retailers at the venue, they had iRobot. They had Red Bull.
“They had major sponsorship people there and obviously a lot of people came out,” Liu said.
Chinese Gaming Culture Encourages Women Poker Players
The level of play she encountered, considering China's newcomer-status in live tournament-poker, surprised her as well.
“They’re significantly better than how I remember them from when I was in Macau in 2009,” Liu said.
“And everybody tries to play good now and everyone’s posting on forums and all that so yeah. China, like 1 billion people, they love poker.”
Another thing that Liu noticed was the prominence of women she encountered in Sanya. Liu, who final tabled the 2012 PCA, EPT7 San Remo and APPT7 Seoul, is usually one of only a few women in the field and is often the last one standing.
That wasn’t the case in China though.
“Not necessarily gambling, but games of strategy are more accepted [in China] and encouraged among both boys and girls when they’re young,” Liu said.
“Like when I was young I was taught card games and chess and go. Your parents nurture you to be good at games because they know how valuable it is.
“So there were actually a lot of women at the event. The chip leader going into that event was this really cute girl who just graduated from college.
“I think here at the WSOP it’s about 5 percent women but over there I think it was something like 10 or up to 20 percent women.”
Liu a Role Model to New Generation of Female Players
With so many women in China discovering and learning poker, Liu understands that her poker success has made her a role model to many.
“I like to be engaging with fans so they have someone to look up to. It’s still so crazy how I play a game and have fans. But yeah, so you know, why fight against that,” Liu said. “I don’t consider [engaging fans] work.”
As Liu’s fanbase and persona continues to grow, so does her motivation.
“I think it’s just my drive this year has really increased so I’m playing really really well and of course I want to do the most to represent the company that I’m sponsored by,” Liu said.
Another thing that’s helped Liu’s motivation and stamina -- Liu plans on playing 37 events this summer -- is something players have been touting a lot this year: physical fitness.
“I’m in the best shape of my life. I basically work out every day or four-plus times a week. I’m really happy,” Liu said. “I wake up here every day, super excited to play a poker tournament.”
Liu’s positive outlook isn’t just restrained to the summer, happiness is a lifetime goal.
"I don’t need to make a ton of money, I just need to be OK with what I’m doing,” Liu said. “Be happy, not be miserable.
“Not become a terrible person, because I don’t want money to change me and keep only good people around me.”
Xuan Liu Mini-Documentary in Toronto, Canada
PokerListings.com visited Xuan Liu in her home town of Toronto to film this episode of our short poker documentary series Easy Game.