Four years ago, Xuan Liu stepped foot on the Atlantis for the first time.
She was a young, dark-haired girl who had just broken onto the poker scene. She was patchless and sleeping on someone’s floor.
Then, a few months later Liu final tabled the EPT7 San Remo and finished 3rd for $524,705.
When Liu got back to the PCA in 2012, she ran through all but three opponents. Liu made another major final table and finished 4th, earning a cool $600,000.
Everything changed for Xuan Liu.
Now at her fifth PCA, Liu’s a seasoned veteran. As a sponsored pro, she has one patch on her chest and one on her arm.
Liu also gets recognized in the hallways and sleeps on a bed of her own. The grizzled pro’s hair also has light streaks where it used to be exclusively black.
Actually, all of Liu’s hair is light, a tri color gradient of white, blonde and purple.
“I’m going through a phase in my life where I just don’t want to have boring hair anymore,” Liu said.
Liu’s career is also going through a different phase.
Liu burst through the sponsorship barrier that so many players spend their careers trying to obtain and is now trying to replicate, or exceed, the results that got her there in the first place.
“[Making those final tables] was a crazy time for me,” Liu said. “You would just assume that streak would just continue forever as a tournament player but that’s not how it works.
“I definitely think I’ve gotten better as a player but at the same time my peers are also better.”
It’s not enough to stay ahead of the game, you have to stay ahead of the player who stay ahead of the game. As the game evolves, so do its ambassadors.
The days of saturating the tournament floor with patches are over and sponsored players are expected to do more than just play.
Expanding the Brand
“You have to bring something else to the table as well,” Liu said.
“I try to do social media stuff and feel like I can cater to a few demographics, being asian, female from Canada who also has a foot in the Chinese market.”
Liu, who is of Chinese descent, has spent a lot of team in the Asian continent in the last few years.
Liu final tabled APPT Seoul in 2013, finishing 4th for $40,711, and participated in one of China’s first major tournaments in Sanya.
“Eventually, the dream is probably to evolve to the business aspect of things,” Liu said. “Not just be a pure player ambassador, but do something to help grow the game.”
For now, Liu is sticking to focusing on her No-Limit Hold’em game.
Liu delved into mixed games for a while but has come back to the no-limit side until she can “crush” the games she plays now.
“It’s the year of fortune I hear,” Liu said. “I just want to keep working hard, maybe win some cool shit again, but you know, I’m gonna control what I can control right now.
“You know, put in the hours, study the game, keep a positive outlook and all that good stuff.”
Cards and Werewolves
There will also be some deviousness, deception and lies in Liu’s future though.
Werewolf, a Mafia-style game, has recently caught Liu’s attention.
“I discovered it this past World Series of Poker in Vegas,” Liu said.
“Melanie [Weisner] invited me and she’s done lots of huge games, but I brought some friends and just got hooked.
“It’s so much fun. It’s like a social, strategy, real-time game. It’s really good for poker players because you can bluff your friends.”
Werewolf is a game of few cards and lots of lies. Players are given cards to assign their identities, with two werewolf cards, one doctor card, one seer card and the rest are designated as villagers.
The game then has two parts, night and day. At night, all players close their eyes and then the werewolves come alive.
They chose which player to kill and close their eyes again.
Then the doctor chooses a player to save and the seer --who has the power to reveal players’ identities-- picks to reveal the identity of one player.
During the day, the moderator announces who was killed --or saved if the doctor chose correctly. All the players then try to deduce who the werewolves are and pick one player to lynch.
Lying, incoherence, deception and deviousness is encouraged. Naturally, the game is embraced wholeheartedly by the poker community.
“My very first game, my sister was right beside me and I was trying to bluff her,” Liu said. “I was telling her I wasn’t the werewolf but she saw right through it.
“Her job was actually to try to convince the villagers, which was her team, that I was a werewolf and I kind of shut her down a bit. There are so many levels."