Fatima de Melo: Sports Star to PokerStars

UKIPT Isle of Man runner-up talks poker ranges, varying her lifestyle and encountering Phil Ivey

She may be a former superstar in the world of field hockey, but up until last Monday, Team PokerStars SportsStar Fatima de Melo had yet to grab a breakout score on the poker felt. Her charming personality and good looks have however prompted a legion of fans – via social media – to cheer her on in some of the biggest tournaments in the world.

And it was no different when she flew to an island in the middle of the Irish Sea, where she managed to grind her way to second place and £59,660. While the highlight of her trip would have been speaking to PokerPlayer, even we can’t go up against the final table appearance that followed…

We were there to witness her passage to the final, and spoke to her on Day 3 as she prepared to wield her big stack. Warning: the asterisk key will be used several times…

Hi Fatima! How’s the tournament going?
Fatima de Melo: I had a rush late on Day 2 which really got me going. I’d already shoved a couple of times and then I picked up Kings in the big blind and got called by sevens, which is always nice when you’ve created some action before! Then I rivered a flush against a set of fours and after that everything just worked. I was opening sh**ty hands and getting the credit, but still getting value from my stronger hands. I’ve got one of the biggest stacks going into Day 3.

Are you enjoying being on the Isle of Man? What were you expecting?
I thought the Isle of Man was just going to be a lot of bad weather. We’ve been involved with doing a lot of stuff with PokerStars employees and everyone is so friendly and welcoming. It’s felt like I’m playing for a home crowd. People are a lot more relaxed and having fun at the UKIPT, I prefer the atmosphere here to the EPT.

You mentioned getting credit when raising light, do you think that happens a lot? 
When I started playing poker it was a man’s world and I thought, “I’ll show you motherf**kers what I’m about, I can be an aggressive player, I’m a woman but it doesn’t mean anything!”

So I called off a bit lighter and they just had it. Since then I’ve gone to playing calmer, not opening as many hands and giving up a bit sooner than before. I still keep bluffs in their range because you know, men like to continue bluffing women especially! If they think I am tight postflop then they are really aggressive. And that’s all nice for me now because I kinda know how they see me – tight aggressive, doesn’t 3-bet that much – and I play to that a lot.

Sounds like you’re very aware of your image…
I’m aware of myself, in Poker I realise more and more what I’m projecting to the table. I think knowing what you are projecting is very important. I am a blonde woman, I do have PokerStars patches but if I project the same sh*t all the time then it’s clear to me and it makes my life a lot easier at the poker table.

How did you get into poker in the first place? Did you pick all this up quickly?
I actually started by just messing around playing online while my ex-boyfriend was at work. Then on Friday nights I used to go to a place to play with my friends. I’m not much of a party girl, so I preferred it. There was no loud music, no yelling and I won quite a bit.

And it all went from there…
I was actually injured for a while [from hockey] and took my frustration out on poker. I returned to play in the Olympics and afterwards I was contacted by a Sports Marketing agency who asked if I was into poker. I’d already played with Lex (Veldhuis) at the home game and soon after Stars got in touch about the deal. I had more and more people talking to me about the game and I realised I was basically sh*t! I had to start from scratch again but it was awesome.

What was it like being signed to represent PokerStars?
It was awesome. I know I’m an ambassador and I’m likely to say that, but it really was for me as an ex-Sportswoman. It’s nice to have a new challenge in your life that you can be passionate about. I had no idea what I was going to do after hockey because actually you are retiring! Usually people retire when they are 65, not 30! It’s been really good for me to have this focus point and get involved in the poker world. I didn’t really know what I was getting into but I’ve really grown into it and it’s given me fulfilment.

We know you do some EPT commentary and presenting on the Dutch PokerStars shows, do you think it’s important to do other stuff as a poker player?
You have to have a back-up plan. Overall poker players are pretty smart people and it’s not like they can’t do anything except just play poker. They are always talking about balancing ranges but they don’t balance their lives enough!

It doesn’t have to be a full-time job, because it’s hard to combine the two, but you need to do 1 or 2 hours of something else in the day, not just sit on the couch watching shows.

So poker and hockey are both loves for you, can you choose between them?
You know, I can’t choose between those but people ALWAYS ask me ‘oh if you had to choose between winning a gold medal at the olympics or winning a WSOP bracelet’ and it’s like, well, obviously right now because I’m retired I want to win the World Series! And I’ve already got a gold medal!

We’ll just scratch that next question out then… What’s been your proudest moment in Poker?
It was tough to go from a team sport to an individual one so quickly but my result at the Masters Classic of Poker in Amsterdam (9th) gave me a lot of confidence. It was an emotional moment reaching that final table because I thought to myself, yeah you can do this. Since then I’ve also come 16th in EPT Barcelona too.

We’ll change that if you win this UKIPT… What’s been your biggest improvement in the game since then?
I give myself more time to think, before I’d make snap decisions with no thought process, now automatically I take more time. I’d never think what I was repping or what my range was or who I was playing against, and that’s panicking when you look back on it.  I love the game, love thinking about it and there are so many levels to dive into.

Any players you’ve faced that you’ve really feared?
I’m never starstruck, and I believe people are people but I have to admit, when Phil Ivey sat down at my table in Monte Carlo I was like ‘holy f**k!’. He has such table presence and I played f**king tight! I played two pots with him and won them both, because I had it! I made it through the day and I was proud of myself for doing that, and I’ve never had that at a poker table. And I don’t like admitting that sort of sh*t!

Ha, we can only imagine… thanks Fatima, good luck for the rest of the tournament!

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