Liv Boeree talks about her rise to the top and why she wants to be the next Brian Cox
Liv Boeree has a glint in her eye. Ever since childhood she’s had a naughty streak a mile wide and though she’s on ‘official’ interview duty she can’t quite stop herself from acting up. ‘What would I take to a desert island?’ she asks. ‘Hmm. I know,’ she says breaking out into a cheeky grin before she looks a bit shocked at herself and suddenly plays dumb, refusing to finish the sentence. It’s the two sides of Boeree in one moment: the tequila-swigging wild child of Loaded magazine shoot fame and the calculating, careful science geek.
For a 26-year-old millionaire she’s surprisingly down to earth when we meet up in a central London bar. And she’s a cheap date, ordering a glass of tap water from the bemused barman. ‘I love to party, but I’m feeling tired,’ she says by way of apology. ‘But believe me, when I decide tonight is the night I am the one at the bar shouting at everyone to do shots.’
Hearing her talk of loving to ‘party’ is slightly odd in that cut-glass south coast accent. But Boeree the poker player was raised in the USA. She says movie and not film, apartment and not flat, and her speech is peppered with dudes, awesomes and the occasional douchebag. ‘A lot of my friends are American and I’ve spent a lot of time over there,’ she admits. Her American inflections today, however, may be more the result of spending six unproductive weeks in Vegas for the WSOP. It was a long summer, where she didn’t cash once. But Boeree is surprisingly upbeat about it. ‘Poker-wise the WSOP was the nut low. I played okay, but my win-at-showdown rate was absurd. If it was a coinflip I had no chance. Most of my friends had a terrible Series too. So instead we did loads of fun stuff. I’ve come away from Vegas a lot poorer, but much healthier.’
BREAKING THE MOULD
Her Vegas crowd consisted of boyfriend Kevin MacPhee, whom she met on the EPT circuit, Jeff Madsen, Michael and Nick Binger and a host of other poker pros. ‘Most evenings we would either hang out at Jeff’s house or at Galen Hall and Yevgeniy Timoshenko’s place at the top of Palms Place,’ Liv says.
They spent their time making prop bets, climbing mountains, wakeboarding or trampolining. Unlike many of her poker peers who rarely see daylight, Liv has always been an outdoor girl. Growing up in the Kent countryside she was more at home climbing trees than playing with make-up. ‘I communicated better with animals than kids my age,’ she says with a laugh.
At an all-girls school she didn’t fit in. ‘I just didn’t care about being a cool kid,’ Boeree adds. ‘When you are 14 girls are either into boys, fashionable and attractive or they are not. I was not. I wasn’t into boys or The Spice Girls, but I was popular because I was naughty. I was the class clown.’ That counter-culture, rebellious streak is perhaps what first drew her to poker. It’s a lifestyle at odds with convention: getting up late, gambling for huge sums of money and partying hard into the small hours. Although she hates the ‘baller’ lifestyle.
‘I am so over the Vegas clubs. The music is abysmal, they are overpriced and the people are douchebags. My Vegas was all about the great outdoors. A lot of the younger poker players think it’s normal to go and drop $5k in Tao. It’s not normal, and it’s not healthy. It’s a shitty club. What are you achieving?’
But Liv is definitely not a typical poker pro. Her main passions are metal music and the environment. Littering incenses her and she tells me a story of having to be restrained from shouting at a check-out girl who was using too many plastic bags. In poker she’s no one-hit wonder, with a win in the Sunday Warm-Up on PokerStars and victory in a SCOOP event. But she doesn’t feel the need to boast about her achievements. She’s not even bothered about being known as a pro.
‘The term professional poker player has never really applied to me because I have always had so many other things going on. I am a poker player, and the word professional is neither here nor there. Am I good? I’d like to think so. Could I be better? Definitely.’
So where does she view herself in terms of poker talent? Is she in the very top tier? ‘I’m a long way below them. I haven’t proved myself yet. Maybe to the general public I have, but I know I can do more. There are holes in my game that need to be filled, so I want to work hard on that. On my way back from the WSOP I bought a bunch of cutting- edge poker books and I’m going to be spending some downtime reading those and trying to improve my game.’
That’s not to say she’s lacking in confidence. Her next goals are to win another EPT and take down a Triple Crown. She doesn’t think small. Right from the start of her poker career she’s had big ambitions. ‘I always knew I would win a major tournament, I just didn’t think it would be quite so soon or so big,’ she says.
THE FAME GAME
Her intro into poker is well known, when after graduating with a first in astrophysics a chance audition led to her appearing in a poker-themed TV show alongside Phil Hellmuth, Annie Duke and the Devilfish. ‘It opened up a whole new world for me, and I thought: this is what I want to do,’ says Boeree. Her parents, however, didn’t agree. Her dad made her get a job working for a small marketing company in London, which the post-grad Boeree hated with a passion.
‘I’m glad I did that because I know I couldn’t bear to go back to it. You’re giving up your time. It’s eight hours a day. That is a scary amount of your personal time. The only thing that got me through work was table football, and I got really good. I’ve made a lot of money hustling poker players on that,’ she says with a laugh.
On the side she was starting to build a career as a TV presenter by covering the WSOP for Gutshot TV and presenting Challenge’s EPT coverage. She’d already used up all her holiday allowance and some unpaid leave travelling to Vegas and around the EPT circuit, when one night in April 2008 she won a $19k package to the WPT Five Diamond at Bellagio in an online satellite. Little did she know just how significant a win it would turn out to be.
‘It was a $300 tournament, which was way out of my roll, but there was a big overlay so I played it. I told my boss I won the seat and he wouldn’t let me go. They were paying me £24k a year and this seat was worth millions, or so I thought at the time. I had been looking for an excuse to leave so I quit.’
Liv didn’t win that tournament, or even make the money, but she was now playing with the big boys. And it didn’t go unnoticed by the poker sites. Phil Hellmuth introduced her to the marketing director of the now defunct Absolute Poker, and by May 2008 she was signed to the site as its new spokesmodel. Her poker achievements were limited at the time, with the press release boasting of winning a satellite to the Brighton GUKPT and a seventh place in the Welsh Amateur Championships. And she has no illusions about how she got the deal.
‘People would say I’m only famous because of the way I look. I would say yes I agree. Of course. Am I meant to be insulted? It made sense to do that. Use whatever you are given,’ she says. Boeree is smart enough to know that while there is some merit in grinding the micros to get to the top, smart people will always take the short cut.
‘I’m economical with my effort. I will always take the direct route. I found TV work more enjoyable than grinding the micros, and I made the most of being a young girl in a niche that needed filling.’ And Boeree fully embraced the spokesmodel role. In October 2008 she appeared in a photoshoot in Loaded magazine, swigging from a bottle of Jack Daniels in a bikini. Surprisingly it’s not something she regrets doing. ‘I love the Loaded photoshoot. I still look at [the shots] and think hell yes! I remember having the discussion where they wanted the outfits to be much skimpier than they were and I said no. I love the photos, and I hope there were some Loaded readers who started playing poker as a result of looking at them,’ she says.
It’s something she admits she would be happy to do again. ‘If Playboy came along and said here is $50k I’d say no. But if FHM want to do a shoot I wouldn’t have a problem at all. If it’s fun, it makes money and it increases the potential to make more money, which is what fame is about for me, then I will do it.’ It’s an interesting definition of fame. ‘It’s nice to be recognised, but I am not crying out for adulation,’ she insists. And she finds the whole poker celebrity thing a bit odd. ‘I remember when I met Metallica for the first time. And to think anyone would be like that at meeting me is just bizarre. I’m just a weird nerdy chick who grew up on a farm.’
SIX DAYS ONE MILLION
But while becoming famous came easily, the poker results stacked up more slowly than the column inches. Following her first sponsorship deal she took down the European Ladies Championship, a 30-runner invitational tournament for her first five-figure score. Her dreams at that stage were fairly modest: to win a big tournament and move to Vegas. But winning an EPT changed everything.
Prior to San Remo Liv was well-liked and a popular face on the scene, but was not considered part of the big leagues. Her biggest cash was for $40,855 at the WPT Five Star World Poker Classic in April 2009, and she hadn’t mustered a five-figure cash in the year preceding San Remo. Six days was all it took to turn her
At the time Boeree was trying to find a flight home from Provence, with the small matter of an Icelandic volcano ruining her best laid plans. She was in Aix- en-Provence to play in a €550 deepstack tournament at the invitation of the sponsors and, suddenly at a loose end, she decided to head to San Remo. Hooking up with Liz Lieu, who was also heading that way, she embarked on a ten-hour ‘nightmare’ journey via bus and cab to Italy.
Arriving at the casino, Liv and Liz said goodbye, wished each other luck and Boeree headed out to find her poker mates. She found one who was willing to stake her into a €500 satellite to the main event, so she dived straight in and binked a seat on the first attempt. She could have bought out at that stage, but decided not to. After all, how often do you win an EPT seat? Six days later it was chaos. ‘The first two weeks after San Remo were crazy. My phone bill from that week must have been £500. I was getting calls from The Sun, The Daily Mail. The phone didn’t stop ringing.’
She was €1.25m richer, and fast-tracked into poker’s premier league. She appeared on the BBC and GMTV and in every major newspaper. For a few days in the UK you couldn’t avoid her.
She already had the notoriety, now she had the results, and it wasn’t long before PokerStars came calling. The world’s biggest site signed Boeree in September 2010 to Team PokerStars Pro and she is a major part of the site’s plans in the UK. She’s already featured in her own documentary on Channel 4 and there are big plans for her on the small screen. Liv began her poker career as a TV presenter and her old website described her as a ‘Poker player, TV presenter, guitarist and model’. While she thinks the order of the last two should be switched, Boeree says TV presenter is ‘definitely second’ in any description of her. ‘I have a lot of exciting things in the pipeline. We are working on some very interesting science projects, and I would like to be the female Brian Cox. That’s a new life goal.’
‘I want to make science and the environment interesting to people. I like to think that one day I am going to leave a good mark on this world. I can see myself being a crazy lady on a Greenpeace boat one day. That is what really matters to me and I would like to get myself into a situation where I could do some good.’
Boeree doesn’t seem to be affected a great deal by her fame in the poker world. And outside of poker she remains fairly unknown. On a recent trip to the States she was pulled in for questioning by the immigration authorities, who didn’t believe she was a professional poker player.
‘Okay, so if you’re a pro tell me how to play pocket nines?’ was the bizarre question thrown at her. ‘They asked me what the most I had won was, and I said €1.25 million. They told me it was an offence to lie to US immigration officials,’ she says, laughing. ‘Then they asked me if I had that cash on me…’
Back in the UK, where she is better known, she spends most of her time at her family home in Kent catching up with friends away from the poker world. ‘The most attention I get is people asking to have their photo taken with me at UKIPTs,’ she claims. Although that might be about to change, with plans to buy an apartment in London and ratchet up her public profile.
The attention from fanboys is more of a problem for her boyfriend, poker pro and EPT winner Kevin MacPhee. ‘He says it’s very hard dating me. He has to stand back and smile while dudes hit on me. There are times when I have to smile and be nice to everybody and that can be tricky for him. But he’s so supportive and it’s nice to have someone who understands what you do.’
MacPhee is currently in the process of relocating to Canada so he can carry on playing online poker, while Boeree is based in London. It sounds like the ultimate long-distance relationship, but the reality of a tournament pro is they will spend most of their year in hotels in Europe in pursuit of poker immortality.
For despite all the promises of TV fame and mainstream stardom, for Boeree poker is and always will be number one. ‘I think right now winning a Triple Crown would be my biggest priority. Maybe more fool me, but I’d rather win a Triple Crown than have a TV series.’ Is poker still her biggest passion? ‘Yes,’ she yells. ‘I love it. It’s an incredible game. Unless I died or had some bizarre psychological catastrophe I can’t see myself ever not playing poker. Why would you stop?’
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