Xuan Liu was born in Tian Jin, China before she moved to Canada at the age of five. She picked up the game of poker during her time at the University of Waterloo; which incidentally was at the same time a certain Chris Moneymaker was changing the landscape of the game of poker. Since turning her attention to it on a professional level she has earned over $1.4 million in live tournament earnings and over $300,000 online.
Liu has adorned the cover of Poker Pro and BLUFF magazines, is an influential member of the European Poker Tour (EPT) Player Council and a member of the Season XI World Poker (WPT) Ones to Watch. The perfect mind to be picked when it comes to all things female and poker.
When you have to wear make up or behave in any way that may fall into the category of hyper-sexualisation. Do you think you have a choice, or do you believe this is just the way it has become for women in order to survive?
I think it’s fun and an aesthetical advantage that females have the option to choose whether they want to wear make up. We certainly have a choice in how we present ourselves and I would like to deject the perspective that women are victims in this debate.
The general direction of the female liberation movement is positive. We are gaining more opportunities in every industry and facet of society, and most women can just as easily choose not to subject themselves to hyper-sexualization as easily as they can feed into it. Yes, there is still many gaps and an abundance of sources that pressure women to struggle for attention in certain realms, but to paint a portrait of survival versus each other is insulting as it undermines our mental capacity to filter and decide for ourselves how we weigh our priorities and stimuli.
I don’t think I have ever felt pressured to sexualize myself in poker. When I wear makeup it could be for a plethora of reasons but never solely to succumb to some social pressure. There is nothing wrong with appreciating the aesthetics of a woman who takes care of herself physically. The problem occurs when people begin to diminute women to hollow entities when they do.
Do you feel under pressure to be someone you are not in order to fulfill your role in poker?
Certainly not. It’s much easier to withstand rejection rather than fill a role you are unsuitable for.
In terms of the standard male/female stereotypes, a lot of men believe they are superior in a lot of departments, and this belief stems from social conditioning. Have you ever felt the reverse of that as a woman?
There is certainly a wide range of pressures and social traditions that dictate how gender roles are best operated, but I think most of us in the audience this article is designed for are fortunate enough to have the option to choose whatever relationship dynamic suits us best.
I think the nurturing aspects of the female identity can sometimes be confused with submissiveness. It also isn’t a trait that can be so easily compartmentalized. I for one can be very compromising in some situations, while exceptionally Alpha in others.
Does it anger you that you cannot just wake up, brush your hair, slap on any old rag and head down to the poker tables?
It isn’t so much anger as it is an occasional mild annoyance. It may seem unfair that we have to wake up earlier, but it’s fun being a girl, getting ready to be a minority with equal opportunity at the tables, deciding what kind of energy or persona to play up at that day. It can also be therapeutic and almost meditative to use this time to reflect on elements of my game I intend to focus on and mentally prepare myself for the session ahead. Keep in mind I also play online poker in my underwear or sweats with day-old hair.
What’s your view of the poker world when it comes to the theory of hyper-sexualisation?
Poker is an innately volatile game with dramatic roots, so it’s not surprising that its more exciting and stimulating elements are played up in the culture. My favorite part about poker is still its democratic structure; the fact that a CEO, a librarian, and a janitor can come together at the tables and have theoretically equal opportunity to win. I can understand why females are given special attention when they sit. We are nicer to look at and we are the minority. It was a no-brainer for online sites to patch up pretty girls with little poker experience if that was the message they wanted to externalize, but who ended up ahead of the game? The companies and female players with solid fundamentals and a game plan. Women are not victims in this plot. We don’t have to wear low-cut tops or flirt to get folds if we don’t want. Sure, it can be more difficult earning the respect of your peers and balancing time spent between media or focusing on your game, but many more doors can be opened if you choose to work hard on your craft, just like in any other industry.
If I did not think that women had more opportunities in the poker industry I would not have risked so much to pursue this passion. I don’t care if the gentleman across the table assumes I am a gold-digging girlfriend because that paradigm is about him and his worldview, not me. The poker industry will always attract new comers with the likes of picture-perfect models and outspoken personalities, but there really is a general shift towards more meritocratic recognition. There will certainly be even more of an influx of well-rounded female players in the industry because the hyper-sexualization theory is not enough to undermine female poker ambitions.
Do you feel that the media are actually doing more harm than good when it comes to attracting new female poker players to the game when they focus on sexuality?
I think most women who are willing to consider taking up the game understand there are elements of luck, and therefore, an allure of uncertainty and excitement that can be projected as sexual. I don’t think most of these women will consider it more offensive than any other kind of product campaign but can understand how it can make it more intimidating to pick up the game. Luckily there are plenty of “real” female role models out there who are beginning to gain more recognition.
What is your view on the role that female attractiveness plays in poker, particularly when you have to work in front of a camera?
Looks will always be a factor when dealing with camera time, for both male and female candidates. It certainly helps to be attractive in front of an audience, but it’s probably even more important to be knowledgeable and engaging in the long run. I think camera presence is a skill that can be improved, and accept the fact that industry positions need well-rounded individuals who are comfortable in the spotlight.