Marle Cordeiro: Stumbling in the arena under the watchful eye of the critic

Lee Davy sits down with Marle Cordeiro to talk about the challenges faced in a collection of jobs, careers and vocations including modelling, vlogging and poker.

The first time I saw Marle Cordeiro interview, someone was during the Triton Poker Super High Roller Series in Montenegro. It was a short, uncomfortable exchange with Linus Loeliger. I peeled her like an apple, leaving her standing naked on the range, firing golf balls filled with judgment.

marle-cordeiro-stumbling-in-the-arena-under-the-watchful-eye-of-the-criticThat evening, during a check-in with my wife, I tried my utmost to transmute the shame, guilt and not good enoughness that accompanies my role as an interviewer with Triton. I felt stained like fingers dipped into a bag of Doritos.

I began:

“Nobody understands how challenging it is to interview someone who doesn’t want to be interviewed. It’s so awkward and uncomfortable, and I hate chasing people; it’s so demeaning, especially the ones who agree to an interview to my face and then ignores all of my messages. I would respect them more if they just told me to fuck off.”

And then:

“By the way, did you see Marle Cordeiro, today?”

Cordeiro is a YouTube sensation who Triton hired to act as the host, of sorts, for the Triton Poker Super High Roller Series in Montenegro. I am sitting with her in a restaurant reserved for VIP guests at the Maestral Resort and Casino in Budva, Montenegro—the land of people with giant hands.

She wears a strange juxtaposition of calmness and concern on her face. It’s been a tough week for her, thrust into the deep end {her first role of this nature}, and without barely any direction. Cordeiro has managed to turn it around, stumbling into a nice brisk jog. The online chatroom, once riddled with judgments, now comes resplendent with messages of adoration.

She’s winning.

“I’m good friends with Joe Stapleton, and he asked me if I had an interest in doing commentary or hosting,” Cordeiro tells me between glances at the phone that lies prostrate on the table. “Then, I got a text out of nowhere, from a person from Triton, saying, ‘I got your information from Joe Stapleton,’ and here I am.”

Being a YouTube sensation reminds me of a fisherman sitting on his boat in the middle of a lake trying to hook the right fish, hoping to avoid catching old boots, wigs and baked bean tins. How do you prepare for an event like Triton when you spend so much time working alone?

“I didn’t know what to expect,” says Cordeiro. “They {Triton} are super ‘hands off’. My role wasn’t clear from the off. They asked me to come in and host, and it would be ‘x’ amount of days, and whether I had any questions. I knew I would be interviewing people and creating content, but I wasn’t sure what questions to ask? I’ve seen the work of Lynn Gilmartin, Maria Ho and Kristy Arnett, so I thought, ‘How hard can it be?’

“I prefer the direction. Back when I was acting and modelling that was one of the things they would tell my agent; that I take direction well. The more, the better for me, and I don’t get offended, you can always say ‘I want it this way’, and it helps me. I don’t want to be micromanaged, and having someone breathe down my neck, but I feel I thrive under direction.”

If you find the courage and bravery to step into the arena, you have to figure things out on the fly. That’s what Cordeiro was doing in Montenegro. Brené Brown tells you that during her immense volumes of work on ‘vulnerability’ the word that people use the most is ‘naked.’ Imagine being naked in front of hundreds of thousands of die-hard poker fans, as you interview someone who makes a living out of hiding emotion, moments after losing a $500,000 buy-in.

“I feel like, the minute I step off the stage I know if it was a good or bad interview,” says Cordeiro when I ask her how she defines success. “You know if it was flowing or if you are stumbling over your words. I messed up a few times in the beginning, completely botched some interviews, and immediately I knew. You know when you fuck up, but I feel the good days outweigh the bad. I didn’t want to repeat my mistakes, so I went down and just powered through it.”

Mistakes can send you hurtling out of the arena, scrambling for the cheap seats, quicker than the grease develops on the wrapping of a vegetable pasty. They’re like rifle butts, and when you’re standing in front of the: “lights, camera, action” it can be a bloody mess. What nobody sees is internal damage. How robust is Cordeiro’s internal defence mechanism?

“I think a lot of poker players are perfectionists,” says Cordeiro. “Garrett Adelstein talked about this on Joey Ingram’s podcast, recently. He articulated how I feel in every area of my life. Take health, for example. I will work out and eat perfectly for three months, and then have one burger and completely fall off the wagon, and you won’t see me in a gym for a fortnight. It’s the same with poker. If you make one mistake, you usually know you’ve ruined that straight away. It’s better to know and not to blow it. It’s like a muscle, and you get better and better at it.”

Cordeiro on modelling

Daily showers, painful tweezer sessions in front of the mirror, the terror of an oily forehead. It must be incredibly stressful to be a model, but that’s a part of Cordeiro’s portfolio—another ‘job’ that strips you bare before throwing you to the wolves.

“I started modelling in high school when I was 14,” said Cordeiro. “My dad played poker, so I lived in Vegas for a short time. Then I moved back home to Boston and modelled in my last two years of high school. Then I moved to New York for college, continued to model and then did more commercials, and my ex-boyfriend was a director, so we did a few short films together, and eventually started doing more acting stuff. I went to a university for acting, and that was my progression.”

When I think of ‘models,’ I think of living dolls wearing dresses made from cuts of meat, and high heels made from aluminium foil. It’s also a career choice that irks me as a working-class man. Instinctual anger as the brain programmed by a ‘work hard for a small wage’ culture tries to make sense of someone being paid so much for seemingly doing so little. Of course, I know as much about the modelling life as I do for the rifle makers, bodyguards and paranormal investigators.

So I ask.

“What is modelling like?”

“I was lucky, when I started in Boston, me and my dad are super, super close,” says Cordeiro. “He came to every single casting job, he was always there, and he was a great buffer. I felt like I had my safety blanket. Boston is a smaller market, too, which I think is nice. There are scummy markets like LA and New York, and you get high fashion stuff. I always felt super comfortable. It’s how you look, and it’s so damaging because you are just reminded of it all the time.”

My uncle died this morning. My mother {it was her younger brother} found out that he was critically ill on Facebook. The world is changing, and in many ways, Cordeiro follows one of the modern Gods. Modelling, YouTube creator, and now live poker host—I can’t think of a more caustic mix of environments when it comes to receiving feedback.

“You’re nose is too big.”

“You’re too skinny.”

“You’re too fat.”

“You’re tits are too small.”

“It can be ruthless,” says Cordeiro. “I was always too small, and when I was in Boston, my dream was to go to New York. I didn’t even want to go to college; I wanted to be a supermodel. My agent told me to go to school, telling me that I was way too short, and not growing and that I had a low ceiling. On the one hand, I am happy he told me that, but on the other hand, it was discouraging and hard to hear that direct criticism.”

What drives a person like Cordeiro to climb into an arena where so many people in those dastardly cheap seats, are so eager to break her ribs, reach into her toothless mouth, and pull out her heart?

“I wanted to be a model, so I got an agent, and that was my identity,” says Cordeiro. “Boston crushed me. It was fantastic to be good at something. Even though I was short, the main thing was I take direction well, and I know how to move my body, and I’m easy to work with. Of course, I got attention from boys and thought ‘this is so great'”.

As a child, we need someone to drive us, to keep us in the arena, when every cell in our body is telling us to leave.

Who helped Cordeiro?

“My father, for sure,” says Cordeiro. “He is a super, super smart guy. I did a photo shoot in Vegas when we were living here, and soon after moved back to Boston, Dad said do you want to keep doing this? I was unemployed at the time, and we were living with my grandparents, he was struggling. He said we need to get you an agent then, he just intuitively knew, maybe Dad did research or whatever, but he was the one who took me around in the city.

“If I were in New York, I would still be working, doing catalogues and commercial modelling but, it’s similar to poker. People have ceilings in poker, that’s a reality, and the sooner I think people have an understanding of their ceiling in poker or anything in life, the better. Just because you have a low ceiling in one industry doesn’t mean you are dumb. Some don’t have the aptitude for certain things. Knowing when to quit or knowing, I’m never going to be playing in certain events; the best I’m ever going to do is play in mid-stakes games, and break even, and honestly hearing that from somebody in a loving way, can be a blessing.

“A lot of people go down that path and end up wasting time. They don’t want to hear the truth, but because I realised that. I told myself that I was going to do it on the side, and if I get jobs, I get jobs. That’s how it was from that point forward. I got an agent in New York, and whenever they called me, I was like great, but that wasn’t my focus, and I was moving on to other things that I could potentially excel at.”

Cordeiro on vlogging

marle-cordeiro-stumbling-in-the-arena-under-the-watchful-eye-of-the-critic3Marle Cordeiro has a YouTube channel, and more than 24,000 people have subscribed to listen to what she has to say. Cordeiro treads the fine line differentiating world-class operators from wannabe stars afraid to get sand between their toes.

Titles such as “Auditioning to be Bonomo’s girlfriend,” “Looking for a poker pro boyfriend,” and “How many HATERS do I have in poker,” show you that she’s not afraid of controversy.

How did it begin?

“I had been playing poker for a few years when I brought a camera and said I would start a year before I did.” Said Cordeiro. “I had a big problem with wanting to put myself out there. I think a lot of people have this. I had this resistance, and filmed all this stuff, but never released it. I was like, I can’t do this, and everybody in my life, my ex-boyfriend, my friends said you need to do this, you’ll be great. I have a few friends who are vloggers, and they said we need a female doing this, it will be great in this space, there are no girls that are doing it. I felt stupid and dumb. A month later I thought fuck it and did it, and it took off straight away.”

Here’s the author, Steven Pressfield, on Resistance:

“Resistance is not a peripheral opponent. Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. resistance is the enemy within.”

I ask Cordeiro why she doesn’t run from the enemy.

Most do.

“I spend a lot of time thinking about this,” said Cordeiro before continuing. “It was weird because my vlog is crazy. I say and do crazy things. I was dating my ex-boyfriend for three years and was immersed in his friendship group, and he was very supportive of me, but at the same time, he was very conservative. Whenever I would be my crazy self or say outlandish things, he would be like, ‘OK, I love you for that,’ but he would cringe. It sounds like I’m blaming him, and he was in no way stopping me directly, but I think being in that relationship and surrounded by those people, I couldn’t be myself or I couldn’t fully go for it.

“I don’t know if I would have made the videos I made if I was with him (like looking for a poker boyfriend or me being a stripper to get stakes or me swearing and making sex jokes or whatever), but I think it is funny and when I made the first vlog, I was like yes that’s it—there was no question in my mind, that was exactly what I wanted to put out there. It clicked in my brain.”

The use of the word ‘Stripper’ stops me in my tracks. Is there a video of Cordeiro stripping for money?

Tell me more.

“I made a video, where I went, oh, I went broke guys, I gotta build my bankroll, and so I go, and there is a shot of me sitting on the street corner with a sign, and my cat begging for money, and they see me walking into the Spearmint Rhino, which is a strip club in a stripper outfit, and I am like well finally I had to do what I had to do, and then you see me walk into the bathroom in the Bellagio poker room in a hot dress, and then I say, so alright I’m back in the game.”

What’s the pressure like when you’re creating content like that?

“The pressure grew when a few big poker players came out publicly and were saying; I do not like her; I do not approve of her. Now, I know if you don’t have haters, if you don’t have some people disapproving then you’re not doing it right, but at the time, I couldn’t believe they were coming after me publicly. That is when I started questioning it and thought am I fucking up here?”

I ask Cordeiro if she’s prepared to talk about the people who came after her?

“Yeah, it’s public knowledge. It was Kelly Minkin and Justin Bonomo. When it all happened, I made an apology video that’s on my channel. Kelly said that I didn’t understand how hard it is to break those stereotypes of being a woman in poker, and the fact that I was making fun of it showed I was only doing that for views. I replied saying; I’m not saying I actually did this stuff, it’s a complete joke. I was in a long-term relationship, I never had a sexual or romantic relationship with anybody involved in my poker career, it was all jokes, and then Bonomo said I was offensive to sex workers, saying it was pathetic to be a stripper and pathetic to be a hooker and stuff, and I said No I am just making fun of what the community assumes of female players.”

I wanted to reach out and touch Cordeiro’s hand. To stand up, walk over, and hug her. I felt empathy and anger surging through my marrow. The world has gone mad. The ability to express an opinion, or create satire for satire’s sake is starved of oxygen, and social media is the varicose vein.

After the interview, I watched the ‘Stripper’ video, and couldn’t understand why someone would choose to go onto social media and criticise her for what is a joke.

“The world we live in, honestly it’s, anything you say, can and will be held against you, and it’s out of control.” Says Cordeiro. “The video I made wasn’t so much I was wrong, it was more like, to Kelly, I’m like I’m a huge fan of yours, I want to clarify that in no way have I done these acts and in no way am I promoting objectifying women. If anything, I am using satire to poke fun. There is this thing in poker where men think, oh, that’s her boyfriend, he is putting her in these games or whatever, and I think it is so absurd that they think that because we are female. So, I painted this absurd portrait of what that looks like, basically saying, Hey, (that’s what comedy does) this is an exaggerated view of what you think we are doing, isn’t that ridiculous. Do you think I am going to the Bellagio bathroom after I bust out of a tournament to get another buy-in, it’s crazy.”

I’m back to the same question.

Will I get a different answer?

Doesn’t the prevalence and visibility of the feedback put her off doing what she loves to do?

“It does, it does. I hate to get corny, but there is a quote I heard recently from Brené Brown, ‘If you’re not in the arena, I don’t give a fuck’. I’m out there every day making vlogs, putting my face on camera, playing in high stakes cash games, and tournaments, making mistakes on video. People watch Triton events, people view my interviews, and they are so quick to be like ‘Oh, that was a dumb question’ or ‘She’s an arsehole,’ well I don’t see you out here doing it. You’re sat at home playing one cent, two cents online, and not putting yourself out there, so I don’t care what you have to say. The reason the Bonomo and Kelly thing upset me was that they are in the arena, and I do value their opinion. If you are in the arena, then I will hear you out, but if you’re not, then fuck you.”

It’s not the first time that a ‘vlogger’ has received criticism from sections of the poker community. It seems so toxic. It’s as if social media magnifies a social hierarchy within poker, that’s status orientated. If you haven’t made your way through the stakes and earned your stripes, then we who have can attack you. It feels like old school bullying, only it’s worse because the bullied don’t have the opportunity to stand up to these people because they are firing mortars from an unreachable place.

Marle Cordeiro creates a video, and is criticised for marginalising sex-workers, and women, but isn’t that criticism soaked in marginalisation in itself?



I remember where all of this started—Cordeiro standing in the Montenegrin arena, doing her thing, and me, judging her—no different than Bonomo, or Minkin.

“I think there is a battle sometimes between some of the high stakes people like they work so hard, they are so smart, the work that it takes to perform, and win at a high level right now is insane,” says Cordeiro. “You can’t take two weeks off studying, or you are falling behind, and I totally understand and think that’s amazing, but then you get people like Andrew Neeme, Johnnie Vibes and Brad Owen—solid winning poker players in their own right, but no Ike Haxton or Justin Bonomo, and they will say it themselves. I think there is this thing where they come in and have this following, and almost get more success, and feel like, who are you selling at 1.3 a year getting all these accolades, and you’re not as smart as me, and they are not, but the world is not only about how smart you are.

“There is an elitist attitude in poker, but I also feel like it is somewhat earned. If you work ten times harder than everyone else, and you bust your arse, and you have for a decade, and you are the best poker player in the world or top 50, you earned it and have a reason. It’s like Kanye West almost. The guy’s an arsehole; he’s pompous, but the guy is a genius, the guy works hard, the guy is prolific, and so you can’t take that away from him.

“I have immense respect for poker players. I know what that takes, and honestly, I have the same thing with my peers, annoyed at the fact that the masses look to vloggers like they think they are elite and even me, some people are like, ‘You don’t even fucking know how good some people are, how hard some people work.’ I’m torn, but at the same times it’s like dude, this is the world we live in—you are not judged just based on your skill. There is an excellent talk by Elliott Roe that just came out where he talks about the six factors of poker success, and only one of the six is skill. There is game selection, there’s staking, there’s mental preparedness, I forget the others, but only one is skill. There are so many other factors to being a poker player, and Johnnie Vibes and Neeme have built a brand so that they can travel around the world, and weak players want to give them money. They are lining up wanting to play poker with them, wanting to lose so that they can be around these people. It’s incredible what these people have built.”

Jason Somerville created the Run It Up live tour series, and Lex Veldhuis recently declared his intention to host his second Lex Live—Cordeiro speaks the truth. The way poker fans consume poker is changing, and in some quarters, unfashionable names, minus the bracelets and the trinkets, are having poker tours named after them, and there is a caravan of people wanting to join.

“Poker is turning private, and the high stakes games, you have to be invited to them, and elite players are chomping at the bit to get into these big games, but they can’t because they are known as being beasts and there are other people who know how to play the game and get invited to the best games in the world. Dan Bilzerian is an excellent example of that. He’s a joke, he sucks at poker and knows it, but it’s like who has the last laugh, him or somebody who is running solvers but can’t get an invite?

“I think there are very few people today that are willing to meet a problem head on, and for me when I turn a corner in a relationship with somebody, be it professional or otherwise, is when we have conflict, and I see how they handle it.

“I could have reached out to Kelly, and been like Hey, can we meet for a coffee next time we are in Vegas. I saw her at the Hard Rock in November, and I didn’t approach her. I could have been proactive about it, but it is tough.”

Cordeiro on poker

So, can this lady play?

marle-cordeiro-stumbling-in-the-arena-under-the-watchful-eye-of-the-critic2“I have been playing huge recently,” says an excitable Cordeiro. “Not too long after I started the vlog I was just playing in Vegas, 40 hours a week and for the vlog it takes time to edit the videos and everything, so I cut down my hours a little bit, and I wanted to quit poker about 4-5 months after I started it, I was sort of over it. I was like this is fun, but I want to get more into making videos, and whatever, and then a good friend of mind Matt Berkey said he could get me a seat into a good game.

“It was crazy. Two weeks before, I went to a charity event and I met the person who backs me in the big game, and hit it off with him. It was his charity event in LA. I was with my friend, and that night he was like we are going to go to this private game, and I’m just going to put you guys in, freeroll have fun. The next day he called the guy who had been backing me and was like hey I want to back Marle for the games, and that was it. Then when Matt asked me one day if I wanted to play, I was ready.”

“I started playing in December, and the most I’ve lost is $100k, which was two buy-ins for the game I was in, which has happened several times, that’s less than 200 big blinds, which is completely normal swings. The money means so much to me. I’m staked, but I still have a pretty big piece of myself, so put it this way if I make a couple hundred thousand dollars, and I gain, it’s like life changing to me at this point in my life, and so it’s hard not to think about that.”

Is it safe to say that Cordeiro is taking a shot?

“I’m taking a shot, and my backer is amazing, and as a backer, the biggest thing is to know what to expect from swings, and I do play a low variant style in there. He knows it’s invite only so every time I get invited to the game; it could be the last time. It’s not like a casino where you can walk in, so if I’m in make-up and I never get invited again, you know what I mean. So when that happened, and I got invited to that game, I dedicated myself to studying poker, and I have to work on it because it’s a dream to play big. I’ve played with so many heroes; it’s fucking dope.”

Cordeiro on the future

Modelling, vlogging, fucking dope poker games—what does the future hold for Cordeiro?

“Honestly, at this point, I have so many balls in the air. I’m doing so many things, and I feel a little spread thin. I subscribe to the idea that you can only do one or two things well at a time, and that includes friends, family, relationships too, and I’m doing the vlog and high stakes and posting and playing tournaments and just living life, and it’s kind of hard to do everything well. I have been trying to get back into comedy as well.

“My dad would say, ‘Why don’t you choose the easy things in life? You always choose the hardest things: modelling, vlogging, poker—you’re setting yourself up for failure.’ The thing is, I can’t see how life can be any other way. If I’m not in the arena, then I’m in the stands, and that’s not where I want to be.”

Cordeiro’s last words remind me of the famous Teddy Roosevelt quote from his Parisian speech.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Terrible use of the male vernacular there Teddy. If you had a Twitter account, I am sure the haters would have sorted you out for being so misogynistic.

Women can also stand in the arena, mate.

Women like Marle Cordeiro.