27 November, 2014

That Girl: Jay Tan, Hong Kong’s top female professional poker player

27 November, 2014
This week’s That Girl is Jay Tan, Hong Kong’s top female professional poker player – who traded a career in banking in for a life of royal flushes!We chat to Jay about what traits make a good poker player, if she has ever faced any sexism at the poker table and how to stay disciplined when you’re not working the normal 9-5. Poker face at the ready, girls!

that girl jay 4Fill us in on your background and where you grew up. How did you end up in Hong Kong?
My background is quite a mouthful! My Mum is Taiwanese, my Dad is from Hong Kong and I was born in Los Angeles. We lived in HK until I was 4, and then we moved to Sydney until I was 25. My parents had already moved back to HK whilst I was studying in Australia, so I’d already thought about moving here – but every year when I visited, I always thought there’d be no way I could live in such a cramped and polluted city as HK. Fast forward a few years after graduating with a Masters in Business and I felt it was time for a change; I wanted to join the major leagues in HK to pursue a career in finance. Plus as a native speaker of Mandarin, Cantonese and English, what better city than Hong Kong to maximise the use of these languages!

that girl jay accessories 1Where do you live? How have you made your home your own?
I’ve moved around a fair bit since settling here, but now I call Tai Po home. My hubby and I bought a three-bedroom apartment together and we had big plans to renovate it into a lavish one-bedroom pad complete with a huge walk-in closet, open kitchen and a large master bathroom. We even hired a designer and had everything confirmed… until we were surprised by my pregnancy! The renovations were subsequently thrown out the window, since a one-bedroom place just didn’t make sense anymore. My plans for a customised walk-in closet with his-and-her shoe displays were sadly binned too, but thankfully, we’ve managed to turn one of the bedrooms into a walk-in closet. My hubby and I both love shoes so we constantly fight for shoe storage space!

We also love cooking – we’ve had to buy a second fridge plus an additional freezer just to ensure our kitchen is well stocked for ad hoc meals and last-minute dinner parties. We have almost every single kitchen appliance you can think of… we’ve even bought a waffle machine!

that girl jay 9Where do you shop in Hong Kong?
I actually buy a lot of my clothes whenever I go to Vegas for the World Series of Poker almost every year – there are great outlets there and I love how I can shop until midnight after winning some money at the tables! In Hong Kong, I love shopping at Elements and Pacific Place since there are fewer crowds. When it comes to clothes, I tend to try and wait until sale time… but when it comes to shoes, I have been known to splurge at all times of the year!

that girl jay 7Where are your favourite pampering spots?
I get my hair cut and coloured only at Marek Art Of Hair – my hairdresser does a great job, and the bonus is he’s very cute and loves talking to me about poker! I get my nails done at Bliss Spa because I just love the nail bar there with its sky views and quiet atmosphere; they really know how to pamper their guests.

that girl jay 2What are your favourite restaurants and bars in Hong Kong?
I love how in Hong Kong you can eat a fantastic bowl of wonton noodles for ridiculously cheap prices, but also fine dine and indulge at Michelin-starred restaurants – the variety is always amazing. My favourite all-round restaurant is L’Atelier de Robuchon; I love sitting by the bar tables at the open kitchen, watching the chefs work their magic whilst I melt away over the amazing food. We recently celebrated my first sashimi after our baby was born at Sushi Sase, and the omakase was delicious. Tin Lung Heen at The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong is one of my favourite Chinese restaurants; I love how you can book the chef’s table and with a very reasonable minimum spend, personalise the menu.

For bars, I used to frequent Sevva since I enjoyed entertaining our banking clients there when I worked in Central; I haven’t been in a while but I love the atmosphere. I also like OZONE – their mini Wagyu burgers are so amazing I ate all three in the order and asked for a second round immediately… Highly recommended!

that girl jay accessories 3You spend a lot of your time in Macau for work too – what are your top recommendations there?
One of the reasons I love going to Macau so much is for the food and shopping – there are so many amazing restaurants, I almost always leave a little heavier! I love the dim sum at Jade Dragon inside Crown Casino, Hard Rock Café inside City of Dreams and the Portuguese tarts at Lord Stow’s Bakery inside the Venetian (I can eat four!). The 8 in Grand Lisboa and Wing Lei in the Wynn are also great for Chinese fine dining. However, my comfort must go-to place every time I’m there is a Korean BBQ place by the roundabout on the Taipa side called Arirang – it serves very authentic Korean food… and I’m getting hungry just thinking about it now!

that girl jay dogs 1Where are some of your fave dog-friendly spots/walks in HK?
Sigh. As a dog lover, HK is surely the most dog-unfriendly city in the world! I live by a beautiful waterfront walk next to a bicycle trail and yet dogs aren’t even allowed to put a paw onto the area – there’s a lady on a bicycle patrolling the area to make sure everyone removes their furry pals! In Sydney, my favourite thing to do was put the roof down on my car, drive my doggies to the park and let them roam off-leash every weekend. I lived in Discovery Bay for two years just so my dogs could roam off-leash at the Central Park there – it felt like home again. Nowadays, I walk them around my complex on concrete grounds but when I have the time, I try to drive them to Sai Kung waterfront or Penfold Park so they can run around and spread their legs.

that girl jay 5How did you get into poker? What made you take the leap from banking to making this your full-time job?
One night whilst studying for my university exams, I turned on the TV in the middle of the night and watched a poker tournament. A week later, I played my first game with friends… and the week after, I was hitting the casino in Sydney! I was hooked from the moment I watched it and the passion and excitement still hasn’t died down to this day.

Sometimes in life, it’s all about timing. I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to take that leap if it weren’t for all the right reasons at the same time. I was approached by a poker talent management company who wanted to represent me, so we were in talks already. A few weeks later, I scored two big cashes and final tables in Macau so I landed a sponsorship with Bodog, an online gaming site. The financial markets were also bad at the time and the morality within my team at work just kept dropping so I decided to pack up my bags and dive into a full-time life of poker. It was scary… and it still is!

that girl jay 12What traits make a good poker player? Are there any skills you learnt from the corporate world that you’ve been able to utilise in poker?
One very important and obvious trait to being a good poker player is a good ability to read people. It’s so easy sometimes when bad players have a very obvious tell or horrible poker face, but then you also get some pros who know how to give off reverse tells so you’ve really got to study your opponents! Poker is such a challenging game of mental strength that you really have to be very focused and concentrate on finding the weak spots and pick on the mistakes that other good players might make. I also find that to be a good player you need to develop patience and the ability to be humble – it’s always great to take advice from people who offer it to you, even if you think at first they’re not a good player. It never hurts to understand how “fish” (bad players) think… and then use it to your advantage someday!

that girl jay 10Have you ever encountered any sexism in the poker world? Does being a girl ever give you an advantage at the poker table?
I’ve encountered sexism in every single industry I’ve worked in so it was not new to me at all when I first started playing poker. I also get asked this question by almost every single person I meet – so you can see that most people’s attitudes towards being a female poker player already lean towards being sexist in some ways. The fact that there are “Ladies Events” could be said to prove that there’s a sexist attitude in the industry; however, I think it’s great that they have these events to hopefully attract and encourage more females to join in the fun… but conversely, there are no “Gentlemen Events”. It’s also quite common to get negative comments from fellow table-mates trying to upset you for being a female, but I never let it get to me since it’s usually after winning a pot from them and they’re just trying to flatten out their bruised egos after being beaten by a girl!

Being a girl on the poker table is perhaps the best advantage I’ll ever have – so secretly I hope there’ll always be more men than women in the field! Men usually assume women don’t know how to play or that our intelligence is limited, so they’ll do their best to outplay you and try to bully you to get a kick out of it, or they simply view you as a weaker opponent and will try to exploit you. I especially love it when men try to bluff me all the time… it’s like sending me free gift vouchers for shopping! There can be downfalls too – for example, there are some days where I might be feeling more emotional and I just can’t play my best game or I might get affected by the bad beats. Sometimes it’s great to be targeted on the table but there are some days when I just want players to back off.

that girl jay 1How exactly do professional poker players differ from your regular amateur players? Is it as glam as we see in the movies?
I think with everything in life, reality is never like the movies. Poker has a very glamorous and dark side at the same time. One day, you will literally feel like a superstar because you’re winning every single hand, then there are days where your luck is so bad or you’re playing so bad that you question whether you’re any good at all. Lots of poker players fail because of poor bankroll management or because they’re bad at valuing money. I’ve had friends who’ve lost every single session for a stretch… only to then win a year’s worth of rent money in one session. It’s a very extreme lifestyle and if you don’t have a healthy mind-set or a way to stay positive, it can be very exhausting.

The positives though (if you make it!) are yes, just as amazing as they are in the movies… sometimes even better – private jets, luxury villas, hotels, travelling, blowing money and living life like a rock star! I have a few friends who are like that now… I’ll ask my assistant to send you an email when I join them one day *wink*.

that girl jay accessories 2You’re now the top earning female poker player in Hong Kong – what have been your most memorable games?
My most memorable game and biggest tournament cash win was AU$150,000 at the Aussie Millions 2013. It is the biggest tournament in Australia and to make the final table is a huge achievement. I cashed at seventh place and was on the TV table with Patrik Antonius (a very well-known – and good-looking! – poker professional); I have the DVD of it, but I’ve never watched it! Prior to my appearance on the final table, it had been five years since a woman had made the final table there. Given there are between 6-700 players in the event, what is also most memorable is that my hubby (also a professional poker player) cashed in second place the very year before.

that girl jay tan 13Are there many other professional poker players in Hong Kong? How does the scene here compare to say, America?
There are actually many other professional poker players here; if you head to Macau during a tournament series, you’ll meet plenty – I met my hubby in Macau and if it weren’t for poker, we’d probably never have met! The scene here is growing but unfortunately, is nowhere near as big as it is in America. Gambling is such a taboo subject here; even though I personally don’t consider poker “gambling”, many people who aren’t familiar with the game will naturally consider me as a “professional gambler”, which I don’t think I am. When I’m in Vegas or Vancouver, even the taxi drivers there talk to you about poker – poker in America is like the mah-jong of Asia! It is so much more acceptable in other countries; over there, people actually make you feel cool for it but here, people sometimes look at you like you’re some kind of hustler!

that girl jay 11Can you fill us in on an average day in the life of a pro poker player? Is it hard to stay disciplined when you are not working the normal 9 to 5?
The most difficult thing about being a poker player is trying to stay disciplined – in fact, there’s almost no such thing. I tend only to play when there are tournaments on, which can last for up to two weeks in Asia. During those two weeks, it can get hard because you’re away from home, living out of a suitcase and can’t enjoy home-cooked meals. Room service may sound fancy but after a while, you just miss your mum’s cooking! On my days off, I live a very lazy life at home – I kind of sleep whatever time I want and wake up whenever I want… it’s actually extremely unhealthy! But now that I’m a mum, a lot has changed and my hours have become more “normal”.

that girl jay 3Can you share a few easy tips and tricks for any poker novices out there?
Change gears and mix up your play, try and stay unpredictable and leave your opponents guessing. Don’t get too greedy and always know when to cash out. Folding is never something to be ashamed about!

that girl jay 8What is your life motto?
Bluff until you make it! (Just kidding!)

Find a way to be happy and always be grateful for everything you have. The key to being happy in Hong Kong is not to compare yourself to others more fortunate than you. There are just too many successful people here – so trying to compete against them or using their success to measure your own happiness will only bring you down. Health, family and friends are more important than wealth and material things.

heart-pinkAll photos in the That Girl article above were taken by the hugely talented Martice Milton of Martice Milton Photography – get in touch with her at [email protected].


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