Poker players have a multitude of different methods to get themselves into the right headspace before a big tournament festival. Maybe there’s a specific meal, a movie they like to watch or finding just the right lineup of songs for an at-the-table playlist.
It’s safe to say no one spent the lead-up to the WPT World Championship at Wynn Las Vegas like Xuan Liu. Over the course of November, Liu went on a cross-country adventure with a purpose, traversing through 10 provinces and 3 territories in Canada with one goal in mind – taking a $2,000 poker bankroll, paying all expenses including travel and food, and making it to the end of the trip with at least $1 to spare.
If Liu managed to make it through to the end, she’d win $50,000 from WPT Global.
You might be curious as to the genesis of such an ambitious adventure. For Liu, who attended university in Ontario and came up in the game of poker playing in Niagara Falls, it was a challenge that checked several different boxes.
“It was kind of multifaceted,” said Liu. “One of the answers is, I’ve been playing lots of high stakes cash games, and in that world, it’s been a really, really stressful year. I kind of just wanted to get away from Vegas and go back to Canada and spend a month by myself. The second is, I’m starting out with vlogging on YouTube and I had this idea of traveling to Canada, where I’m from.
“Initially, the idea was just to have a budget and go to every one of the major cardrooms in Canada, to play and connect back to my roots. But then somebody in the company thought, ‘That’s not interesting enough – let’s do something where it’ll be more fun, and she’ll suffer. People will probably be more interested in it.’”
Liu set off on her journey with a $1,000 budget for live poker and $1,000 for online poker. She kicked things off on familiar ground – Niagara Falls. Her first session, a $1/$3 cash game at Casino Niagara, quickly went awry, though, when she dropped her first buy-in in short order. With some worry of ruin right off the bat, Liu eventually turned things around and made a solid profit during her time in Ontario.
As she started to traverse the country, Liu had to balance finding a game in some more remote locations with a variety of challenges attached to both her bankroll limitations and some safety concerns of traveling alone.
“I was traveling with some cash on me, a decent amount for part of the trip,” said Liu. I was traveling all by myself. With finding games beforehand, I had to do some reasonable planning but also not let everybody know exactly where I was and when.”
In fact, a funny side effect, especially early on in Liu’s adventure, was facing down players who recognized her and couldn’t puzzle out why she was grinding out low-stakes poker with them.
“In the beginning, a lot of the players at these stops were like, ‘What are you doing here? Are you broke? I was just watching you play $100/$200,’” said Liu. “When they recognized me at first, I didn’t want to say I was doing this challenge, this bankroll thing, because they can apply so much pressure on you if they know you’re only working with four buy-ins in reserve. But eventually, as the night went on, if I was going to be leaving soon, I’d tell them more.”
Over the course of her journey, there were home games, Veterans Hall action, cash games at a variety of live and online stakes, and tournaments. As you might imagine, traveling to some of the farthest reaches of North America and finding action presented the steepest of challenges.
“The toughest game was definitely Nunavut,” said Liu. “It’s one of the more secluded parts of Canada, the Canadian Arctic. I had put out some feelers on Twitter and wasn’t getting any bites. The good thing about the contest was that I could play on WPT Global from anywhere in Canada and still be able to fulfill the challenge.
“However, at that point, I had already played live at every one of my stops and I wanted to tick that box as well. I put out a few feelers before and wasn’t getting any bites. But I was so lucky because the day I got in, it’s a tiny airport, there were three hotels in the whole city. My host picks me up and right as I’m checking in, I asked them if they knew about any poker game. They just looked at each other and said, ‘We play poker.’ So, we just had a small home game with the hotel staff.”
Nunavit was Liu’s final stop on her cross-Canadian adventure, but it came with one final twist. Because of how isolated Rankin Inlet Airport was, the mission to get back to Las Vegas in time to play the WPT Ladies Championship and some of the early prelims during the WPT Championship festival at Wynn Las Vegas went haywire.
It got so razor-thin with her bankroll management that there had to be a clarification of the rules to judge whether or not Liu would be disqualified.
“I ended up missing my flight back,” said Liu. “On top of that, it was my most expensive flight. And I would have been like, a couple of hundred [dollars clear if I made that one]. And because I had missed it, I had to pay $2,000 to book another flight. So if I had to make it back [to Vegas within my bankroll], I would have just failed.”
Liu documented some of the highlights of her journey along the way, like seeing the Northern Lights. The more in-depth, polished episodes of her journey are being released on her YouTube channel, but with the journey officially in the books, Liu is happy to reflect on her trip and how far she actually made it.
“It’s gonna be one of those things I can look back and talk to my grandkids about,” said Liu. “Tell them about it and be proud. If you have a really good year in poker, you’re up 1 million dollars, which is really cool. But a lot of people are up a million dollars in any given year.
“But if you’re the first person to play poker in every single province in a whole big ass country, that’s a lot cooler.”