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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Liz Lieu: A Leak of the Heart

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Liz Lieu is the starlet of poker, the perfect combination of beauty, style, and skill to shape the face of poker. Her first WSOP cash is a testament to the kind of player she is: 5th place in the 2005 $1.5k NLH event for $168,590. The players who finished in front of her were CK Hua, Dave "Devilfish" Ulliott, Scott Fischman, and winner Allen Cunningham. Yet her heart and passion lie elsewhere, away from poker, and it is here that we catch a glimpse of the depth of character under this beautiful face.

Liz divides her time away from the felt between three areas of her passion: her family, the Women In Need Foundation (WIN), and giving back to rural areas in Vietnam.

WIN is a non-profit foundation started by Dr. Tracy Kemble. WIN has four key parts of its mission:

WIN is committed to the emotional health, personal self-esteem & empowerment of all women.

WIN is committed to those who find themselves debilitated from past or current pains of abuse and to those who desire to create a life of purpose.

WIN believes that abuse is not a disease, but instead, a learned behavior. Therefore, WIN is committed to educating, inspiring, preventing and empowering both men and women. We accomplish this by providing the highest quality counseling programs, conferences, educational messages, fundraisers, and outreaches. The goal is to offer repair, restoration and prevention services.

WIN believes that by healing the woman, you heal the family and that the final destination to healing is love and passion of life purpose.

"A friend of mine, a former Mrs. Virginia Globe, was involved in WIN and got me involved," said Liz. "I was struck by their outreach to women in abusive situations, and when I went to my first networking event with them, I was overwhelmed. I've been involved ever since."

Liz attends their meetings and is donating a percentage of her winnings to WIN. "The public sees the glamorous side of poker, but the poker industry is not for the faint of heart. It is a competitive business, one filled with stress. It can be a very difficult place for anyone, sitting at the table trying to make your living from those around you, and I think it is particularly difficult for women. WIN doesn't have anything to do with poker, but it has been very rewarding for me to be involved with the empowerment of women.

"You know, people think of girl power as being ruthless, but at WIN we see women who are looking for the most basic forms of empowerment. These women have been physically and emotionally abused, and many of them feel trapped. The leaders of WIN provide focus on giving all women self worth. I'm glad to be a part of it, and in fact it has helped me a great deal as well."

Everyone knows the horror stories of poker players falling on hard times, and Liz is no exception. "About five years ago, I hit rock bottom. It is especially difficult in poker to find people who are genuine, who are with you and want nothing in return. When you hit tough times, it can be very, very hard. That's one of the reasons WIN has had such an impact on me, because I have been where many of these women are."

"When I went through my tough times, I found out who my real friends were, those who were with me regardless of where I was or what I had. One of those friends is John Phan."

John and Liz are involved in her other passion, giving back to small rural communities in Vietnam. "We help the unfortunates in my country," Liz said. Her voice grew softer as she gazed down the steps we sat on. "John and I spend two weeks in the tiny, remote villages, and we bring tons of staples to them. I give out bags of rice, other things."

"They must be pretty small bags of rice if you're throwing them around," I said.

Liz whipped around and grinned. "I do hands-on work there, carrying forty and fifty pound bags of rice! It's hard work in Vietnam, but it pales in comparison with the hard work of the villagers. It takes so little to go so far in a place like that, and we are rewarded by being able to help our people in a small way."

Her ancestral home started as a challenge for her. "I went back for the first time to Vietnam seven years ago with a couple friends. Vietnam has completely changed from the time I first visited to what it is like today, and it has changed for the better. That first visit, there were many, many people on the streets, begging. It was a very poor country, and I was used to the lifestyle over here. It scared me. I saw all these little kids begging for money, so I started to hand out money to them. Everybody just surrounded me, all these children and adults with sick children. It only took two minutes to figure out that if you give one person money, the whole village will follow you. And they will follow you literally for miles."

Vietnam became a distant memory as her poker game struggled. "I didn't go back for two years, and during that time I almost went broke. I was close to rock bottom. As John worked with me during that time and we became better friends, I learned more about what he was doing there. John's been involved in charity back in Vietnam for four or five years now. We joined together, and I feel really blessed with what I have now. I believe what goes around, comes around. You can't just take, take, take. Who better to give to than giving back to your own country. John loves to travel, and he goes more than I do. If he has a week break, he flies back to Saigon and does the same thing."

With her attractive looks and charisma, Liz has been a marketing magnet. "I feel very fortunate for what I have. There are so many great Asian players who don't get the exposure that I do. In some ways it is unfair, and they deserve more exposure. I think we'll see more and more Asian players gain the recognition they've earned."
"Last November, I went back with John after the Betfair Asian Tour events held in Singapore. We were going to be there for a week, but we extended it for another week because there is such great need there. We just did work from morning to night. The first thing we did was go to Elders Orphanages and Children Orphanages. The Children Orphanages were really sad, because many of these kids had problems. They aren't normal kids, and to see them like that, tears came out of my eyes. It is very touching to me, incredibly moving. When I hand food to some of these people, they can't even feed themselves."

"In Elders Orphanages, there are fifty or sixty elderly people there, and they take care of each other. There is one nurse and one nun; that is the staff. Everything else, they take care of each other. We would cook them a lunch meal and serve it to them. We gave them enough rice to last six months or so and gave them money as well. I saw one lady, she's 104 years old, she can't see, she sits in a wheel chair. I fed her, and the thoughts that go through my mind. What if my parents were here, if they were in this orphanage? It has motivated me even more."

Liz closed her eyes, and her manicured fingers curled under her palms as her thoughts turned to her true passion, her family. "My father is not in good health, and I try to spend as much time as I can with him. When I'm playing or doing other work, it is to support my family. That is my responsibility."

"My Dad and Mom raised us really well, my sister and me. They taught us how to respect people, how to be fair and loyal, and always be truthful to others as well as ourselves. They were really, really strict when we were younger, and I wasn't exactly the perfect angel. I put my parents through some hard times when I ditched school and all that."

It was a day like any other day in a poker room that changed her forever. "Out of the blue about four years ago, I was sitting in my usual $400/800 game at the Bellagio. I watched all these Asian dealers come in, and I see players yelling and throwing cards at them. I saw a woman there, a cleaning woman. She cleaned up messes, cleaned the poker room. I'm not sure why, but tears came to my eyes." Maybe Liz had matured and understood how fortunate she was, how fragile her parent's path had been. Before her, she saw the alternate destinations of their lives.

"I don't know why, but at that certain time, it just hit me: what if that was my Mom and Dad. Every single time I see that lady now, I give her twenty dollars. I feel for them, and that's when I really realized how important my parents are. I think it changed the way I look at life, how I treat them. I want to pay back all the things they've done for me, so I've been supporting them since. They struggled raising both me and my sister, they tried to give the best they could for us.

"My dad had a heart attack when I was eighteen, and he's not in good health now. My parents divorced 3 ½ years ago. When they divorced, my Mom decided she wanted to move to L.A. I have a place here and a place in L.A., and my mother is why I still spend as much time as I can there. She's in good health right now, so I'm not worried about her. It is great to be with her when I can be."

"My dad felt he was happiest in Vietnam, where his friends were. It is his country, and I respect his decision. I bought him a house over there, but I gave him one condition: he has to fly back to the States twice a year to get his check-up. I was there when his heart surgeon told him three years ago that he needed another triple bypass. His arteries are getting clogged up again, and he needs to get another triple bypass surgery done or else he's capable of having another heart attack at anytime. He refuses to go through the pain again; even today his mind has not changed. The only thing he said to me was, 'I know I don't have much longer to live. All I want to do is enjoy the time I have left of my life.' What can I say?

"He remarried, and we are very fortunate that his wife is a good woman and cares for him. Still, every time I receive a phone call from an unknown number, I panic. Every single time, I panic.

"Actually, being the head of the household and having that responsibility, it can be tough, but it is also a motivation. Their well-being is in my hands. Whatever I do, I cannot fail. If I fail, they can't survive. When I get on the table, they are constantly on my mind. I've got to play my best game. Even with money management; I can't just go off and blow it, I have others to think about. That has really helped me with discipline and money management. They are the ones who motivate me even though they don't ask for anything from me. I'm not going to see my parents go back out there and work for a minimum wage. In life, you only have one mother and one father. You've got only one chance to treasure them when they are still alive..."

Her voice trailed away as she turned away, the tough veneer required of a hardened professional poker player melted away. It left a simple woman who wanted to help other women, a Vietnamese-American who wanted to give back to her people, a daughter who was compelled to sustain her parents.

Some poker players have leaks in their game, overplaying big pairs on dangerous flops or playing baby aces out of position. Others have the craps table or personal vices as leaks. Liz Lieu has a leak of the heart. Fortunately, her heart is over sized in contrast to the petite woman who battles the best players in poker. Those she touches are better because of her.

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