Celina Lin--Taming dragons and a mean Peking duck

ps_news_thn.jpgThe hottest player coming out of the Asian poker tour is undoubtedly the very attractive Celina Lin who is omnipresent at all of the top poker games in Asia. Celina won the prestigious PokerStars APPT Red Dragon Main Event at the Macau Cup in 2009, adding $50,932 to her career winnings. But more importantly, she was the first woman to win the event.

I recently caught up with Celina where we talked about everything from growing up in Shanghai, how her parents felt about "a girl playing poker," and how "boys are trouble." She says she and her parents left Shanghai during turbulent times. "Shanghai is always on the back of my mind when I spend time traveling. Economically it has changed so drastically over the last twenty years," she says. "Life in Shanghai was tough, especially after the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, so my family and I moved a few years afterwards to start a new life in Australia." It wasn't easy in the transitional move to Australia. "My parents had a very hard time starting out in Australia. Living in a foreign country where they couldn't speak the language meant they could only obtain labor work. This included working as a machinist, cleaner, waiter/waitress and presser. Now they own a post office in the suburbs, they are an inspiration to me and have come a long way!"

Celina went to MacRobertson Girls High School and at night often played Monopoly, chess and Big 2. She loved Heroes of Might, Magic, and Warcraft when it came to video games. She then enrolled in Melbourne University, which is a top ranked school in Victoria, as was her high school. Although she says, "I found university demanded too many contact hours and the work wasn't practical enough to maintain my interest for long."

One day in 2004, she visited the prestigious Crown Casino in Melbourne. "I was just passing, and was flagged down by a friend to try out poker. That night I had no idea what I was doing, and somehow the players on my table couldn't figure me out, so I won a lot that night. I started to research and read as much as I could on the topic, and within three weeks I managed to win $10,000 US and my bankroll started there. Three years later, I started to practice sit & gos and online tournaments on Pokerstars.net.

How did she manage to walk away with $10,000 in three weeks? "I was playing the 15/30 limit games, and most of the time it was shorthanded. I didn't realize how big the swings were in that game. Luckily the initial 600USD deposit was all I needed. I knew nothing about poker then, I would play literally any suited Ace and any pair, and ran very good!" (I'll say and I'll keep note of that!)

I asked her what her parents thought of her career move when she decided to play poker professionally. "My mum would always support me in whatever I chose to do, but mostly because I wouldn't tell her the whole story. When it came to poker, my dad had the most difficult time accepting my career choice. We spoke on the phone once and he said to me, "What do you think you are doing? Being a girl and choosing to play poker for the rest of your life?" Our conversation ended as I realized it was impossible trying to make them understand how poker is very different from games like blackjack and baccarat. Eventually after my commercials and magazine covers started appearing, he realized that it is a sport, and from then on, he would show all his friends my magazines and poker trophies."

Regarding her win of the Macau Cup, Celina says, "The feeling of accomplishing something you have worked years for is probably something most people will never forget. The adrenaline rush through my body right after the win barely allowed me to speak, smile, or keep my eyes open. The grueling four hour heads-up match really taught me never to lose sight of your goal."

So did she go wild on a shopping spree afterwards? Celina says, "I have always been a good saver, I saved up AUD 10,000 at the age of eighteen from $20 pocket money a week from doing chores and Chinese New Year lucky money. My poker winnings have definitely made my life very comfortable, but I am still saving up for assets such as a home and an investment portfolio. For me, I believe there's always a chance of a rainy day, and it's always better to start from something than nothing."

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When not playing poker, Lin enjoys playing tennis and attending body combat classes. "It gives you a full high intensity body workout. As poker players, we have a lot of bad beats to get out of our systems. (One of her favorite movies is Fight Club.) Yoga and Pilates are great for those days I want to rest, and it offers great toning/ slimming effects."
When touring on the circuit she says she sees them as vacations instead of work and tries to just relax and enjoys soaking in the different cultures and landmarks.

Asking whether she travels with a boyfriend, Lin says, "I have dated almost non-stop for about ten years of my life, I am taking a break from it. Boys are trouble, especially when I am working so much and traveling every few weeks. When I eventually find that lucky person, I imagine him to be a great son to his parents, a great brother to his siblings, and a great friend to those around him. As one gets older and hopefully wiser in this case, you look for different things. Things like looks, height, money seem trivial."

Lin laughs when I ask about where she lives. "I live in hotel rooms! I do rent an apartment in Macau, but with the lack of space, not many people have houses, gardens, and pools. When I am in Melbourne I stay at my parents' house and spend as much time with my family as I can."

Celina likes to cook and she's no stranger to the kitchen. "I do a great chicken mushroom basil gnocchi. The best dish I cook is Peking duck from scratch, I prepare the duck overnight and make my own pancakes for the wraps!"

I ask her what it is about Australia that keeps drawing her back. "Australia is one of those places that offers everything and anything you are looking for," says Lin. "I love the busy fast lifestyle of inner city living to the quiet tranquility of the suburbs. Melbourne especially is one of the friendliest cities you will ever find in the world."

At the tables, you can sometimes find Celina with her headset on. "I occasionally listen to music while I play, especially when the day is long and I am feeling restless. Music by Fort Minor, Coldplay and John Legend are some of my favorites to get me in the zone."

She prefers not wearing "sunnies" as the sunglasses get in the way of letting her see the cards. He best friends on the tour are Bryan Huang and Raymond Wu. "They are like brothers to me. We do a lot of traveling together, so all those experiences bring us very close together."

And one final question--Who is the one celebrity she would most like to meet, I asked. "Julie Andrews, I grew up loving her films and I could almost recite every line," says Lin.

"Her ups and downs in the entertainment industry are always inspirational. Her greatest disappointment came later in life when she eventually lost her biggest asset, her voice, after throat surgery. The ability to understand and accept circumstances and adjust accordingly keeps me working hard through whatever life may bring."

In the end, Celina says, "I feel very fortunate to get the chance to travel around the world and play the world circuit of poker tournaments."

Sue Carswell
@PokerStars in PokerStars news