Fatima Moreira de Melo: Young lioness stalking a very different prey
by Sue Carswell
Relatively new to the poker world, Fatima Moreira de Melo, 32, is the young-looking Bridget Bardot of Team PokerStars Pro. Born in Rotterdam, Holland, Fatima was a Dutch Olympic field hockey star whose team won gold at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. She is one of that country's best known female athletes and has wild blonde tresses, so much so that you could spot her in the crowd (then again, it wouldn't be hard to find this natural beauty in a field of men).
While playing for the Dutch national team, Fatima was known as the team's striker, and she is currently just as fierce at the poker table. She can also be very kind and good-natured, as evidenced by her posting my blinds when I played my first live tournament ever at the PokerStars European Poker Tour (I had forgotten that you had to do those things because playing online, the computer posts your blinds for you automatically). I noticed that when Fatima wasn't playing, or had folded a hand, guys would pop out of the woodwork just to have a quick word with her. She's really that stunning, and charming.
Her father was a Portuguese diplomat for Holland at the consulate there, while her mother worked as a secretary. They have both since retired. An only child, Fatima went on get her Masters in law. Of her unusual career trajectory she says: "I started playing hockey when I was six and ended my career by winning the gold in Beijing. Then I quit hockey to go on and play poker."
Her thirst for the game began back in 2007, when she had down time with the other girls on the field hockey team. "Then my boyfriend and I started playing heads-up together," she says with a slight accent. No stranger to competition himself, Fatima's boyfriend, Raemon Sluiter, was until May a world ranked tennis player. The golden couple play online most nights when not playing live tournaments. "It's usually dinner time when we play here in Rotterdam, so I don't cook much. Mostly we order out for Thai food and eat during the breaks. But I did make spicy pesto sauce tonight!" she says proudly.
On the road while playing tournaments, Fatima religiously eats fruits for breakfast that carry her through the day and then turns to vegetables, eschewing carbohydrates that make her tired. And as for working out, you'd think this jock would be hitting the gym for a few hours. But in answer to this query she growls a little and says: "I don't work out much. I just do some sit-ups."
"But you're a hockey player," I stress to her, rather surprised by the notion of a sit-up when she still has the body of a jock, although a petite one. "I quit, though. I'm tired from that." Not one to laze about however, during down time from being on the road, Fatima also thinks up marketing concepts for her own line of jewelry.
No stranger to Holland, Fatima is probably the country's most well-known female athlete, having appeared on lifestyle television programming in her home country. She was also the face of billboards that blanketed Holland for Rabobank (one of the largest banks), until last year when PokerStars came calling. "I love playing poker, so I was thrilled," she said from her loft apartment outside of Rotterdam, near the water.
She says she would best be described as an "aggressive player, but not hyper aggressive", adding: "I'm an optimistic person, too, so that mixes into my playing style." As for playing online, "that goes up and down". She says: "I'm definitely improving, though. I learn more about the game each time I play. It seems that even as each month goes by I'm learning more. My mentors have been a couple of Dutch guys."
I ask her if men try to pick her up, but as she says: "If you bought into a tournament for five thousand dollars, I think you are focused on winning the tournament, not me." When at the table, you won't find Fatima hidden behind a pair of fancy sunglasses. "It darkens everything," she says. She usually won't wear a headset either unless the table she is playing at is boring. "Then I'll listen to the Cranberries song, 'My Favorite Game', or some soul sounds from Maxwell."
Fatima spent some time at the World Series of Poker this summer, where she definitely developed strong feelings of Vegas. "It's not my kind of city to be honest with you. It's like Disney World for grown-ups. There are lots of clubs, but I am not a party animal. I love being outdoors. I love walking through a city like San Francisco, or being near the beach in Portugal." So far on the PokerStars circuit, she has been to the Bahamas for the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, Monte Carlo for the EPT, plus Berlin, Austria, Estonia Belgium, and other places. "My favorite town is London, though. There's great shopping."
We'll see you soon, Fatima!
* Sue Carswell s a reporter/researcher for Vanity Fair, and the author of Paying for Glory and Faded Pictures from My Backyard