EPT9 Prague: In another world, Liv Boeree: physicist

December 12, 2012

Liv Boeree’s story has been told a million times. She is the former physics student turned reality show contestant, turned EPT champion, turned one of the best known and most loved personalities in poker. It doesn’t get any less compelling through its frequent repetition, but it does skim over some of the fascinating details.

Take the whole chapter focused on physics, for example, a subject that meant as much to the young Boeree as poker does to her now. If the stars had aligned slightly differently, Boeree could have been spending her days among the instruments, dials and telescopes of some of the world’s most prestigious scientific institutions, rather than in the casinos of the world.


Liv Boeree on Day 1A of EPT Prague

While the poker community would have missed her, one gets the impression that Boeree herself would have been perfectly at home. Talking during a break from a hectic schedule at EPT Prague, Boeree remembered some of her schooling in physics – she earned a first class degree from the University of Manchester – and matters significantly more weighty than flops, turns and rivers.

“We were in charge of this 21-foot radio telescope,” Boeree said of a placement at Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire, England. “We had to set up a schedule and point it at certain points of the galaxy, the Milky Way, to attract the hydrogen lines.”

There then followed an extraordinarily in-depth description of the experiment that formed the basis of her undergraduate dissertation, ending with: “We were essentially weighing the galaxy, which was really cool. And implying the existence of dark matter, which is pretty cool for an undergraduate to be able to do something like that.”

Recently the Institute of Physics contacted Boeree through her website and asked for her help in promoting science to potential new recruits. (View the full video.) They were especially interested in boosting the popularity of physics among women, who are under-represented in the world’s laboratories much as they are at the international poker tables.

“At my university, it was probably about 75-25, or maybe 80-20, men to women, so it wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great,” Boeree said. “It’s still a big inequality, and I think it’s still something they’re struggling with.

“It makes no sense because girls are generally more studious than boys at school and therefore should excel more at the more studious subjects, such as maths and physics. But for whatever reason, society encourages them to care more about their looks than their minds.”

Boeree, of course, has featured on her fair share of magazine covers, and remains one of the most sought after poker players to promote the game on camera. But she is also an incorrigible poker analyst, debating and discussing innovations and strategies with fellow players, keeping the modern game permanently in flux. It is an approach to discovery best described as scientific.

“If you’re a research fellow, some of the best ideas come about from people just discussing strategies, bouncing ideas off each other, and suddenly it’s, ‘Hold on, we haven’t tried this technique. Let’s try this experimental route instead’,” Boeree said. “And that’s how great discoveries are made, through people collaborating. It’s very rare for people to make huge discoveries completely on their own…There are all these little teams, and you could make the analogy that it’s like the little cliques in poker.”


Dan Smith drops in on Boeree during Day 1A

Boeree still points to her physics training as a key factor in many of her continued successes. Before the big win at EPT Sanremo in 2009, which catapulted Boeree into the stratosphere, she had previously worked at an advertising agency, which had specifically sought maths and physics graduates to analyse market trends and calculate optimal times and strategies for placing ads.

Boeree aced the interview after breaking down some deliberately tricky questions into their constituent parts and demonstrating that a rational, logical approach does not only need to be reserved for lofty astrophysical conundrums.

“If someone poses a hypothetical situation to you, or an actual one, you’ve got to be able to identify first of all what they want out of it, and then how to actually break it down,” Boeree said. “That’s the training you get from doing any sort of exam based, logical subject. It’s astonishing how many people have never been taught those skills, or have never grasped those skills.

“Just try to understand what the person you’re trying to impress wants. That extends to anything in life, whether it’s dating or trying to get a promotion or playing poker. What does my opponent want me to do? This is the impression I’m getting that they want me to do, therefore am I going to please them and do that, or am I going to do the opposite? So those are the kind of skills I learnt from physics.”

Boeree’s EPT Prague was a fairly miserable one. She busted early on Day 1A after a succession of inescapable coups went against her. But if an analytical mind tells us one thing about poker, it’s that there is no use crying over spilt milk.

Boeree will be back at the PCA – provided she doesn’t get lost to a laboratory before then.

Follow hand-by-hand coverage, plus latest chip counts, in the panel at the top of the main EPT Prague page.


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