Yaxi Zhu on Poker in China, Being a Perfectionist and Her Love for the Game

Yaxi Zhu2Just a year ago, in November 2013, Yaxi Zhu played her first live tournament. It was the WPT National China. The final table of six played out in South Korea in December after a break and Yaxi Zhu finished in 4th place for $80,650.

Since then the young Chinese has won a NL Hold’em Bounty event at Asia Championship of Poker in February. She finished runner-up in the Women’s Event at EPT Grand Final in Monaco, and in the beginning of this month she was runner-up in the Ladies Championship at ACOP, Macau, and finished in 12th place in the ACOP Main Event for $52,352.

All in all Yaxi Zhu has cashed for $160,841 since she played her first tournament a year ago. Besides playing herself Zhu has done live commentating for the Chinese live stream of the EPT, and she is currently involved in a new Chinese poker show. We caught up with Yaxi Zhu to hear more about her start in poker, her incredible year and the poker scene in China.

When did you start to play poker?
“When I graduated from university, I started to work in a consulting firm in Shanghai. My colleagues and some clients and friends invited my to join their home game, and that’s how I got introduced to poker. It’s around one and a half years ago. Poker is kind of popular among employees in financial institutions and consulting firms in Shanghai. I didn’t play that much and it was just for fun. My first tournament was the WPT China last November.”

It seems pretty crazy, that you first live tournament was only a year ago, considering the success you’ve had in the year that’s passed
“Yes, it was an amazing start, when I think about it now. This whole year I have experienced a lot. When I went back to Sanya to play in this year’s WPT China, I really felt that my mindset had changed a lot. Last year, when I joined the WPT, I was like at a baby stage in poker. I saw all the popular international and Chinese poker players during the tournament, I heard people talk about them, and they seemed very far away from my own life.

I certainly had no clear idea about the different stages of tournament play, the different stack sizes and tournament strategy, ‘cause when I play in home games, it’s always around 100-200 big blinds. But I was very focused at the table. I watched closely how people played, and I tried to learn from them, do my best and make as few mistakes as possible. It was like “learn-and-use-right-away”. It’s pretty funny to think about it now, but when the antes came in to play, I asked people at my table: “what is anti?”, Zhu says with a smile.

“Even though I didn’t have enough tournament knowledge and knew nothing about poker theory, I had my own feeling, and I made different strategies for myself for different stages. That was just based on vague feelings, but when I started to read poker book later, I found that some of the stuff I did was right. I think I did a good job last year.”

How did it feel to go so deep in WPT China? And to play for this large sums of money right away?
“I didn’t actually think too much about it during the tournament. I was very focused and just wanted to make the right decisions and survive. It was very stressful though, because I hadn’t had this kind of experience before, but I was able to enjoy it at the same time. I felt really excited. Not about results or the prize pool, just about the game. That’s why I started to play more poker. I love the feeling at the table, and I enjoy improving, maybe even the pain when I make mistakes, because my mistakes motivates me to get better. Maybe it’s a kind of perfectionism”, Zhu says with a smile.

Your boyfriend Aaron Lim said, that you have played a lot of tournaments online
“I started to play online half a year ago, because online is a faster way of learning. It was an important period as I started to take poker more seriously.”

What’s the difference between online and live? And what do you prefer?
“There’s a lot of differences, but there’s similarities too. Both can be very painful. Online even more so, because you can bust 20 tournaments in one day. I can’t tell, which I prefer. Online is fast and exciting, but also stressful. Live is much slower, but you can get more info and meet more people. It’s nice to change between the two.”

How come you seem so confident and calm at the poker tables? Most new players would be nervous sitting at a table with for instance Mike McDonald or Sorel Mizzi.
“Maybe a little bit nervous, but not that much I guess. They are very good players, but that doesn’t mean I should be afraid of them. Good players still make mistakes sometimes. I’m happy to play against good players, because that’s how you improve. It’s also important not to look down on so-called fish, fish can be tricky and play good sometimes. Just play your best.”

You entered Day 4 of the ACOP Main Event as chip leader. But obviously things didn’t go your way? What happened?
“I can understand that people might be curious about this, because I had such a big stack. When we were down to two tables, I got a bad table draw with a lot of big stack at my table. I didn’t actually lose big pots, but I lost a lot of small pots, like a slow death. I was pretty card dead as well and all things went wrong. I think, I’m not experienced enough to handle a situation like this very deep in a tough tournament. I ran bad and didn’t adjust my game quickly enough. But it’s ok, I learned a lot from this experience and will get better in the future.”

How is the poker scene in China?
“The poker industry is blooming in China – both online and live – and especially in the larger cities. But Chinese players still need time to learn and get better. There’s less training resources here.”

Do you have any specific goals playing poker?
“Not really, I enjoy improving and it’s still an important learning period for me. My goal is just to keep getting better.”

Do you play poker full time now?
“I still have my job. Until now poker has only been part time, even though I spent a lot of time on poker this year.”

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