China's Queen of Poker tells us what its like to play professionally in Macau

Macau’s casinos may be down on their luck, but at least one part of the gambling industry is thriving.

According to “China’s Queen of Poker” Celina Lin, poker tournaments have continued to attract prominent players and visitors to the city, despite dismal casino gaming revenue.

PokerStars LIVE Macau had a record year in 2014, she said, and the most recent Macau Poker Cup in March saw a new record prize pool and close to record attendance.

“Poker attracts a different segment of people than those who have historically come to play baccarat or other table games,” Lin said.

Professionally, Lin has her own impressive track record in Macau. In 2009, Lin became the first female poker player to win the Macau Poker Cup Red Dragon main event. Three years later she won again, making her the first person ever to place first twice. The second time, she took home more than $US110,000 in winnings.

According to the Global Poker Index, Lin currently ranks 4th in China, and 1st among the country’s female players.

Originally from Shanghai, Lin got her accidental start in poker in Melbourne, Australia. In 2004, a friend flagged her down to try her luck in the Crown Casino Poker room.

“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,” Lin told Business Insider.

After that, Lin said she started reading everything she could on the topic, and within three weeks had built up a bankroll of $US10,000. Now Lin plays professionally in tournaments for PokerStars and is based in Macau.

Although Macau has far fewer poker rooms and tables than America or Australia, the stakes and buy-ins are much higher. While most poker rooms start at $US1-2, Macau’s start at $US3-6. The difficulty of the game remains the same, however, making Macau poker games a great value, she said.

For Lin, success in poker comes down to discipline.

“The worst part is probably playing through the unlucky times when the improbable maths goes against you,” Lin said. “When it happens several times in a row, it can really test your resolve. That’s when discipline really separates the amateur from the professional.”

Learning discipline also applies to making the right play, managing money, staying grounded, and trying to improve constantly, she said. Lin said it’s necessary even just for living in Macau.

“Being in Macau, you’re always surrounded by temptations that can make a winning poker player into a losing person,” she told BI. “It’s fine to have fun, and Macau has plenty of fun things to do, but you can’t just party every day and ruin your brain. It’s especially true when your business is a mind sport and requires you to have a fresh head for decision-making.”

Lin said professional players consider poker to be like operating their own businesses, with its own inherent risks. This type of thinking especially appealed to Lin, who said she ran her own side businesses in college. Back then she made money by fixing computers, and buying overseas items in bulk and reselling them on eBay.

Poker also aligns with Lin’s passion for games.

“I love games in general,” she said. “Poker just happens to pay the bills the best. But in my spare time I still play games. It can be board games, computer games, or other card games.”

As a female player in a male-dominated industry, Lin said she’s had advantages and disadvantages as a woman, but her goal is always to be the best regardless of gender.

“I’m not satisfied being the last female standing in a tournament,” she said. “I want to be the winner and the person getting the champion’s trophy. I think that’s the only way to properly represent women in a way that earns respect.”

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