One and a half years of poker

She is a very good poker player, even though she has been in business for a short time. Even though she already holds some important awards, she admits that she is not a cards professional player. Carmen Zainescu has given an exclusive interview to our publication, ‘Casino Life & Business Magazine’, which you can read in the following lines.

– Hello, Carmen Zăinescu, and let’s start from the beginning. When did you take up on poker?
– One and a half years ago.

– Your name was on everyone’s lips at the beginning of the year, when you made $6,700 in one week: 3,000 for an online tournament on Christmas afternoon and the rest for placing the 12th at PokerFest Braşov. Can you tell us a few things about this performance?
– Yes, sure, even though I would not call it a performance. I played two tournaments where I entered into the cash online; I received 2,800 at one tournament and 3,000 at another one – for a live game at PokerFest, I made 2,400. All this money in one week would qualify for performance, but not a big one in my opinion.

– Where there any tournaments more difficult, with more participants, how did it go?
– The online tournaments usually have more participants, somewhere between 800-1,000 up to 2,000-3,000 players. The live tournament in Brasov had around 280 players registered.

– The PokerFest Braşov counted circa 300 participants, out of which 99.9 % men. How did a woman fit in this situation?
– The fact that I am playing with men does not impress me. I see poker as a sport – it is true that 90% are men, but it does not bother me. I am a strong woman, this is how I see myself. Otherwise, it would be impossible to play poker in Romania. Most of the men here are…. misogynist, to put it blunt. Better to say, all men are envious, mean when a woman is competitive.

– Would an all-women tournament be easier?
– In February, at PokerFest Bucharest, we tried to organize such tournament, exclusively meant for women. But we had the unpleasant surprise to only have 14 ladies.

– How do you see a tournament for women only: easier, average or more difficult compared to the men’s?
– I am more experienced at playing with men than women. To call tournament the February event, PokerFest Bucharest, is an overstatement. There were only two tables, which cannot be similar to a men’s tournament, where the number is 50. They are different, due to the number of participants. Yes, it was easier with the women, as there were only 14 of them…versus the male tournaments.

– At PokerFest Bucharest, you eliminated some big names, how did they react?
– I did not see any reactions, unfortunately, I guess they had some… No sight of them, they were not visible or, at least, not in front of me; on the contrary, they gave me thumbs up and I am talking about Ionel Anton, Robert Cezărescu and others.

– People say that you made $30,000 from poker in the last year. Is it true? And if yes, how much is it from the live and from the online games?
– Statistically speaking, I cannot give you an exact number of how many live or online. The only thing I am sure is that their number goes up to over 200 of played tournaments. To be true, I have never kept a straight evidence of how many I played.

– What about the money?
– It is approximate or maybe it went up in the meantime…

– But how much did you spend?
– Basically, a poker player wishes to save this money as a bankroll. And this is because he should have money to invest in the future tournaments. Hence, he will spend very little from this money.

– So, this is what you did with those 30,000 dollars; as a curiosity, are you ‘in the black’?
– Honestly, for the last one and a half years since I started playing poker, I have not done any accounting, to give you a straight answer… for me, this is more like a hobby and this money came from here. But, beginning with this year, I promised myself to keep a balance of profit and loss, because I would like to walk the path to be a professional poker player.

– If you were to choose, what is your favorite – live or online – and why?
– I am a sport person, I like the live tournaments more. This is where I love being; atmosphere is different, competition is in the air, adrenalin is at maximum. There are a lot of concurrent things that give me this feeling – I prefer live. I used to play professional handball, so competition is right up my alley. I do have the ambition to go farther, so it is LIVE.
– Do you play at the casinos? If yes, what do you like and don’t like there?
– Sadly, the only valuable tournament in Romania is PokerFest, which is not hosted by a casino. The other ones, of a lesser value, a re-buy of RON 200, where there is a 200,000-guarantee, happen in the casinos. In fact, it is not the location that bothers me. We, the poker players have our area fitted with the tables, so as not to disturb anything in the casino. As for the roulette, slots, i.e. gambling, I am not a fan but I am ok with them.
– You did not even try, just for the sake of it, to play roulette, blackjack?
– No, I don’t know how to play, have no clue about rules and, besides, I am attracted to competition. And gambling does not fit the description.

– How is it for a woman to make money and set herself apart in a world that belongs to men? How hard is it?
– It is extremely hard. It used to be easier, but the moment I started having better results, everything became more difficult, because of the mean things – I don’t want to go into details… there is a lot a meanness, pride, jealousy…I ran into them when I got better, not before…but I don’t care about them. Why? Because they make me stronger, more competitive, give me strength to move forward, to prove myself that I can do more. I am not doing anything to prove something to somebody. It is out of question. I go ahead to prove myself I am better than that. There is a Romanian saying, which I have to remember that tragically applies: ‘A kick in your butt is makes you take a step forward.’ So, I am not at all concerned about what is going on around me, I will go farther no matter what!
– You are married, with three children. How do you balance your poker activity with the family life?
– My husband is a businessman, he has nothing to do with my competitions and poker tournaments; I have two children in college, they do not care whatsoever and with my 10-year old daughter I spend a lot of time. If I do not get any sleep at night, I wake up when she is back from school at noon, we eat together, do homework. I am usually busy at night, late afternoon or evenings. It happens to have a tournament at 5. This is the time when my daughter plays with toys or on the computer, tablet. She spends time on the internet, does not have time for her parents. As for the weekends, we are together again.

– You gave up on your daily job – interior design – to play poker. Why?
– I did not leave my job for poker. I was not even playing poker when I quit it. The financial crisis in Romanian made me close my company. I say it again, I did not give up my job for poker. The poker I found when I was already a home-stay mother. I started playing it online… good results followed….Then, I wanted to go to the live tournaments, so I got a taste for this game.

– You were saying earlier that poker is a hobby. What does everyone say, how do they take your passion – husband, family, friends?
– My family totally understands me. This is my message for the other female poker players – with no support from your family, you simply cannot play poker. To be at live tournaments, you need their understanding. It is not necessarily about encouragement, just to understand you and this hobby. In general, there is a lot of misunderstanding in Romania about this ‘poker game’ – it is a sport, after all. We are not educated to see it this way. Communism is still lingering behind, so you will have circa 80% of the people who do not have any understanding. But, as I said, I am not the kind of person to care about opinions. This is the reason I can keep going.

– How much online poker do you play in one day?
– I do not play every day. But when I do, I play 2-3 tournaments at maximum. These live tournaments – if you have the chance to reach the final table – can take around 7 or 8 hours. During this time, I open two more tables, the tournament, then two more tables. I am not playing more. Some professionals play 10-15-20 tables at the same time. I am not there yet, I admit.

– A day in Carmen Zăinescu’s life.
– I wake up, drink my coffee, the little one comes from school, take lunch together, do homework, talk and talk more. If I have a live tournament, I will travel to Bucharest where most of the tournaments take place – I live in Ploiesti. For the other tournaments, I stay at home, play online and I am with my family – a matter of saying. I do miss too much family time. They say that you are away from them a lot of time. On the contrary, you are in the family. One live tournament a week does not mean you are not with your family. You are there, with them, do not miss all days or nights.

– How would you define the life of a professional poker player in Romania? Is it a sweet, hard, bitter life?
– We have professional players in Romania, but I cannot give a definition for their life. I have no idea about that. For this year, I want to become a professional player, to reach this performance – professional player – but for now I am not able to say how my life would be. In a year or two I might give you an answer to this question. But for the time being, the truth is that I am not at that level – and I am not saying that from modesty. This is my new year’s resolution, to become a professional player.

We need to see each other, then….
For me, performance is when a poker player comes from a great tournament. Romania will not get to that level any time soon, even though we place on the first and second places at PokerFest. The tournaments are big, valuable, they have many participants. This does not make PokerFest less valuable. For Romania, this is the only serious event.
Even if you win one leg at this event, you still cannot say that this is a great performance…Let’s say that a Romanian player comes from abroad playing, who was at the final table and won €500,000 or 200,000. Here, at PokerFest, you win and take home not more than $50 – 60,000. I cannot say that this is easy or difficult; as we speak, honestly, I think I can go close to the final table. I had four entries in cash, so my tournament would finish on the 12-13-14. This is my incentive to go the final table at PokerFest. I am an ambitious and this is my project this year.

– What piece of advice would you give to the starters?
– I am not very good at giving advice. I started by myself, I had no one to say anything to me, no advice. I cannot give any advice. But if a woman wants to play poker, she must be a strong cookie, to be able to face all the meanness and jealousy from men. If you lack a strong character, you will not be able to confront them, to sit at the table for a long time. When a tournament lasts for 3-4 days, and you go from one table to another, you will meet different individuals, some mean, some jealous, trying to undermine your mind with words. You must be strong, not at all soft. Should a man offends a woman, she will go home crying. In short, be strong to join this sport.
– Could you have a decent life from poker?
– My decent life does not come from poker. We are a well-off family, do not live off poker. The poker is a hobby of mine and I started to have good results. But we do not live off poker, exclusively.

– What other hobbies do you have? You used to play handball…
– The poker is like a magnet now, and this is my only hobby. But as a woman I am attracted to many things…if I start counting them…

– Which is the playing tactics that fits you the best and what are the qualities that would recommend you for a future professional poker player position?
– The playing tactics, I will not disclose it to you, as it would be good for me. But I can tell you that, during the 3-4-day tournament, I change it, depending on the table, players, there are a lot of variables. This is why you cannot stick to only one strategy. You go along with it and adopt one or the other when you see the players, the stacks you have. And, again, cannot tell you my tricks. My main quality would be my strong will. As simple as that.

– What should change in the world of the professional poker and in gambling, mainly in Romania?
– Mentality first, we still have traces of communist thinking. A change in our mentality…

– Your wish for this year? A final table at PokerFest, a tournament abroad?
– I would love to play this final table at PokerFest. All the bad words behind my back have pushed me forward. And I want to prove myself, not to those people, that I can do it. I really think it is going to happen, I will reach the final table at PokerFest – since this is the best. Honestly, if I want to be competitive in poker, I have to play outside the country at good tournaments, and then I can say that I am a better player. I know how I see the ones who won final tables abroad – as a beginner, these poker masters like Vanessa Selbst and Liv Boeree. They played there, reached the level of the foreign players. As long as a Vanessa Selbst and Liv Boeree enter an EPT tournament, and you have Ionel Anton or Sinel Anton or others, you can easily call them great players. Why wouldn’t we? Because they really are big. I see them like this.

– We wish you get better than them…
– Anyone would love that…

– Our publication, ‘Casino Life & Business Magazine’, will have the March issue dedicated to women, exclusively. What do you think about it?
– As for me, I do support this. I myself feel solitary among men and I would really love to have more women join the game. There are some other ladies playing poker. Unfortunately, their families do not give them the support they need. Not a helping hand and understanding from husbands, friends, mother, father. To be honest, I would love to see more women here, but it does not happen.

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