As you know, I went to the PokerStars Championship presented by Monte-Carlo Casino® a couple of weeks ago in Monaco. When I arrived, I knew absolutely nothing about the game of poker. Now, I know the basics of how to play, have a new hobby and enjoy practising every day. That might have something to do with the fact that I was taught by one of the world’s best female players and a Team PokerStars Pro.

Fatima Moreira de Melo is one incredible woman. She is a former Olympic Gold Medal-winning Dutch hockey player who then turned her hand to the world of professional poker. She’s fabulously loud, incredibly funny and a real girl’s girl. I spent time with her, learning the rules of poker and getting her tips. She then helped me out the next day in the PokerStars Championship Monte Carlo Charity Tournament for Right To Play. I also asked her some questions so that you could get to know her and the game of poker a bit better.

You have a solid background in sport through your hockey. Most people wouldn’t consider poker a sport – are they wrong?

Obviously field hockey is a very physical sport, whereas poker is more of a mental sport. In the end I don’t really care whether it’s a sport or a game – it’s an activity that needs a lot of brain activity. And if you want to stay focused for 10 or 12 hours in a row, per day, I think you have to have some sort of fitness and endurance, because if you don’t, you’ll either fall asleep or not be as focused at least. Poker players generally are more into fitness and that sort of stuff these days to keep themselves more alert.


Which of the same skills are used when you play a sport professionally and when you play poker?

The most important thing is focus I think, but I think that comes through in any job. If you want to do something well you need to focus. In sports, with field hockey, that was 70 minutes and here, with poker, it’s like 10 hours a day. It’s more of a long stretch where you have to focus – you get a hand and then all of a sudden your adrenaline pumps through your veins and you have to make decisions on the spot. Then it goes back down a little bit and then you’re focusing more on reading people.

For example, I’m going to try to see how you act, how you behave when you play a hand. Once I had a guy sitting to my right and every time he would get nervous he would get this big red mark on his neck and it would develop into looking like a world map. I’d be like ‘oh my God’ you know, that’s such a tell. He should have worn a scarf or have long hair. That’s an advantage for women – grow your hair long and you can’t see the neck vein when your heart pumps harder through it. So I always have my hair down when I play poker.

In poker there’s several different skills you need – a lot of it is psychology because you want to know what kind of person you are. For example, if this would be your first tournament, you’d be a little nervous and be thinking ‘I don’t know exactly how long I’m going to be in but I want to stay in as long as possible’. So that means you’re probably going to bluff less than the person who’s been there 10 times and has a lot of money, doesn’t really care and has a big ego. So it’s all about that kind of psychology, and logics obviously, because you want to think logically e.g what would you do that if you had that hand, or should you do something else, that sort of stuff. There’s also a bit of math involved – there are simple tricks to know what your percentage of winning chances are in a game.

Do you get the same enjoyment from playing poker as you did from playing hockey?

Actually, with being on a team, it’s such a different feeling from being an individual sports person, because when I was in a team I always had the girls to back me up if I lost the ball or if I wasn’t playing that well that day. Now when I’m at the poker table, no one has my back, and I only have myself to blame. I can’t hide behind anyone else. But then, when you do it well, you get all the credit. It feels like the highs are higher and the lows are lower, let’s just say that. You also don’t have anyone to share with – with the team I was always sharing the loss and you pick each other up. Here, you have to find friends that know the game. But, I really know that I’m a better loser now that I’m into the poker world than I used to be when I was a field hockey player.

How do you deal with failure and losses? Have you got better at it over time?

Obviously, from field hockey I had already learned how to cope with loss or winning. I mean we lost the Olympic finals once, and we won them too. You have to deal with it. In the end, all that matters, in life in general I think, is if you have a goal and you know you’ve worked hard and you’ve done everything you could, but then you didn’t make it, you know that you’ve done everything that you possibly could – you never have to blame yourself or have any regrets. Also, I never compare myself to other people.

I think a big issue in our world is that a lot of people compare themselves to other people – like ‘oh but she has a really nice house or a really nice bag, or a cool boyfriend, or she’s very pretty, or I’m not as pretty’, that sort of stuff. No! It should be about self-acceptance and doing everything you can to make your life as nice as possible. That’s what I really believe in and that’s the main focus in poker as well – if I lose and I know I’ve done the right thing, I don’t blame myself; but if I lose and I know I didn’t sleep the night before or I didn’t train as much, then yes, you know you have to do those things better next time.

How do you prepare for a poker game?

I make sure I sleep well. It’s very important because we start at noon usually every day and then we play till like 1:00 in the morning in the bigger tournaments. So I want to be well rested. It’s also just about playing a lot of hands and getting used to all different kinds of situations so you’re prepared better so you don’t get taken aback etc.

I wake up and then I try to do a little bit of fitness. I love tennis, so every time I’m at a poker tournament, I try to find out where the tennis courts are – here in Monte Carlo it’s at the Country Club and it’s beautiful. Me and my friend Vanessa Selbst play – she’s my good friend, she’s from the States and we both love tennis. So that’s what we do to get our fitness up a bit and get some fresh air.

Then I shower, blow my hair or curl it and then put my makeup on – just an easy routine. I don’t need a big mask of foundation in order to feel good. I try to keep it as simple as possible. Just a bit of mascara and I pluck my eyebrows a bit – just very natural the hair something on everything. I’ve something on everything. I never wear really tight clothes for poker because if you wear tight clothes it’s very easy to see what my heart is doing and to see my breathing. So, I usually wear a t-shirt and sometimes a scarf or I bring a sweater.

I always have some food too, then I bring some food with me also. You can usually order food at the table, but if it’s not good, I always have some protein bars, or a banana, or an apple, or some nuts.

What makeup do you use at the moment?

I mean what I love is Estee Lauder Multi-Protection Anti-Oxidant Sheer Tint Release Moisturizer SPF 15 – the little green tube. I mix it with my MAC Foundation – it’s really natural but it still takes out the redness a little bit. I also love the Anastasia Glow Palette. I never like colored blush because I get pretty red quickly, so I just use bronzer and highlighter to shape my face a little bit.

I also use a black kohl eyeliner pencil and I have the Benefit eyebrow mascara and pencil. I also use the Benefit Roller Lash mascara – it works well for me. I don’t use eyeshadow though, just the eyeliner, as I thought I was allergic for a while. And, if I put something on my lips, it’s Pupa shade 110 – a nude, as I like nude lips. I don’t like too much colour as my lips aren’t that full; although, the other day I had on a bright pink one and I kind of thought it was cool. I just put foundation on with it, did my eyebrows and that’s it.

I have always been into makeup, even though I’m a bit of a tomboy. There’s really two sides of me – this [poker] is a man’s world, it’s mostly men. One day I can feel like just wearing baggy jeans, a t-shirt not doing anything about my hair – just leaving it looking beachy. Then sometimes I feel like like wearing a really long dress and doing my makeup and doing my nails. I think it’s hormonal.

I’m also the face of the jewellery brand Zinzi in Holland. So twice a year we have a photo shoot and, because I have really tiny hands, I get fake nails put on. Otherwise I can’t put three rings on my finger without it looking stupid. So, twice a year I really look extremely feminine – my friends don’t even recognise me with all the hair extensions. It’s nice to feel really feminine sometimes, but I wouldn’t wear that at the poker table.

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