It’s been a good while since our last installment of this ongoing Get to Know the Poker Media series, and this is one I had had in mind since November, when I made Shirley Ang a promise at the Malta Poker Festival. Many months later, I finally followed through on that promise, to interview her.

As with all the subjects of this series, I believe the poker media folks on the whole are hardworking and have a genuine passion for the game, which is why we’ve all gotten into this industry to begin with. Shirley traverses the globe and wears multiple hats within the poker media corps, including live reporter and media liaison, among others, plus she has another entirely separate career in the pool (billiards) world. Each time I’ve seen her working at a live event, as well as from her social media profiles, she’s struck me as someone who just doesn’t take her foot off the gas pedal – in a good way!

Please join me in taking a few moments to learn more about Shirley and appreciate the life and career she leads.

Shirley Ang
Shirley Ang | Image credit: Jules Pochy

How did you first get into the poker industry and for how long have you been doing media work?

I was actually contacted by a recruitment agency in 2009, the woman there had read my blog that I had at the time and noticed that I could speak and write Dutch. She asked me if I was interested in applying for a customer service agent role with PokerStars. My reply: “Who?” I had heard of other sites thanks to projects I’ve done in the pool world but yeah, I was ready for a change and applied.

I lived in the north of England at the time but moved to London for PokerStars a few months later when I got the job. I moved on from customer support to the Benelux CRM Manager role and then became the Dutch Marketing Manager. After almost five years, I moved on to the more general part of the iGaming industry.

I don’t feel like I truly did real media work before. I blogged and did some live streaming projects in pool with bwin. I was working for an online casino and wasn’t satisfied with the challenges so when Frank Op de Woerd asked me to come to Vegas to do live reporting for PokerNews in 2017, I saw it as a new thing I wanted to try. I expected to just do it for the summer and go back to a “normal” job after but ended up doing it for a bit longer.

Indeed, I first met you during that 2017 WSOP, and the following time I saw you was a year later, once again live reporting at the WSOP. The next time I saw you was at the 2018 Unibet Poker Open in Bucharest, where you were working as media liaison. What are some of the different professional challenges each of these roles present?

My official job title we decided on is Media Event Producer but I guess it’s more of a Media Coordinator plus some extra tasks.

The two job roles are totally different. With live reporting, I guess there isn’t that much preparation to do until you get to the event. Okay sure, you can read about the history of the event, just so you know who the previous winners are, etc., but for most events, you can do that the day before or even the morning of the first day. Live reporting can be challenging in different areas; trying to be objective, a fly on the wall, all the time. You have to pay attention as you might miss something crucial during a hand which, if you write it up wrong, could get the poker world riled up. The thing is, we work long days, we are human too, we can make mistakes. We often start at least an hour or two before the tournament kicks off and finish way after the day’s play is over.

I personally am not someone who adds a lot of color to my posts or articles as I feel when you’re live reporting, you have to make sure the action is right and don’t add too much unnecessary information or even an opinion to it. Whatever we write, say, or do shouldn’t affect the tournament or player in any way.

The job with the Unibet Open is totally different. The challenges there are bigger. I am responsible for the live stream, the ambassadors, the influencers, the TV/filming crew, commentators, and in general I keep an eye on the media that is going out into the public.

During the events, I am running around all the time, from making sure the live stream starts on time, choosing TV tables, ensuring the freerolls around the stream are set up and going off, shooting content somewhere to be used for during the breaks, providing useful info for the commentators, creating daily schedules for everyone, and handing out drink vouchers to everyone that I’m sort of responsible for. I think that at one of the busiest events, I had 45 wristbands to hand out to specific individuals for the players party, so yeah, that’s the amount of people I was trying to take care of and working with.

The biggest challenge is coordinating all the different parts of the event, communicating with so many people at the same time, trying to ensure it all goes right, while also hitting the targets set by Unibet and myself (and staying semi-sane in the process).

What has been your favorite (one-time or ongoing) gig over the years, and why?

The Unibet Opens have a special place in my heart. I’ve known Nataly Sopacuaperu for almost 10 years but only went to my first ever Unibet Open in February 2017 (that’s also when Frank asked me to work the WSOP) for a little holiday. The whole UO team was so welcoming, it was so apparent that they are like a little family, there for each other whenever they needed to be.

 

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London life #Friends #LondonHoliday #PokerBlaBla

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So, when Nataly asked me to join the team and help out with the live stream in Bucharest 2017 in December, I only hesitated for a few seconds because it clashed a bit with another event, but I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. At the time, I didn’t know much about Twitch at all, but the influencers I met there were great and patient when I bombarded them with a million questions about esports and live streaming.

Fast forward to more than a year later, I know more about it than I probably should at my age haha! I have spent so many hours educating myself on Twitch and the esports and influencers world, I think I sometimes drive Unibet crazy with ideas lol. For a small brand in the poker world, it’s amazing how willing they are to take risks without losing much of the family feel they are known for. Also, the main team running the show are all strong women and I am thankful for them taking me with them in their journey.

Unibet Opens aren’t just about poker, it’s all about the experience. Hiphop Blingo is probably one of the most fun things I have ever experienced during any party during a poker tournament. The ski trip to Sinaia was another thing the UO gambled on. They decided to run a tournament in a place which had never hosted a poker tournament before. Unibet arranged the shuttles for all the players from the airport and back, hosted a welcome drinks party in the Fun Factory which had pool tables (which I loved), bowling lanes, darts, basketball and shooting games, air hockey, and so on. And the famous player party was in the basement of the hotel that was a club.

Their motto: “By players, for players” is so true for their brand and their tournaments.

What is it that you love about poker that keeps you so interested in the game?

It’s not really the game itself, it’s the people. I love the connections you can build up in this sometimes-crazy world and supporting the friends I’ve managed to find on their roads to victories.

You’re not only actively working in poker media, but have also been active in the pool/billiards world for over a decade-and-a-half. What sort of role/job do you have in that regard and how did that — and your general affinity for the sport — come about in the first place?

The first time I held a pool cue was in 2002 or 2003. A group of friends and I were planning to go to the movies but it was sold out. So instead, we went to a pool club in Rotterdam. I had no clue what I was doing but some of friends had more experience. We started going more often and, somehow, I got noticed by a pool team from that club and they asked me to join their team. I laughed it off and said they were too professional with their own cues and stuff. I ended up getting a pool cue for Christmas (I can’t even remember who gave it to me, to be honest) and then started playing more often and a bit more seriously. And that’s when I was gone; the game just took over my life. I started playing almost daily, played the team competitions, some of the weekly house tournaments, and then started running one of them.

I am currently the General Manager of the World Pool Series, a tour that features the top players in the world. I’ve known one of the owners of the series, Darren Appleton, for almost 14 years or so and he discussed the tour with me during the summer of 2017. We joked around about me coming back to the pool world and running things but we didn’t really take it any further. A few months later, during the Mosconi Cup in Las Vegas and his Hall of Fame induction, we talked about things again. This time it was a bit more serious and we kept on talking for a few weeks until I finally agreed to come on board.

I am now basically in charge of everything around the whole tour, from general admin, to business development, to social media and marketing, and all management. We’ve just had our season finale in New York in January and are looking to see what we’re going to do for 2019. My work in poker makes it hard to combine the two worlds due to scheduling conflicts all the time but I love the sport too much to not stay involved in it in some way.

I have almost always run tournaments as the tournament director or founder of a tour. I’ve worked for the national federation in the Netherlands, the European federation, and the British federation, too. Then, I set up the national tour (the GB9 Ball Tour) in the UK, which is actually still running. I think I naturally like to boss people around, haha.

How often do you play poker? Home games mostly or in poker rooms? Cash or tourneys? What game variants?

I don’t, really. I used to play online a bit, 6-max hyper-turbo SNGs, but could never really find the motivation to play it for longer than a few hours a week. Nowadays I only play live when I get asked to play, such as staff or media tournaments or for charity.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about working in the poker industry?

That we all have this amazing life, traveling, seeing places, having fun, no stress, living the good life. We are lucky that we do get to see a lot of the world, but it’s not that easy; we also have to give up things sometimes.

What other hobbies do you have? Tell us about them.

This is going to sound so typical but I love to cook, read, and read about cooking or food. Oh, and I love playing and watching pool of course!

I am trying to do this Popsugar Reading Challenge, which doesn’t give you set books to read, but rather prompts for books. I like it because it broadens the range of genres and books to read. I used to tend to read a lot of fiction or “chick-lit” as it’s easy to get stuck in a certain genre. I found this quote: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss. I truly do believe in it, so I challenged myself to read 40 books this year.

I love cooking and especially for occasions and for friends. Unfortunately, I have been traveling so much lately, that I haven’t been able to do it much. I’m always looking for new recipes to try out on my friends and traditionally cook too much for them for Christmas Dinners or my New Years Eve parties. And I have a little addiction for all the food magazines and cook books.

From your social media profiles, one can quickly discover that you currently live in Malta and speak (at least?) four languages: Dutch, English, French, and German. What advantages does being multilingual and multicultural/a “citizen of the world” have in your lines of work?

I grew up in the Netherlands, but was born in Malaysia and am originally Chinese. I graduated in all those four languages you mention but only speak Dutch and English fluently. I actually only spoke Chinese (Mandarin, Cantonese, and Hokkien) and Malay (Bahasar) until I started going to school and discovered nobody understood me and I didn’t understand them.

Have you ever heard of the term: third-culture kid? That term was brought to my attention about 10 years ago and when I started reading about it, it gave me such a sense of belonging. Finally, there were people who also understood how I felt.

The advantages are that it’s easier to understand other cultures in my opinion. It’s easier to make your way in the world because I think I have more inherent respect for other ways of living. Being multilingual is useful because sometimes you hear people saying things, not realizing that you understand them. It’s also sometimes easier to build up a rapport with players when speaking to them in their own language, although I try to only speak in English around the poker tables.

What do you enjoy most about your work in the poker world, and why?

The travel, the keeping myself busy, the connections with the players and staff, the action. I don’t do well when I have nothing to do for too long of a period.

You travel extensively, boarding dozens upon dozens of flights each year, as you hop from stop to step to provide coverage of so many live events. What are some of the things you enjoy most about the “jet set life”?

Not being in the same place for too long. I have a pretty restless mind so enjoy the distractions of the traveling life. I like discovering new places, meeting new people, even though I’m actually quite shy. I especially enjoy getting to eat new foods if there is time!

On the flip side, because of the nature of your work, you don’t get to be home much. What are some of the drawbacks and challenges of always being on the move for work?

I personally find it hard to stay in touch with friends. Luckily, people understand that I’m not always available due to the traveling or time zones. Fortunately, when I am around, it’s like not much has changed. No awkward situations or anything. I miss a lot of birthdays or other special events. It’s a good thing that I’m currently single and think I will stay so for a while as I think it’s hard to build up any relationships when you’re never really home for longer than two weeks. Dating is too hard anyways!

What’s something you still haven’t yet done/accomplished in poker and in life that’s on your bucket list?

I feel like I have accomplished a lot already for the short time I have been doing this. It’s not even two years yet and I think I’ve grown a lot from the first day of live reporting up till the latest live stream at the Unibet Open. My first ever day of live reporting was actually the Day 2 of the COLOSSUS in 2017 and it was chaos. I learned a lot that summer and have kept on trying to learn every day since. I have never really been a writer but am trying to improve whenever I can.

But poker wise, I am hoping to be sent to the Aussie Millions one year. I did Macau last year and am going again soon but hoping to pick up more Asian stops in the future. I don’t really have poker things on my bucket list really.

Pool wise, that’s a different story. The dream is to set up a worldwide pool tour with a tournament on each continent and for it to be the tour that everyone wants to play and compete at against the best in the world. I’d also like to one day own a pool room somewhere in the world that doubles as a home for a bunch of teams/players where everyone can come to play, chat, or just have a place to be themselves.

Life-wise, I just want to be happy and healthy.

Recently, in an extremely revealing and personal blog post, you let the world know that you’ve very unfortunately been suffering from a variety of physical and mental ailments over the years. It takes a tremendous amount of fortitude to keep going and soldiering on in spite of these challenges. As a matter of fact, your work ethic is pretty damn incredible in absolute terms; that much more so given the aforementioned ailments you need to overcome. What made you decide to finally share all of that personal information with the world and from where do you draw your inner strength to keep going?

I have been contemplating for a long time whether or not to be more public about my health and mental issues. I still don’t think I have been as open as I should or could have been, but what I wrote is as much as I could cope with sharing for now. I have talked to several people about opening up, but it’s scary.

People will judge you for everything and letting it all out; it makes you a target for some. I’ve had mainly positive responses to the post but also some less positive ones. I’ve had so many messages showing support, but I’ve also had people saying it was stupid, that no one will hire me ever again and things like that. I know some people have called other people to complain about the things I have written, it is what it is.

I just thought it was time to finally show a bit more of myself to the world and give a bit more of a sort of backstage view of what I’m dealing with sometimes. To be honest, I don’t know how I am still here. The bad days are bad, the good days are okay. I just try to keep myself busy, give myself a purpose to get out of bed each day. I have managed to do it for this long, what is another day?

I have friends who would be really upset with me if I didn’t keep on trying. I now have a godson, Teddy; he gives me strength. His parents trusted me with their kid; who am I to just give up? I have survived so many shitty things, things that I still can’t easily talk about, but I am still here and I’m trying. That must mean something, right?

Alright, the stage is yours – go ahead and let loose about something you just HAVE to get off your chest.

Respect others! I think that if we all treated each other with a bit more respect, it could go a long way. We’re all human, we all makes mistakes, we all have on and off days, and we are all dealing with things. Just try to be a bit more understanding sometimes.

Oh, and please don’t just think it’s OK to plug your phone and cable into my laptop without asking first! And please stack your chips in 20s!

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