There’s a heroic quality to women who succeed in poker’s heavily male-dominated industry. It behooves us to express our appreciation to them for their efforts, and to tell their stories, so that more women (and men!) can be inspired to achieve big things. One such inspirational woman is Nataly Sopacuaperu, Unibet Open’s Head of Live Events. I met her last week in Bucharest, where she was running the show, ensuring that thousands of poker players who had descended upon the Romanian capital were having a great time.

Fun-loving and deeply passionate about the game of poker, Nataly has a commanding presence about her, honed by almost a decade of experience working for Unibet’s parent company, Kindred Group. We spoke many times throughout the week, but it was over the course of this 20-minute interview where I felt I got to know her best. I hope you enjoy learning about her and her accomplished career.

Nataly Sopacuaperu

You’re the Head of Live Events and Sponsorship at Kindred Group, which is the parent company of Unibet. How long have you held that position, and how long have you been with Unibet overall?

I’ve been at Unibet for around nine years, going on 10. I started out as an account manager for Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. That was the first time that I got in touch with the Unibet Open at Unibet Open Algarve, in 2009. Straightaway I was blown away by all these players who were so passionate about poker. I wanted to understand the game a little bit better; I tried to understand the poker lingo and the dynamic of the game, how everything worked, the rules and everything.

So I studied it a bit, asked a lot of questions to the poker media, whoever was around me, to the poker team, and to the players as well. I liked it so much and I started falling in love with the game myself. Then, in 2013, the previous Head of Events left, and I thought OK, maybe I should give it a shot. I applied for the job, and that’s when I became Head of Events.

So, what does your typical day look like during a Unibet Open event, and how does that contrast to the day-to-day desk job, like in your office?

Well, before the event, it takes about 10 to 12 weeks to prepare. So, I try to get everything in place. We’re giving away full packages online, which means that we are taking care of all the hotel rooms, we are taking care of the parties, we’re taking care of all the merchandise, we’re making sure that we have the right partner to work with, casino partner to work with. We’re making sure that all the details are in place, basically. At the event itself, it’s like five days of madness, I would say.

You don’t sleep much.

No, we don’t sleep much. That’s why you try to make sure that everything that you’ve planned for, that it’s being executed well. I like both sides. I like the preparing, because you have to be very resourceful, you have to figure out, you have to push a fair plan, but I like as well to be at the end because finally everything comes together and you get to meet the players. It’s really nice.

So, the jobs that you had prior to joining Unibet really didn’t have anything to do with poker. What is it about poker specifically that got you curious about the game?

I think, it’s a psychological game, so when you start reading about it or when people start telling you about it, it’s not just two cards in your hand; in Texas Hold’em I mean. I thought, how difficult can it be? But then you start trying to understand the rules, and what you can do, and also you have to strategize, do budget management; you have to plan. You have to figure out how to read people. There’s so many aspects and elements that come together that you also have in daily life. That fascinates me so much.

You’re a pretty fascinating person. You’re Dutch, and you live in London now, but your last name – Sopacuaperu – it doesn’t sound Dutch or British. You speak five languages: Dutch, English, French, German, and Malay. So, can you give us a bit of background about your family and how you’re so worldly?

My grandparents are from the Maluku Islands, in Indonesia. That’s the southeast of Indonesia, it’s like an archipelago of islands. My grandparents went to Holland in the 50s, and I’m basically the third generation in Holland.

Very cool. And how do you speak all of those languages?

Well, Dutch is my mother tongue and basically everyone in Holland speaks English, so that’s two. I was born and raised with the Malay language, so I just speak it with my family. German and French is what you get in school. So that was basic stuff. I can help myself when I get into those countries and I can order some drinks or food.

That’s very cool, and obviously very helpful in a role like yours, dealing with so many people around Europe.

Yeah, when it comes down to cultures and so on, it’s very helpful.

When I and many other people think “Dutch” and “poker,” we think of some great media guys like Frank Op de Woerd at PokerNews and Remko Rinkema of Poker Central. They’ve been in the industry forever. When you were breaking into the business, did you develop any sort of relationship with them?

Yeah, they helped me a lot. In 2009, when I started at this event I met them, and my colleague, Greg told me “if you really, really want to learn about the game, you need to stick to those two guys.” I did. I called them on Skype sometimes in the evening when I was playing, asking “What does this mean? What does that mean?” At least with them I could ask them without being ridiculed. I could just ask them like, what is a straddle? And they were always happy to help me out.

This is a funny story because the first time when I met them and we were in Algarve and they were sitting at the poker table, and I literally didn’t know anything about it, and I didn’t want anyone to realize that. Then they put the button on the table and I asked them how much it was worth. They were laughing and then I laughed as well; I said that was a joke. It wasn’t a joke.

That’s an amazing story. So you obviously, part of your training to get into poker, you started reading some poker books and playing, of course. Do you still play? If so, how often? Online, live?

No, I stopped playing a bit when I started the job as Head of Events because then I have to talk about poker all the time—structures, starting stacks, and I have to put tournaments together and all those kind of things. So at some point it got to be a bit too much. I miss it. This year, I played in the the #QueenRules event for the first time after a very long time.

Nataly Sopacuaperu

On Twitter, you’re @MissBeep. What does that nickname stand for?

Well, when I started to create my social media accounts, you still had to use your email address. My surname is pretty long and I got tired of typing it all the time. So that’s how I moved to Miss Beep.

Your Twitter bio says that you ran in the New York City Marathon last year. That’s an amazing accomplishment. How long have you been into running, and what was it like training for the marathon?

A couple of years ago, I started to run like 5k or something. I did a few races, and then last year, in 2017 in the beginning of the year, I felt like I needed to do something out of my comfort zone. My friend wanted to run the New York Marathon and she asked if I wanted to do it with her? And I was like, “ah, no.” And then I thought about it, and, well, it was a great opportunity to do something out of my comfort zone, along with all the benefits that come with it, like being fit, you start to have a healthy lifestyle, and all those kinds of things. So, I decided to say yes. I smoked, and then I stopped smoking as well, I gave up and everything and yeah, I did it

Also, I got injured six weeks before, and that was hard. I took a physio, and she advised me that I could do it even though I’d be in a lot of pain.

I learned a lot of lessons from that, actually, in the marathon itself; that anything is possible.

Let’s talk a little bit about your role here at the Unibet Open. You run four events every year?

Yes. Four events every year within Europe. We’ve run a couple events outside of Europe; for our fifth anniversary in St. Maarten and tenth anniversary in Las Vegas.

How do you decide where you’re going to be holding each event?

There are loads of aspects, elements that make you take the decisions. First of all, if you, you look at what kind of destination it is, summer or winter – is it a city trip, like how can we market this? Also, we have to go to the markets where we have a license, of course. And then we try to gauge where we think players would like to go, as well as ensure the destination has easy access from places across Europe. So we even examine how many flights come in to potential destinations from various European countries.

That’s a proper statistical analysis, yup. I’ve read in other interviews you’ve done that after every event, you send surveys to the players who have participated. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that being done before. So, why did you feel the need to create that? What sort of questions do you ask, and what do you do with the feedback?

Most of the time you do something based on your gut. Our survey acts as a really nice way for the players to give their feedback and a way that they can give their opinions on everything. Also when you work with casinos, hotels, and all the other partners, you try to figure out what do they like or don’t they like, etc.

So, in the surveys we get a lot of valuable information. We get information, for example, on the quality of the dealers, if they like them, if they like the food at the hotel, if they like the hotel on its own, if they like the destinations, if they like the parties. There are also open boxes where they can fill give additional feedback.

I read all of their suggestions and comments. Every single one. In addition, we also look at the statistics to see where we can improve everything we do. So, for example, if you go to Bucharest for the third time, you can examine whether certain things worked or didn’t work; how we could get certain numbers up. If something doesn’t work, we can investigate why.

So yeah, for me, I mean, whatever we do, it’s all about the players. It’s not about us, it’s about the players’ lives, what they want, and this is I think a really good way to capture these data.

I was snooping around on your LinkedIn profile and I came across some of the recommendations that people have given you over the years. Here are some of the things that people have said about you:

  • “A creative and focused professional”
  • “A hurricane force with an iron will”
  • “Knows how to work in a team and make work enjoyable and fun for everyone involved”
  • “When given the choice between sending an email or picking up the phone, she will always choose the latter, ensuring the contact is always personal and direct.”

Those are very flattering words, and it speaks to your tremendous talents, many of which I’ve witnessed on display here at the Unibet Open in Bucharest. Those phrases point to an extrovert type of personality, which of course makes sense given your role in what your job requires. But you told me that you’re more of an introvert. So how does an introvert get this role, and get into this type of a role?

When you get into a management role, which is what it is, actually, everybody has got their own type of style. It took a while to understand what mine was. I’ve been surrounded by great leaders, and I try to figure out, like OK, what works for them and what works for me. So based on that, I’ve also spoken to people who are introverts, who are leaders, and that’s good because you can mirror yourself. You understand that it’s not crazy that after every event you’re exhausted, because you have to be extrovert then. I think it’s very important that you can adapt yourself to the situation where you have to be big, and sometimes be small. So for example, when I have to open an event, I have to make myself big.

Sure, and you’re on the microphone and announcing, sure.

But then again, if you have like one-to-one, then you have to make yourself small again. And you can train yourself to do these things. And you can also figure out for yourself what works or doesn’t work.

Nataly Sopacuaperu
Nataly on the mic, flanked by Unibet Open tournament director Kenny Hallaert. (Photo credit: Tambet Kask)

That’s a great answer. So you said 12-15 weeks of preparation for these events, followed by five days of not sleeping and craziness. What do you do to decompress and relax when you’re not working or after an intense live event?

Netflix. That’s one of the things I do because it’s on my own. And yeah, when you’re getting older as well, you want to be with your family and friends way more than I think when you start off in building a career, I’d say, so that those kind of stuff can get left behind and lost a lot of priority as well. So, hanging around with friends and family.

As the Head of Live Events, you’re the most visible person here in terms of the team at the Unibet Open. But, it is a team, after all. Why don’t you talk a little bit about the team and what it’s like working with the individuals who are part of that team.

Yeah, that’s the one thing I always like to highlight as well. Of course, I’m the one who was walking around, but nothing can be done without an incredible team behind me or with me, I would say. It’s an honor to work with talented people and to get the best out of them and to work together and bring the Unibet Open to the standards that we have these days. I think that there are just a few poker tours that have lasted longer than 10 years, and we are one of them. But that can only be done if you have a really good team around you.

And what type of qualities do you usually look for when people are applying for positions to join this team?

I think it’s very important to fit in the family as well a bit. And so what I mean by that is that we work very hard, we play very hard. We get to know each other very well. So it’s very important because, how we work, you have to work together. And it’s five intense days and of course all that prep beforehand. So it’s really important that we get along.

Unibet Open team
Nataly (center) addressing the Unibet Open team at the conclusion of the Bucharest festival

So for our last question. Most of my audience at Cardplayer Lifestyle is US-based, and likely haven’t been to too many poker events in Europe before. Let’s hear your elevator pitch as to why they should consider taking a trip across the pond to attend a Unibet Open event at some point in the future.

Well, if they’d like to have a nice poker holiday, where everything is focused on a great experience, then this would be the one.

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