POKER LIFESTYLE

A Poker Interview with Arden Cho

By Robbie Strazynski
January 31, 2023

Arden Cho is a celebrated TV actress, best known for playing Kira Yukimura in Teen Wolf in Seasons 3-5 in 2014-2016, and most recently as her popular role as Ingrid Yun on the show Partner Track playing a senior associate lawyer in New York City. She was born in Amarillo, Texas, to Korean-American parents and graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a degree in Psychology.

Arden’s YouTube videos have hundreds of thousands of views while somehow remaining down-to-earth, frank and inclusive of moving testimonials about everything from laziness being her least favorite trait in others to how her hard work and her belief in how “opportunity and preparation” makes your luck more than just pure happenstance. She believes in “self positivity”, plays in Phil Hellmuth’s online home game, creates music, is a black belt in taekwondo and speaks out and for women in poker. She’s made her place in the world of acting and now poker, by believing in herself, having resiliency and the knowledge that “nothing that’s good or great is easy”.

Arden was kind enough to give Cardplayer Lifestyle some of her time at the 2023 PokerStars Players Championship and discuss the “poker side of her life” in our interview, an edited transcript of which is included below.

Arden Cho

Robbie Strazynski – Cardplayer Lifestyle: When and how did you first learn to play poker?

Arden Cho: I attempted to start learning when I was in college and, Boy, was I bad! I feel like you hear that quite often, but I definitely lost a lot at the beginning. Luckily we were playing very small: $0.10/$0.25 and $0.25/$0.50.

But yeah, I played in college mostly in the dorms with friends. I wasn’t really into partying and going out. I wasn’t really quite extroverted, so I really loved that poker was a fun activity to do, and it’s a game.

It’s a very deep, thought-provoking game — and I love the challenge.

Robbie: What was it about the game that initially appealed to you – and is that thing something you still enjoy about poker today?

Arden: The competition; wanting to be better. Of course, there’s always the stigma that women shouldn’t play poker. That was something I heard often in college. The boys would be like, “Oh, this is just a boys’ night. You can’t play.”

So I dabbled a little online and that was even tougher. I think it was just the fact that I wanted to learn.

And of course, back then, I probably should’ve just gotten a coach and read some more poker books or something. I guess you just keep trying and trying. I think the fun thing about poker is that there’s really no “one way to play.” That’s probably the most interesting aspect of it.

I know now that there’s obviously “optimal” play and I hear all that, but at the same time for a recreational player — I don’t play all that much anymore and when I do play it’s just really for fun so I think that I just love that the game is always changing.

I think through the years I’ve met a lot of incredibly talented players. I have friend I respect a lot and their game. And of course, I’m at a point where I don’t really have an ego and I love to ask friends what I did wrong in a situation. Or what I could have done better, and I think that’s what I really enjoy. I love learning and I also love hearing different opinions.

Sometimes people are like, “Oh, that’s an interesting way to play it.” And I guess your result might have been bad, or could have been good, but it’s also one of those things where you try not to be so ‘results-oriented.’ Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Robbie: Hard work and perseverance are two character traits that tend to serve people well in life, and of course at the poker table as well. Your father is a grandmaster in taekwondo, and you’re a black belt. Do you think your training with your father helped form some of your appreciation for hard work and perseverance?

Arden:  Oh, of course. I actually feel like there’s a lot of overlap in entertainment and poker. Anything really competitive in sports in general — you really do have to be resilient. You have to be willing to take shots. You can’t be afraid to fail. You can’t be afraid to lose.

I always see it as a lot of similarities in poker and acting as well. I think having that resilience or foundation; that attitude is very important.

Robbie:  So, I do have to follow up then. As far as that resilience, how do you bounce back? Everyone’s human. How do you bounce back from a bad beat or the day just didn’t go well — it was raining when you wanted it to be sunny?

Arden: Oh, man! Let’s see. At least in acting, I have quit more times than I can count. Whenever I play poker, I’ve probably quit more times than I can count as well. I always tell people that I think that’s pretty normal. I think it’s normal to be like, “You know what? I’m done. I can’t take it anymore. It’s just too brutal.”

Definitely over the years, there have been times when I’ve been, “Wow! I’m really running bad; maybe playing bad.” When you’re running bad you also sometimes play worse. It’s just like this mental battle, right? So, yeah. I’ve had a lot of ups-and-downs but I always think I could just still come back because I love the challenge. I love the fight, and nothing good comes easy.

Robbie: And then when you do win, it feels amazing…

Arden:  It feels so good. Even in the acting career, when you get those wins and you get those great opportunities; the great roles — it’s like winning a tournament. Of course, I’ve never done that in poker yet. Knock on wood! Hopefully one of these days!

I’m quite new to the tournament scene. I’ve played probably less than 15 events. Honestly, it’s been hard for me to find like a big, long sum of time to be able to play an event if it’s going to potentially be multiple days. And you don’t want to try if it’s going to be like, “By Day 2 or 3, in case I make it, I have to go back to work.”

So that’s always tough, but I think definitely getting close is almost more devastating versus busting out the first day and you’re like, “Oh, well. There it goes.”

Robbie:  I’m familiar with that myself. I play cash games exclusively for that exact reason. I don’t want to get stuck in a tournament if maybe, for example, I’m going to have an interview opportunity with Arden Cho! And then come up and say, “I’m in the tournament. Sorry!”

Arden: Well, it’s funny because that’s the thing. I actually play cash games, and the thing I like about that is I play a lot of games with friends and people I know in life, and they’re all incredible people. It’s sort of like a round of golf.

You play together for 4-5 hours. You play for a bit; catch up on life. You maybe watch a game and hang out. It’s sort of like a nice activity if you’re not one to wanna go clubbing every weekend. I’m just sort of not that person.

My girlfriends always tease me because they’re like, “You’re the only girl we know that her ideal Friday night is playing cards.” And I go, “Well, think about it — I can eat, get a massage, and play poker all simultaneously while hanging out with my friends.” I mean, nothing really beats that. You can’t get a massage at the club.

Robbie: Generally speaking, when you prepare yourself for something mentally and physically, you’re able to achieve peak performance. What mental and physical preparation do you do before a big poker event such as the PokerStars Players Championship?

Arden: One: I want to get a good night’s rest. Two: I don’t have huge expectations for myself. I’m so new to tournaments, I’m just happy to play and happy to have a shot.

I’m definitely talking to a lot of my poker-player friends who are pros and getting advice and trying to get some last-minute cramming in.

It’s nice. I feel like I’m very lucky everyone’s very helpful. I kind of like that about the poker industry. I feel like people are open to helping you get better. I feel like it’s interesting. I feel like sometimes certain industries are very competitive and less people want to help you.

Maybe I’m just lucky. I’ve met a lot of great pros who are very nice and want to help; give me tips. And I feel like it’s makes it fun and welcoming because I don’t really know how to play tournaments. I’ve gotten lucky in some and had a couple of deep runs and I feel like there’s definitely a mix of luck.

My first $25k (buy-in), I didn’t last very long. I lost of couple of flips. Things didn’t really go my way.

It happens, but I feel like I’m definitely still trying to figure out how to be prepared because I was definitely really nervous coming into the $25k. It is a very tough field full of amazing players, so that was quite intimidating for someone like me, but it was fun!

Robbie: You’re one of over 1,000 players in this PSPC field, and among those you’re one of over 400 who received a Platinum Pass. You’re no stranger to big time poker events, having racked up $150K in results over the years. How did it feel when you received a Platinum Pass from PokerStars?

Arden: It was so exciting! Honestly, it’s such a treat. I feel really lucky that PokerStars is encouraging to women — especially who are non-pros — wanting to “take a shot” and be a part of this world because it is quite intimidating.

A lot of my friends that might enjoy poker would never even consider coming to something like this. Because, “Why would you?” You might have no shot. But PokerStars giving these Platinum Passes — I feel like it’s such a cool opportunity. I don’t know if I would’ve come otherwise, right?

Robbie: Have you experienced a phenomenon that when other women watch you play under the bright lights, it makes them want to play poker, too?

Arden: I think a lot of friends recently… it’s actually been really funny. I’ll have friend where they see me play and they’ll be like, “Oh, I watched you play!” Or, “She watched your stream and she thinks you’re so cool!”

And I’m like, “Really?” Because I’m a bit embarrassed. I don’t think I’m good enough and I don’t really want people to see me play because it’s embarrassing. I’m like, “Give me a couple of years!”

I think it’s exciting because people are more like, “No, it’s cool! It’s cool that you’re sitting there with the guys, holding your own.” I think I’m also starting to realize that as well — that even if I’m sitting there and feeling nervous and scared — that other people can’t see that. That’s the game.

I always tell people that poker is very similar to acting because you’re telling stories. It’s a very creative game. I think people forget that poker is very creative. You’re convincing your opponent of what hand you have, or what story you’re telling with your bet. It’s way more creative than people think.

So I think as an actor, I have a lot of fun because I feel like — maybe in life I might be this tiny little Asian girl and I’m pretty bubbly, but the number one comment I get at a table is, if I’m all-in they’re like, “Why are you smiling?” And I’m like, “Well, my chips are in there. My decision is over so I’m like enjoying the moment. Bluff or not, I’ve committed myself so it’s up to you now.”

I want to have fun in the process, and of course I know it’s get very serious when we’re in big pots and you get closer to the money it gets very, very intense. But again, I think for me, because it’s still all so new — especially tournaments — I’m just having fun. It’s exciting. It’s scary.

Robbie: I hope you never lose that. I’m the same way. It’s just so important to approach events like that as a fun opportunity to enjoy yourself.

Arden: It was funny because yesterday I had a couple of friends text me and be like, “I can see you, and you are having so much fun. Your table must be amazing.” And I’m like, “Oh, I’ve lost half my chips, and ‘yes,’ I’m having a wonderful time getting crushed by these pros.”

Robbie: Phil Hellmuth has been very supportive of your poker career. How did you first meet and how did you become involved with his online home game?

Arden: Phil’s great. We met through a lot of mutual friends. It was sort of like a networking thing. We’ve got a lot of different types of people in the group. We’ve got athletes, actors, producers, businessmen, and it’s just a big fun networking thing.

Sometimes we do group trips together. We’ll all go to Vegas, or we’ll go somewhere and play and hang out and go mini-golf or… it’s not like it’s always just poker.

Recently, Phil has been very encouraging about saying, “Yeah, maybe you should play more tournaments.” I feel like sometimes with cash games, it’s tough because you can’t really control how much someone wins or loses. Sometimes a player loses so much, and between friends that can feel like a “bummer.”

I like that in tournaments everyone has the same entry; the same buy-in. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve won. There’s a very “sport” aspect of tournaments where you get one shot in that tournament. I really like that, and I also like that obviously skill is a huge part of it, but you can still get really lucky, run like the sun, and win!

So I’m waiting for one of those, and I think Phil is very encouraging in the sense of, “Yeah, he has so many bracelets along with a lot of the other pros that we know,” but is encouraging to say we can all try. And it’s true. Otherwise, why would we be here, if there was “zero shot?”

Robbie You’re very vocal about the reality of what women face when they play poker, specifically in tournaments. What actions would you like to see in poker to help work towards parity for women in the future?

Arden: This is a tough question for me because again, I have such a small pool of experience in tournaments, so I really don’t know as much. I remember speaking to Maria Ho about it, and just how much I respect her for really being one of the few women I’ve sort of seen in the poker world for so many years.

We always ask, “What would make it better, or easier?” And I think it honestly would come down to having more women feel welcome to play.

I think — especially with PokerStars giving away so many Platinum Passes to women, that’s a start. Making us feel like we belong. Not just in Ladies events but in every event. I think it just comes down to awareness and seeing it.

Even in the media, we always talk about how unless we see minority stories, people don’t realize minorities are a part of this world and the stories we tell. So I think in poker, unless we start seeing more women playing; having more presence, it’s just so tough.

Of course, that start is tough. Obviously, it’s going to be very hard to be 50-50. We have a long way to go, but I will say that the 2023 PSPC has been really refreshing to see so many women. I’ve never seen this many women playing a poker tournament in my life. So that has been really cool.

I always get really excited seeing other women competing. I want to root for them. I might not even know who they are, but I’m like, “I hope you win!” Every woman I see at the table I’m like, “Run good! I hope you run good, too, and I hope all of us make it!” I’m like, “If I don’t make it, I hope she does!”

Robbie: Do you have friends or family joining you in the Bahamas? You do have a little extra time on your hands now; what activities do you hope to partake in off the felt?

Arden: This was so last-minute that I actually came out here alone, but I have a handful of friends out here, so it is fun to hang out and catch up. We’ve been going to the water park; going down the water slide like kids and spending some time on the beach.

That’s actually been really nice. Just walking around in the weather here. It’s amazing and it’s not a bad view! It’s wild. This is such a nice treat. It’s really great to just be here feeling like I’m on vacation, because poker, for me, is a vacation.

I know… for most of the players here it’s a very serious trip. It’s their work and they are working. But for me, I’m like, “Oh, I’m on vacation. Sorry guys, I’m just happy to play!”

So I’m going to take another shot. I think I’m going to play the $3k and the $2k, so hopefully I run better in those. It’s funny because a bunch of my friends — we all busted the $25k PSPC together so we’re all playing that next event or two together.

So again, that feels really fun because, you know, not a big deal. We’re all playing it. I think a lot of great players busted out of the $25k PSPC and so, I’m like, “It’s all right. It’s okay.”

Arden Cho

Robbie: What memories would you like to take with you from the PSPC?

Arden: I’m so affected by my environment, so I think — just this island — is so amazing.

It’s so amazing to wake up and to see this view; to be by the ocean; great air; great weather — just good food, good vibes. All of it just feels like the perfect vacation… and then you get to play poker!

I’m going to the spa tomorrow. I feel like really, just the overall experience feels really fun. I had never been to the Bahamas. I had never played a $25k buy-in poker tournament. A lot of “firsts” here, so just the fact that I get to check a couple of things off the “bucket list” feels very memorable.

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Written By.

Robbie Strazynski

Robbie founded Cardplayerlifestyle.com in 2009. A veteran member of the poker media corps, in addition to writing and video presenting, Robbie has hosted multiple poker podcasts over the years, including Top Pair, the Red Chip Poker Podcast, The Orbit, and the CardsChat Podcast. In 2019, Robbie translated the autobiography of Poker Hall of Famer Eli […]

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