Sunday, 1 February 2015

Poker Refugees Player Interview & Testimonial: Elena Stover "thegroupie" on PokerStars

The majority of Poker Refugees clients (and poker players in general) are of the male variety, let's face it. But with the increase in the game's overall popularity and the lovely ladies promoting it, more females have started to take notice and put their talent to good use.


Although still a minority in the poker world, we are always excited to help fellow female pros relocate for their poker careers, and PokerStars women blog contributor Elena Stover ('thegroupie') was no exception. 



Elena Stover


We helped Elena move to Playa del Carmen, Mexico before WCOOP this year and here she is to tell the tale of her online poker relocation. Enjoy!


Bienvenidos to Playa del Carmen, Mexico


Poker Refugees (PR): What is your online name and what types of games do you play? 
Elena Stover (ES): thegroupie/multi table tournaments

PR: You have traveled all around the world for online poker. How did you get started and how long have you been playing? 

ES: 
I got into poker after I finished my Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience in 2009 at UCLA. In my dissertation research, I used neuroimaging to study how different areas of the brain work together when people make risky decisions. When I started learning how to play poker, I found out that the strategy involved many of the same concepts that I’d been studying in the context of neural decision-making mechanisms. Having this background in behavioral economics and decision theory provided a good foundation for picking up the mathematical fundamentals of poker strategy. 

Elena playing live at PCA Bahamas
Since Black Friday I’ve been dividing my time between playing poker and working as an adjunct professor teaching undergraduate classes on research methods. In 2013 I relocated to the UK to play online for several months, and I’ve also done a fair bit of traveling to play live tournaments in both Europe and North America. This year has been my best ever in terms of my poker results, so I felt ready to take the next step and relocate abroad to play full time. 


PR: What an impressive background! Wow! 

As a US citizen, how did you make the decision to move to Mexico versus other destinations for online poker? What were you looking for in a destination? 


ES:
Initially I was all about Canada. I’ve visited Montreal many times over the years, and this spring and summer I took several extended trips up there for the purpose of playing online. When I returned from the WSOP in July I decided I would begin looking for an apartment in Montreal. However, the more I began to research relocation in depth, the less appealing Canada became. 


South of the Border
The big problem with Canada is that US citizens can only stay there six months out of a calendar year, and although the people who inhabit Canada are very nice, their government really doesn’t want us up in their country that much. I’d already experienced my share of interrogations at the border, and it didn’t help that right at the time I was looking at apartments, Pokerstars abruptly pulled their sponsorship from a major live tournament series in Montreal that I’d been planning to play. There was even speculation that Pokerstars might be forced to pull out of the Canadian market entirely after the Amaya takeover went into effect. 

That combination of factors steered me southward and made Mexico a clear choice. 


PR: Makes a lot of sense. At what point during your relocation plans did you choose to hire Poker Refugees and why? 

ES:
As soon as I decided to move to Mexico, I knew I would need help with the relocation process. I’d never been there before and I knew that my rudimentary Spanish skills from 8th grade weren’t going to cut it for complex interactions like renting an apartment or opening a bank account. Once I started talking to Kristin, I realized that she would be able to provide all the services I needed – and many that I didn’t even know I would need! I was immediately impressed with her extensive and detailed knowledge on all the intricacies involved with getting set up to play online poker from Mexico.

PR: We're blushing! So what did you find were the most valuable aspects of using a company like Poker Refugees to plan your relocation, especially on a short timeframe?  

ES:
Pretty much everything! There are so many things Poker Refugees took care of that either would have taken me weeks to figure out, or that I would simply not have been able to do on my own. All of the things that needed to be done on the ground in Mexico, from the apartment search to setting up my cable internet connection, as well as the online tasks like providing the proper relocation documents for the online poker sites. Each of these steps would have been either difficult or impossible for me to do without the help of Poker Refugees. 

Elena enjoying her penthouse rooftop!

PR: Definitely; those are the reasons we started providing these services. It's a steep (and expensive) learning curve for players otherwise! 

What are your accommodations like in Playa and they meet your needs? Did your apartment exceed your expectations compared to other properties you saw before arrival and in person? David 'Bakes' Baker contacted us as he was impressed with your Playa digs!   

ES: 
The apartment definitely exceeded my expectations. It’s a risk to rent a place without seeing it first, but I was impressed with Kristin’s level of competence in navigating the local rental listings and finding places that would suit the specific needs of an online poker player. Once I settled on an apartment, Kristin did a fantastic job interfacing between me, the owner of the property, and the property managers on location to ensure that everything was ready for my arrival.

Private Pool View from Rooftop Deck


PR: We had some big challenges at the beginning of your arrival since the property you rented didn’t have a dedicated internet connection (despite having other cool features like a rooftop deck and pool). 

Were you satisfied with our ability to expedite and increase the speed as well as connect your apartment to a direct cable line and how has the reliability been since these changes were made compared to when you first arrived? 

ES: 
These services were critical in getting set up and allowing me to begin playing online as quickly as possible. While I love chilling on my roof and suntanning, the issue with setting up the internet connection was something that would have been impossible for me to handle on my own. With the exception of a couple outages here and there, the cable internet connection that Kristin’s technician set up for me was completely reliable, and every online poker player knows how crucial that is. 

PR: What are your favorite activities in Playa during your free time outside of online poker or what is a typical day for you like? 
Out on the town in Playa

ES: 
When I’m in Playa I make work a priority, so I’m probably more of a hermit than your average player. On a typical day I am usually playing pretty late, but I will take a night off now and then to check out the local restaurants and bars. My favorite thing is heading over to Club de la Cerveza where they usually have some 60’s music pumping on the stereo and a Belgian trappist beer waiting for me.

PR: Club de la Cerveza is definitely a local poker player hot spot! What is your favorite thing overall about living in Playa del Carmen? 

ES: 
I love the palm trees and the sun and even the occasional apocalyptic thunderstorms. It’s the Caribbean; people with 9-5 jobs save up their vacation days in order to travel there for one week out of the year. Being able to live and work in Playa makes me continually appreciative of how much freedom I have in my career as an online poker player. Plus, even if you have a bad day at the tables, nothing is ever really that bad when you live in a tropical paradise. 

Playa = Paradise


PR: Do you feel that there are any challenges being a female poker player living in Playa
overall or integrating with the local poker community? 

ES: 
As far as I know I’m the only female player who has relocated to Playa, and that has made me somewhat cautious when it comes to getting to know the other local players. There aren’t a lot of women in the poker community, and sometimes I feel like guys regard the idea of a female online grinder as a curious or even dubious prospect. Some guys also assume that behind every girl who plays poker, there must be some sugar daddy bankrolling her. Thankfully I have met a couple of nice gentlemen in Playa who don’t buy into such stereotypes and interact with me as an equal. I’ll probably branch out and get more friendly with my colleagues as I start feeling more comfortable and less like “the one girl” in Playa! 



PR: What advice would you give to a poker player who’s thinking of moving out of their home country and thinking of coming to Playa del Carmen to live? 

ES: 
"Do it! I’ve never heard of anyone who regrets the decision."


PR: Do you have any other feedback or anything to add about your experience having relocated to both the UK and Mexico thus far? Anything you want readers to know? 

ES: 
The UK, and London in particular, offers a thriving live poker scene and everything you could want in terms of big-city culture, but it is not the ideal place for an American to relocate to play online. 

Comparing the two locations, Mexico is a far better prospect in terms of weather, cost of living, visa issues, and convenience of travel to and from the states. But there’s no reason one couldn’t try both places for a few months – or anyplace, for that matter! 

"One of my favorite things about playing online poker is that the whole world is your office, and I’m looking forward to discovering even more new and exotic destinations in 2015!"

Life is definitely good for Elena in México!


Thank you, Elena, for sharing your Poker Refugees relocation experience moving to 
Playa del Carmen, Mexico!