Victoria Livschitz
Victoria Livschitz has become one of the most popular and successful poker players in recent years after a lifetime in a completely different business.

In recent years, the notion of going from a poker rookie to one of the best players in the world has seemed to many like an unreachable goal. Common assumptions center around needing to be young to make it big, to have backing to rise through the ranks or to be a math whizz in order to have any chance of success.

The recent stardom of Victoria Livschitz goes against many long-held observations about poker as a profession. As we found out, the former technology and business leader turned to poker late in life, along with mountaineering. The climb has been steep, but the rewards have been incredible.

A Lifetime of Pioneering

“I knew how to play poker but the game they were playing was something very different.”

It is fair to say that Victoria Livschitz has led an extraordinary life. Born in the Ukraine, she moved to Lithuania aged 10 and fled with her family as political refugees to Cleveland, Ohio a decade later.  Studying for a degree in Computer Science, she worked for the Ford Motor Company for six years before starting to work with cutting edge technology.

“I was writing my own networks 30 years before it was cool,” she says. “I got lucky. In 1997, I left Ford and joined the biggest internet company. I spent 10 years becoming principal architect and chief scientist across the industry in the new way of computing. I helped create the first cloud technology in 2006 and became convinced at the age of 35 it was the next big thing.”

Victoria started her own tech company in the pure cloudspace. It went public in 2020 and that’s when she retired from the tech world. Or at least she thought so until poker came along. Before poker, Victoria’s previous love was mountaineering.

“I’ve trekked all over the world and scaled some very big mountains. I love the notion of vast traverses and climbing big mountains. I think about my quest in poker in the same way.”

Victoria climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, something she describes as ‘the most physically challenging thing I’ve ever done’. It was an incredibly difficult thing to complete.

“It’s a very high altitude to climb and I got really sick,” she admits. “A stomach bug developed on the first day of the climb so I couldn’t eat or drink, but when things are tough and you achieve something it means the world. It cemented my fascination with high altitude climbs and was a cool milestone.”

Moving to Whitefish, Montana after retiring from the technology industry, the idea was to surround herself with the great outdoors, relaxing and exploring the mountainous terrain all around her. Then COVID hit.

“All the things I thought I would do disappeared for 18 months or so. I fell in love with poker.  Out of boredom, I discovered the world of high stakes poker tournaments. I started binge-watching final tables. My entire COVID, poker became my escape.”

Victoria didn’t play, preferring to watch the characters as they played. Watching their every move.

“It was fascinating; the players, the high stakes. I knew how to play poker, but the game they were playing was something very different. It intrigued me. With the WSOP in the fall [of 2021] COVID started to lighten up and I thought ‘Why don’t I take 10 days off, go to Vegas and see what happens?’”

A Compulsion to Learn

“I wanted to meet some of the players who were my heroes.”

That was the start of Victoria’s obsession with the game of poker. In her first foray to Sin City, she cashed eight times in 14 events. ‘I didn’t know what I was doing, but common sense gets you very far’, she says modestly. The first tournament she played was a $200-entry ‘Rio Daily’ and she won it.

“The next day I did a fairly insane thing. I was in the middle of Vegas and wanted to meet some of the players who were my heroes for a year and a half. But I didn’t know anybody and nobody knew me to talk to. I had a brilliant – or insane – idea. I looked at the schedule and the first bracelet event was a $25,000 buy-in. I thought well, I could just buy-in and sit across the felt and get to know them.”

Of course, not everyone has that opportunity, but a lifetime of hard work and graft had afforded Victoria that chance. She took it with both hands. Suddenly, she was sitting at a star-studded table with the likes of Stephen Chidwick and Jason Koon.

“All these heroes of mine – the only person I didn’t know at the table at the time was Sam Grafton. He wasn’t at any of the final tables I’d watched before. I lasted long enough to get into banter with a lot of people at the table. Grafton ended up busting me quads over set, a cool way to bust. I played a bunch of other events and cashed in the Shootout, a $5k 6-Max – I’ve no idea how I did it but I kept running into Sam Grafton.”

After a week of playing World Series events, Victoria was determined to get to know how to really play the game. Introducing herself to Grafton, she plucked up the courage to ask him a question that would trigger one of the biggest career-changing moments of her poker journey so far.

“I said, ‘You seem to know everybody – I’d like to find a coach. Do you know anybody?’ He ended up offering to work with me himself which was an amazing way to start learning poker theory and GTO. I’ll be forever grateful to have spent months working with Sam. He’s an incredible theoretician and coach and he got me started.”

Victoria Livschitz Climbing
Victoria Livschitz used to climb mountains, and is now scaling the heights of a poker career that has surprised even herself.

Making it in the High Rollers

“Rather than starting at the bottom, I decided to take a radical approach.”

Six months into serious poker study, Victoria was crunching the numbers for 18 hours a day every day she wasn’t at the felt. Taking down an ARIA $10k for six figures felt ‘undeserved’ but it introduced her to another pivotal figure in her poker quest – Andrew ‘Lucky Chewy’ Lichtenberger.

“I wanted to learn well and got to poker late in life,” she says. “I was over 50 when I started. I didn’t have as much time to learn as some of the younger people. Rather than starting at the bottom, I decided to take a radical approach – studying poker like a business.”

The way she figured it, Victoria was playing with a huge negative edge in the biggest events. Sure, it was costing her to start with, but she was learning at a phenomenal rate.

“It’s never too late is the big message. I bring a lot of skills to poker that are highly transferrable. You can come to poker with life experiences that are relevant but achieved in different domains. By applying them to poker, you can create massive shortcuts.”

After getting to know Chewy, they became firm friends and Victoria embraced the lifestyle of a poker pro. Victoria widened her circle to include some of Chewy’s friends such as Nick Schulman and the group struck on a mutually beneficial deal.

“I would teach everybody business and they’d teach me poker,” she laughs. “It’s worked out marvellously! We decided to make a poker tech company together, Octopi Poker. We’ve been working on it for two years and it’s in the market. We came up with a way to use better tools to study poker today. My learning  of poker might have been faster than other peoples. I personally designed the tech to fit how I wanted to learn poker and it’s very helpful to learn poker theory faster.”

Chop Wood, Carry Water

“Poker is as close to my tribe as I’ve ever found.”

Victoria freely admits that post-pandemic, she’s fallen in love with the game of poker but not the game alone, citing the industry itself and in particular the people within it as the real reason she’s hook, line and sinker.

“I’d never really found my place before but I feel that poker is as close to my tribe as I’ve ever found,” she describes. “I had to use poker tech and though it was terrible. It’s incredibly nascent and there’s so much tech that can be used better. Not only Octopi but other companies are doing cool things now.”

In recent months, Victoria admits that her schedule is pretty similar to that of a poker professional. Victoria has won over $1.75 million at the live felt alone in the past three years. But while she admits winning a WSOP bracelet ‘might be nice’, it’s not her ambition.

“The dream is to become one of the best poker players in the world on merit and if I’m successful in achieving that, then other things will just happen all by themselves,” she declares. “Maybe I’m not a professional in the sense that I don’t have to work doing anything anymore, poker isn’t needed to pay my bills, but I take it every bit as seriously. I study and play as much if not more than most. So the lifestyle and aspirations are those of a professional poker player.”

In order to succeed, Victoria is adamant that talent is important. But far more pressing for anyone looking to become a winning player is the ability to work hard.

“If you don’t have love for the game you won’t be motivated to put in the work. Chop wood, carry water! The formula for success in anything is to do this consistently and success will come.”

A year ago, Victoria started selling her action on PokerStake and it has been a roaring success, not just for her, but for anyone who invested in her. The last 12 months have been the biggest of her career by far. She credits the six-time WSOP bracelet winner and Game of Gold star Josh Arieh – who has $12.5m in lifetime earnings – with helping her in her journey.

“Josh has been an incredible supporter all along, it’s been great to have him in my corner,” she tells me. “It’s been a really fun run. I’m happy to support PokerStake; I think the platform is marvellous for the industry.  It’s good for players, fans and buyers. Building this value in microstaking is a great way to facilitate the industry.”

Victoria started with the long game in mind, listing everything she played at zero markup. While she’s added +ROI on some events since when she considers he edge worthy of it, no markup pieces of her action are about to go on sale.

“For this upcoming WSOP I’m going to list 5% of the package and we’re going to do that with zero markup. Listing things is easy on PokerStake and it’s a great platform. Not taking any fee from either side is amazing. It’s basically a public service and quite remarkable.”

Just as remarkable is Victoria Livschitz’s rapid rise in the high stakes world of professional poker. Who knows what the next year will bring.

Images courtesy of Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake and PokerGO, the home of the 2024 WSOP in Las Vegas.