For the better part of 14 years, Fatima Moreira de Melo was a part of a supremely talented Netherlands National Field Hockey team, earning 191 caps and 30 goals over the course of her career. In that time she won a bronze medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, a silver in 2004 in Athens and finally a gold in 2008 in Beijing, along with a pair of silvers and a gold in World Cup competitions.
Before hanging up her stick for good, de Melo signed on with PokerStars as a member of Team SportStars in 2009 and immediately jumped into the poker world. She final tabled the Master Classics of Poker Main Event in her home country in November 2009, and de Melo first started attending the WSOP in 2010, where she cashed twice.
Her experiences on the field hockey pitch don’t necessarily translate directly to poker success, but like ost athletes who compete on the highest levels of their particular sport de Melo enjoys the ability to dedicate herself entirely to a task at hand – but that’s about where the parallels end.
“To be honest, I know what it takes to focus for awhile, and to want to achieve a goal,” said de Melo. “In that way it’s the same, but I really had to adjust so much when I started playing poker, because I used to be a team player. I always had backup. Now it’s only my fucking fault. When I make the mistake, that’s the worst.”
De Melo’s played regularly on the European tournament circuit for the last several years, with a runner-up finish in the UKIPT Isle of Main Main Event in 2013 and a deep run at EPT London in 2014 among her biggest achievements. For the first time since 2012 de Melo cashed in several prelims at the 2015 WSOP, making deep runs in a pair of $1,000 events in the lead-up to the Main Event.
The times when poker strays most from sporting – when the luck becomes a big factor – used to be the toughest thing for de Melo to deal with. Now it’s simply about making the best move available and letting the cards fall where they may.
“I can deal with the bad beats. Well, now I can deal with the bad beats, kind of,” said de Melo. “You still kind of hate poker when you make the mistakes – then I can’t deal with it. I go over and over it. That’s how I become a better player as well, but it’s very different from running a tackle back, and just getting the ball back. It’s very different – it’s more similar to tennis I guess, which I play a lot of now. Playing both poker and tennis helps the other game, too.”
Things have come together quite nicely for de Melo so far through three-plus days of the 2015 Main Event, though it did get a bit tense during parts of Day 2.
“It’s obviously nice that the fifth time I finally make money, for God’s sake,” said de Melo. “I had a tough day on Day 2 actually. I was left with just over 5K in the first level, so I just had to grind my way back up, and it was a long day. Tough grind, but then I finished with 160K so I was so happy that I didn’t just spew my chips off.”
De Melo carried on with a couple of strong days to follow up on her Day 2 comeback, and even with a lot of poker left to play it’s hard not to keep looking forward to an even deeper run.
“Day 3 went well, played okay I think,” said de Melo “Day 4 is amazing to get to. [In theory] I just want to take it hand by hand, but really I just want to make it to Day 5 now, you know, with a normal amount of chips. Like 50 bigs minimum would be nice to go to Day 5 with.”
Just six of the 661 players who came back for Day hail from the Netherlands, but de Melo likely drew one of the toughest in Pim di Goede. Fortunately for de Melo, he’s started off at quite a disadvantage.
“I’m two chairs to Pim’s left fortunately,” said de Melo “That makes a difference. Yesterday, when the guy to my right busted, then Fedor Holz came in, which was like, my God, that was the worst beat.”
Drawing a table with Holz, a 21-year-old German on quite the tear of late, was about as bad as it could get on Day 3. If that wasn’t tough enough, Scotty Nguyen sat to her left. Holz, who ended Day 3 with a top five stack just shy of 1 million, was the main attraction, though.
“It was around the bubble, so he was just opening every hand,” said de Melo. “Three-betting one out of three hands. It was ridiculous, but insanely cool to watch. But I felt like a spectator at my table, which wasn’t fun.”
With her eyes squarely focused on her current situation and maximizing the potential of Day 4, de Melo hopes that her countryman can have some success at the table – just not against her, and not to excess.
“I know Pim from way back, and I know him as a very good player,” said de Melo, “He lives in Malta. I’m reasonably lucky that he’s a short stack, because he would be the best player at the table. He doubled up pretty quickly, though. I really like him, he deserves to go deep I think, quality wise, but for me it’s better if he doesn’t double again. Maybe just let him grind up, down, up, down a bit. That would be good.”
After a pair of deep runs at this WSOP, it’s clear de Melo has a certain knack for navigating through this kind of field. With more play than any other tournament in the world, her approach is further strengthened. Despite the PokerStars patch that she wears at the table, de Melo finds that old stereotypes still tend to work to her advantage.
“Yeah it definitely suits my style,” said de Melo, “We’re very deep, and that way I can build on my image. I’m a woman, so they usually think I’m tight. I like to portray that image, and if you get the right spots you can use that. If you’re deep it’s easier to do that too.”
De Melo is poised to make it to Day 5 and outlast her current travel plans. Anything else would a terrible disappointment.
“For sure, I would be crushed,” said de Melo. “I wouldn’t have to rebook my flight though – that’s the only silver lining there.”
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