Ivonne Montealegre – Maltas Poker Powerhouse
Ivonne Montealegre has been involved in the poker world for 25 years and it is safe to say that she has made a name for herself. She is not only the founder of the Malta Poker Festival but also the director of international affairs of the Women’s Poker Association in Las Vegas, an association with 37 000 active female poker players in the United States alone.
We met up to talk all things poker – what to think about as a beginner, how more women can join the game, and what the future holds.
How do you feel that the industry has changed in the last decades?
”I find the profile of the poker pro very different, back in the day they were a little bit rugged. Now all the poker pros are into fitness and the life of the professional poker player is so different. They are much more serious, have a different mindset, and the game is much harder. You also have to put much more studying into it. I remember when I started playing, it was completely different, softer fields. Now it’s a really high level.
Poker also used to be more instinctual and now it’s more focused on game theory, odds, and there is also virtual assistance. Even though you cannot use it in tournaments, you can use it to analyze your own game and the different scenarios. I believe these tools and these apps have changed the game incredibly. People are learning so much about the game right now, and the level of studying that goes behind the game is very interesting. There is a lot of literature as well, so the landscape has changed completely.”
What would the main difference between a player today be with a player 20 years ago?
”I think that the player nowadays is capable of bigger folds. When I say bigger folds let’s say you fold pocket queens pre-flop. That fold is a sick fold, but nowadays you have to do it because you are playing a tournament, why would you risk your tournament life for one hand? Now you have to play with the premium and the nuts, in my opinion.
Another thing is less bluffing. I remember 10-12 years ago – bluffing was huge. Now the game has changed. Also, the re-entry level, professional players nowadays enter with five entries they have in their wallets. Because that’s the way they play. Back in the day people were more conservative, you entered once and if you busted you went home. Now players enter and enter and enter – that’s why you see huge prize pools. There are 200 players, but the prize pool is huge cause they enter 7 times per player.
I find that the re-entry level is much higher now, the game is longer and the bubble bursts later, it’s a completely different game. The game has evolved a lot, it’s harder and there are tons of competition from all over the world, great players.”
Do you believe that Virtual Reality assistance and the Metaverse will be more prominent in the future?
”I believe that the casino space has so much opportunity in the metaverse, if it is one industry that will be the first one in there, it’s a virtual casino. We are already seeing a little bit of that when you see the live dealers on the computer, I think that is a little transition into what the metaverse can be.
But just keep in mind that poker has a little issue that casino slots don’t have, and that is liquidity. You need to have it to play poker since you depend on others. You cannot play on your own. It’s a community game so you need to have the liquidity for sure, but slots you can do it on your own. So, I would say that is the challenge for the metaverse to get to that liquidity.”
One of the biggest issues in the iGaming industry is gambling addiction. Do you believe there is a way to come back from an addiction?
”In my opinion, no operators want a problematic customer. People from the outside might think that you want them to be hooked on the product and so on, but that’s not what we want actually. We want savvy, knowledgeable, and responsible players.
In my tournament, I don’t want problematic gamblers and the structures in my tournaments are designed so you cannot re-enter unlimited. You have a stop in tournaments, which is my preferred thing, it’s hard to become addicted because you have one entry. But as with any addiction it needs to be treated and society must have an infrastructure in place to tackle those things. I believe in systems where you can self-exclude from the casino.
A nice aspect of the industry now is that they are focusing on responsible gaming and more ethical workers, and more inclusive environments. With the pandemic, for example, to prevent that scenario when you are in lockdown and all you do is waste your money in the casino – you had deposit limits. And I think that’s protecting the customer against themselves. Because also keep in mind that you are playing online poker in the space of your home, your private space, so you can drink, and you can be with a clouded judgment to make certain decisions.
So, I believe in protecting the customer, and like I said – no one wants problematic customers. No operator in the world wants that, we all want people that enjoy it like a leisure activity.”
Do you have any advice for beginners that are starting out in poker?
”Yes, talk about the hands, analyse the game, surround yourself with positive role models in the poker arena. Positive people that can give you a positive mindset, to help you overcome those dark times that we all know. And remember, you can’t win every tournament.
To become a poker pro, you have to have a balanced life, you can’t just be obsessed with poker. Read your books, study your hands, and there is a lot of virtual assistance apps now that analyse your game. Go through it, check all the possible scenarios and what you did wrong – how you could have turned that hand to your favour?
Also, when you bust a tournament don’t jump into another too fast. Give yourself that chewing time, marinate the experience. I have seen so many players that makes this mistake. They bust a tournament and immediately they jump into the next – again, and again and again. If the tournament has several staring days and you bust on Monday, try again tomorrow. Take the Monday off to work out, or have a walk, or spend time with your family. Then jump back in when your mindset is different, because a big percentage of the poker experience is your mindset. You are your worst enemy.
And, in my experience, I have never won a tournament in a bad table. I always have to have a positive and fun environment. If the table is sour or aggro its doesn’t go well for me. I don’t know how to play those scenarios so for someone that wants to become a pro, I would say to analyse all those scenarios. Not all tables are fun. Analyse your opponents, read, read, read, and get involved in the community. There are a lot of communities and a lot of material online.”
Can anyone become a good poker player?
”Absolutely, anyone can become a shark! All you have to have is will and discipline. And you can become a great poker player. It takes 20 minutes to learn but a lifetime to master like Doyle Brunson said.”
What change would you like to see in the next 10 years in the poker world?
”More women playing poker, for sure. And I want it now, I have been working for this for 20 years and I won’t stop. I want women to get empowered, play poker and feel how good it is. It’s a great feeling, it’s a great community. My best friends come from poker world, my husband is from the poker world, my children – everything in my life has to do with poker. I am just so passionate, and it has been such a beautiful industry for me, so generous, so giving, that I want to share that with other women.”
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