Aug 30, 2019
Sosia Jiang: From Mongolia to Poker Success
By RTR Dennis
Sosia Jiang may not be one of the most-famous female poker players, like Vanessa Selbst or Liv Boeree. However, she’s definitely become one of the game’s best.
Jiang has accumulated $1.18 million in live tournament earnings — most of which has come in the last few years. Her crowning achievement includes winning the 2017 PokerStars Championship Macau along with $498,073 (HK$3.87 million).
The New Zealand resident continues to rack up more impressive accomplishments. She’s not only known as one of the top female pros in Asian, but also one of the better players, period.
What makes Jiang more amazing is her story, which has seen her seen her go from rags to riches. That said, I’m going to cover more on Jiang’s path to becoming a highly skilled poker pro.
Struggling to Adapt to Life in New Zealand
Sosia spent her earliest years in inner Mongolia. Her family, including father Youngkang, mother Lee-yee Lin, and brother Honglin, were forced to move there due to an “unfavorable status” with the Chinese government. Inner Mongolia is a particularly harsh region of the country with barren land.
“It was post-Cultural Revolution. It was quite a stark period of communism in China,” Jiang said. “There hadn't been much economic progress.
“No one had anything so you just didn't know anything different. It was very austere. We lived in a concrete block house with concrete floors."
Jiang can barely remember her early life in Mongolia. Instead, she feels like her life began after a dramatic move 12,000 kilometers away to New Zealand.
“It was pretty interesting. It's funny, my childhood memories, it's almost like there's a fissure,” she explained.
“I have very vivid memories of that early period in New Zealand and it's hard to distil what are my actual early memories before that versus what is told to me."
Her grandmother, Picktao Young, was already living in the country at the time. So, the Jiangs’ move to this distant land felt more natural as a result.
But living in New Zealand was far from natural. Sosia struggled to adapt to the language and overall culture shock.
“At my very first day of primary school I didn't speak a word of English, I didn't know the alphabet,” Jiang said. “They pulled this poor Vietnamese kid out of the class to try to help me and we quickly realised we didn't speak the same language. It was futile.”
Another problem is that the Jiangs had no money or friends in their new country. Her parents quickly went to work, something they basically did 365 days a year for five straight years.
Introduction to Card Games
The Jiang family didn’t have much money when they arrived in New Zealand. As a result, Sosia and her brother didn’t have any toys to play with. All they had was a couple of card decks.
"My father had always loved games. The one thing we did always have is, when they had time, card games as a family,” she explained.
“From the time my brother was capable of holding two decks of cards in his hands, that's what we did for leisure."
They didn’t play poker back in these days. However, they enjoyed a variety of Sheng ji-based games, which involve points and lots of strategy.
Sosia Learns Poker
Since arriving in New Zealand, the Jiangs had been conditioned to believe that education was everything. So, when a slot opened up for Sosia at the prestigious Diocesan School, her parents spent everything they had on sending her there.
After graduation, she went on to Australian Nation University, earning a double degree in Asian studies and commerce. Sosia furthered her education even more with a law degree from the University of New South Wales.
Jiang began working in the corporate world shortly after getting her law degree. Her company moved her to Shanghai, where she’d be introduced to poker.
"My boss at the time invited me and a couple of people from the Hong Kong firm to a home poker game," she explained.
"Nobody is ever immediately good. I'm pretty sure I won money the first time I played, but they call it beginner's luck for a reason.
“When you first start, you're either happy because you've won a bit of money or you're a little bit steamed because you've lost some and want to win it back. There's motivation to keep playing in both scenarios."
In addition to learning live poker through home games, Jiang also picked up online poker too. Her brother, Honglin, was playing internet poker while studying for his PhD in statistics.
“This was the heyday of online poker. He gave me some guidance, recommended a couple of books and gave me some tips on how to improve my game,” she recalled.
“Looking back they were super, super rudimentary days, but it was so important to have someone to discuss strategy and hands with.”
Jiang Becomes a Poker Pro…Eventually
Sosia wasn’t a great player immediately. However, she used her love of poker and previous knowledge of card-game strategy to improve. Circumstances, along with her continual improvement, led Jiang into the world of professional poker.
While working in Shanghai, Jiang got tired of the corporate world and moved back to New Zealand to pursue a teaching career. At the same time, she began playing poker tournaments abroad. Sosia would eventually begin butting heads against her poker idols in these events.
"I was on my phone saying, 'Oh my God, I'm sitting next to Ike Haxton.' I'm having one of those moments," she said.
More importantly, she was having success in these tourneys. Jiang proved even better in online and live cash games, where she earned a great deal of money. Soon, Sosia was making far more from poker than teaching.
What Makes Sosia a Good Poker Player?
Jiang continues to do well in the poker world today. She believes that her instincts are one of her key attributes with regard to being successful.
"I have pretty good instincts. It's not that I think I have a good read on people,” she said.
“It's intuitively with the information around you, and everybody gives off some non-verbal signals. Even subconsciously, you're taking all of that into account.”
Sosia also bases a lot of her strategy on mathematics, rather than trying to read opponents’ physical tells.
"I'm actually quite anti tells-based play," she explained. "Basing huge decisions on some sort of guesswork is not sound play. However, it's relevant to informing some of your decisions at the margin, if that makes sense.
"Fundamentals are the most important thing however you'd be remiss to ignore some of the physical information you have from the environment around you."
How Is Jiang Treated as a Woman in Poker
Much is made about women in poker. Females make up approximately 5% of tournament fields, meaning they’re a decided minority. Sosia was asked by NZHerald whether she views being a woman as an advantage.
“If someone is going to play poorly against me because of some irrational assumption or stereotype they've made, they're just going to be a poor player, full stop,” said Sosia. “So when they play poorly, I can't say it's because I'm a woman because honestly those people are just bad against everyone.
Jiang added that anybody can be competitive in poker, regardless of their race or gender.
"Poker is unadulterated competition. And because it's a strategic game I don't see any reason it needs to be the purview of mostly white, male under 30-year-olds.
“Anyone is capable of getting better at the game. It's different from other sporting pursuits because you don't have physical limitations in that respect."
However, Sosia believes that too few players actually improve in poker because of self-delusion. Everybody thinks they’re a great player, thus creating a tendency to be lazy and avoid working harder to become better.
"The thing about poker is it allows a lot of room for self-delusion," Jiang explained. "I include myself in that. It's very, very difficult to truly understand where you are versus your competition.
“Because of the element of luck involved, when you lose it is pretty easy to blame it on bad luck and when you win it must have been because you're really good.
“I'm well, well aware that I am significantly above EV, expected value, in terms of my skill level in these tournaments and logically, over a long period of time, what I can expect to win."
Jiang looks to use her skills to continue winning more money in the future. She’s earned the bankroll to compete in some of the biggest stakes available, such as the Triton Million (£1 million buy-in). That said, you’ll likely be seeing more of Jiang in the poker world as time goes on.