Poker Player J.J. Liu Wears Many Hats, Including Bristol Hotel Owner

Written By Dann Stupp on May 5, 2021 - Last Updated on May 31, 2021

A professional poker player with more than $3 million in career earnings sees the new Bristol casino as an advantage play.

During 25 years of competition, J.J. Liu has made both the World Poker Tour and World Series of Poker, and she scored a career-high $600,000 payday with a second-place place finish in a 2007 WPT event.

So, why does a cardsharp with $3,346,912 in career earnings now have her sights set on Bristol, Virginia?

Well, when that rounder is also a savvy real estate investor, the lure of Hard Rock Casino and Resort Bristol was too good to pass up.

Poker pro invests in Bristol motel

Formerly the Comfort Inn, the new Bristol Arcadia Inn is an 84-room property that Liu purchased at auction and then rebranded.

She figured the project could have a positive return on investment in the coming years. After all, Bristol voters formally approved the $400 million Hard Rock Bristol property on Election Day.

The casino-resort will be located on the Virginia-Tennessee border on the former Bristol Mall site. The property will have the usual offerings of a casino, sportsbook, hotel, conference meeting center, restaurants and retail spaces. But it will also have a live music venue and outdoor amphitheater.

With a great location just off Interstate 85 (2368 Lee Highway) and affordable room rates, Liu thinks her inn will be an attractive option for casino guests.

Liu told the Bristol Herald Courier:

“I love this spot. It has great potential. You have to visualize what is going to happen. The time to do an investment is before, because if you wait until something happens, it’s too late. The potential here is tremendous. … The casino will bring a lot of people. It’s entertainment. It will bring a lot of energy. It will bring a lot of entertainment to the community.”

Although Hard Rock officials had hoped to open a temporary casino by year’s end, early 2022 is now looking more likely. The entire Hard Rock Casino and Resort Bristol is expected to open in late 2022.

Who is J.J. Liu?

Liu, who was born in Taiwan, earned a master’s degree in computer science at Bradley University in Illinois. She then worked as a software engineer in Silicon Valley, where she found her love of poker at California card rooms.

The 56-year-old has since traveled the globe while racking up millions in winnings. She’s No. 2 on the Taiwan All-Time Money List for poker winnings. She’s also No. 10 on the Women’s All-Time Money List. (Further down on that list is Jessica Welman, my colleague and a half-decent poker player herself.)

Liu, whose legendary tournament outfits are as colorful as her personality, has parlayed her poker winnings into successful business ventures and investments.

And when it comes to the Bristol casino, Welman said the project is getting a great unofficial ambassador:

“Even though we haven’t seen Liu on the circuit much in the past few years, the Women in Poker Hall of Famer was one of the breakout stars of the initial poker boom. She became a fan favorite, in part because of her outfits, but she is also just a pleasant and friendly person at the tables. Liu is also a savvy businesswoman who knows that keeping the game fun is the way to keep repeat customers.”

Poker at Bristol casino

Upon its opening, Hard Rock Bristol is expected to have a poker room. Ultimately, Liu hopes the resort can attract major poker tournaments like those from the WSOP and WPT.

A poker tourney series will often stretch for days or even weeks. They often draw players from across the region and even the globe. (As you might imagine, that could be a nice development for a local hotel owner.)

The poker industry has had some lean years, due in part to the essential death of online poker in the US a decade ago with “Black Friday.”

However, the game is starting to make a comeback via legal avenues, both in person and online. In Michigan, for example, PokerStars is hosting 120 poker tournaments later this month as part of the two-week Michigan Spring Championship of Online Poker (MISCOOP) with $2 million in guaranteed prizes.

If Virginia poker does take off, Hard Rock Bristol could be a hotbed. But if you see a friendly local innkeeper sitting in front of you with a brightly colored outfit and a stack of chips, it might be best for you to look for another table.

Photo by Kelvintt |
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Dann Stupp

Dann Stupp is a longtime sports journalist who’s written and edited for The Athletic, USA Today, ESPN, and other outlets. He lives in Lexington, Virginia.

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