Gambling Related Essays and Reports by Andrew W Scott

World Series of Poker Main Event... Report number 8

Last Woman Standing

Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

July 14th 2007

Maria Ho has just had the time of her life, picking up a spectacular $237,865 prize money for her 38th place finish amongst the field of 6,358 starters in this year's World Series of Poker main event.

But what garnered her the most attention was being the last women standing in the event. This gives her bragging rights as the female World Champion of Poker for the next year, at the tender age of 24. But, amazingly, she says she will have probably given the game away in less than five years. Read on…

(Right) Ho studies the cards on day 5 of the World Series of Poker Main Event
Picture courtesy

Maria, who describes herself as a professional poker player, hails from Arcadia, Los Angeles. Born in Taiwan, she moved to LA when she was four. In most respects Maria is just like any other typical attractive girl. She loves to sing, dance, and hang out with her friends. She parties a bit (Grey Goose and Red Bull please), and likes RnB and hip-hop music. She has a boyfriend. She admits to being an avid consumer of US Weekly magazine, pizza, cheeseburgers, and the TV show Friends.

But in one respect Maria is quite different from her peers, and that is she has a natural affinity for cards. It runs in the family - Maria plays bridge with her grandfather, and her father has played poker recreationally for as long as she can remember. She was first exposed to poker for money at college, learning from a college friend and her boyfriend, also an avid poker player. About two years ago she turned pro, making poker her main form of income. She has no job other than her four-days-a-week fix of poker, mainly at the Commerce Casino, the biggest card room in the world.

Her instinctive feel for the game is highlighted by her admission that she has never read a poker book cover-to-cover, but likes Barry Greenstein's book, Ace on the River, "because its got pictures in it". Go figure. She's played in about 20 card rooms throughout California, Nevada and Arizona and Aruba. Preferring to play live rather than on-line, Maria feels one of her great strengths is her ability to read other players. She says being a woman has both advantages and disadvantages, "in cash games the guys might give me a free showdown, but also they see women as passive players so my milder opponents get more aggressive with me."

Maria is not unfamiliar with high stakes play in cash games. Her biggest win in a day was $42,000. But she's also had huge losses. She usually plays the $100/$200 game, but she once lost $55,000 in a day when she got caught up in a $500/$1,000 game and found herself playing short handed with poker legend Johnny Chan, winner of the 1987 and 1998 World Series main event.

Being a cash game player, tournaments are not usually her thing. Before entering this year's main event, she had only seven cashes in tournaments totaling a relatively small $30,000. But that was all about to change. Her 38th placed result, beating out 99.4% of the field, has given her overnight recognition. Being the only female face in a sea of male faces didn't hurt either. "It's good," was her humble reply, when asked how she felt she felt about her win, "but I don't want any special recognition as a woman. I just want recognition as a good player. I feel a lot more confident about my game. Now I have accomplished something I can share with my fellow poker players, and they can all see that I've improved."

But as much as she might want to downplay her special status as one of the games few female players, she gathered media attention for just that reason. As soon as she started getting deep in the tournament, she was approached by sponsors, and signed a deal with online card room, Bodog. "Now I want to play more tournaments", Maria said, "I don't want to place highly, I want to actually win a big major tournament. I just want to become better and better. I'm really interested in travel, and tournaments give me the opportunity to do that."

Things are upbeat for Maria right now after her big win. But one senses a darker side to Maria's poker life. She says that it can be a stressful lifestyle because of the swings in her bankroll. One day she wins big and feels on top of the world, and the next day everything can turn. "I've hit rock bottom more than once," she said, "I lost my entire bankroll after a terrible run of three or four months, and had to borrow money to claw my way back". "Also it's a bit of an anti-social life. Staying up late playing poker means you get very little sleep sometimes, and traveling on the poker circuit can be hard. I flake on my friends a bit, because if I'm in a good game I'm not going to leave. It's hard to catch up with them because they have normal 9 to 5 jobs and that just doesn't match my hours." But she is quick to add that she's not complaining, saying that the negative aspects of the lifestyle are the price that needs to be paid to play the game she enjoys so much.

Maria is not totally immune to superstition. "I usually stack my chips in 20s, but if its running bad I will maybe change it to 30s. If I start doing something, and the cards are running good, I'll make sure I keep doing that thing." "I don't have a favourite hand, but there is a hand I hate - a pair of Queens. I lost with that hand for about three months straight."

One would think after the incredible success Maria has just enjoyed, she would be planning a long and fruitful career as a poker pro for decades to come. I'm astonished to hear from Maria that it's not so. "The chance that I'll be playing poker in five years is less than five percent. People think poker is all-consuming, and that poker players only care about poker, but it's just not true. We all have interests in the 'real world', outside of poker. Maybe for me I can't balance poker and the outside world, I think eventually I'll give up poker to do other things." Her parents own a real estate business, and she'd like to get into that. She has entrepreneurial instincts and would like to start her own business someday. Let's hope she can enjoy the same success running her own business in the "real world" as she has in the poker world. At least she'll have plenty of start-up capital.


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© 2007 Andrew W Scott




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