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Multi-talented Maria Ho focusing on poker goals

9 July 2011

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Maria Ho burst onto the poker scene in 2007 after finishing in 38th place in the World Series of Poker Main Event and earning the distinction of being the last woman standing.

She burst onto the national scene in 2009 when she competed on the hit CBS reality TV show The Amazing Race with fellow poker player Tiffany Michelle.

She has appeared on American Idol, played in the World Mahjong Championships, appeared as a guest on Anderson Cooper 360 and worked for her family real-estate business.

But poker is where Maria Ho’s heart is, and you know that’s the case when she says the biggest cash of her career is one of the toughest losses she’s ever had in the game.
Maria Ho burst on the poker scene after her deep run in the 2007 Main Event.

Maria Ho burst on the poker scene after her deep run in the 2007 Main Event. (photo by Vin Narayanan)

One month ago Ho finished in second place in a $5,000 No Limit Hold’em event at the WSOP. She won over $540,000, but missed out on what she wanted most: the gold bracelet.

“I think by being a professional poker player there definitely is that point where it's not about the money,” she said. “Yes, there was about a $300,000 difference between second and first and I'm not saying [the amount] is nothing and isn't significant. But at the same time when you're that close to the bracelet, I [could have] cared less when it was heads-up if the prize money for first was for 10th-place prize money. At that point all I wanted was that bracelet.”

“I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed,” she added. “The money's great but who knows if I'll ever be that close to a bracelet again.”

Ho has amassed over $1.1 million in career earnings and ranks 13th among women players. She began playing the game as a freshman in college at the University of California, San Diego with friends, despite not exactly being invited.

“[My] friends had a home game that was like 'Tonight we're going to have beers and play poker but girls can't come,'” she said. “So obviously I made it a point to crash and I kind of learned to play it from them.”

She began beating that game and looked for ways to improve. Luckily for her, she was going to school near plenty of Indian casinos, where she could work on her craft despite only being 18.

After graduating college in 2005 with a degree in communications and a minor in law, Ho began playing poker professionally. She cashed in two WSOP tournaments before the 2007 Main Event, which is when she really entered the spotlight. Her 38th-place finish and $237,865 payday comprised a pivotal moment early in her poker career.

“That definitely solidified for me that I wasn't too out of my league,” she said. “I can come into a big tournament like this and actually do well. That definitely built a lot of confidence.”

Her performance and Michelle’s performance in the 2008 Main Event caught the attention of the producers of The Amazing Race. Annie Duke’s success on Celebrity Apprentice and Jean-Robert Bellande’s appearance on Survivor proved that poker and reality TV were a natural match.

“I think they realized that there was something to that competitive edge poker players have that would work on a reality competition type show,” Ho said. “It just seemed like the perfect thing for me and Tiffany to do together. We were really close friends and poker is such an individual competition that it was an interesting dynamic to be able to compete together.”

Ho and Michelle finished in fifth place in the 15th season of the popular TV show. The fact that she had to miss the 2009 Main Event during filming wasn’t an issue because “it was the right time to do it.”

“The thing I'll take with me forever is that there aren't many times in life where you are pushed to your limits every single day,” she said. “I can honestly say for everything I did on that show I was able to test myself and see what I was really made of.”

Ho returned to the poker scene in 2010, cashing three times in the WSOP and placing 10th in the WPT Bellagio Cup VI. She capped the year off by signing with and joining the online poker room’s stable of Team UB pros.

She began 2011 with a second-place finish in an Aussie Millions eight-game tournament and earned nearly $70,000 for her efforts. Things looked as smooth as ever.
Ho scored the biggest cash of her career after finishing in second place in a WSOP event this year.

Ho scored the biggest cash of her career after finishing in second place in a WSOP event this year. (photo by Vin Narayanan)

That was until April 15, when the U.S. federal government seized the domain names of the biggest online poker rooms that accepted American players. One of those sites was

“I didn't realize how much I took [online poker] for granted,” Ho said. “I forgot how I could just be laying in bed one morning and wake up and decide to play online for two hours and then move on to the rest of my day. I totally took it for granted and it was a little tough to adjust to at first. I think I was in denial and thought, ‘Oh, it's going to come back somehow and everything will be back to normal.’”

However, she said that starting out her poker career as a live player has made the adjustment a lot easier. And she said that in the long run, Black Friday is a positive for the game.

“I think that it's been good for poker in the sense that I think there needs to be a return to live poker,” she said. “I think that there are so many people who are just used to playing online. Some of the best parts of poker are being able to interact with your opponents and being able to read them physically in front of you. That had been taken away by people playing online.”

Less than two months after Black Friday, Ho made the final table of Event #4 of the World Series of Poker. She entered as the shortest stack, but clawed her way to a heads-up battle with Allen Bari.

The problem for Ho was that she held less than 15 percent of the chips when heads-up play began. Bari was able to win the title after his pocket eights held up against Ho’s As-4s.

Ho said the loss was especially tough to take because these opportunities don’t come often for female poker players, who usually occupy less than four percent of tournament fields. A woman hasn’t won a WSOP bracelet in an open event since 2008.

“I definitely have always felt the need to prove to people that although there aren't that many women in the game, this is a game women can do well at and be successful and win,” she said. “I've always taken it upon myself to position myself in a way where other women can look to me and want to get in the game.”

The drought of female gold bracelet winners hasn’t surprised Ho, who says the number of strong female players doesn’t easily outweigh the lack of women who play.

“The core group of female poker players that are really good are definitely good enough to win a bracelet on any given day,” she said. “But there's just so much variance in tournaments that with the few number of women who actually do play it's hard to overcome that.”

Ho hopes to join Vanessa Selbst, Annie Duke, Annette Obrestad and Liv Boeree as female poker players who have won WSOP bracelets and/or major poker titles. Ho has neither and says she couldn’t leave poker without padding her resume a bit more.

But when the time comes, she’s ready to put the grind of the tournament circuit in her rearview mirror.

“Overall I'm kind of ready to have a normal lifestyle,” she said. “I want to settle down, have a family and just be in one place for once. In my future I see a lot of interesting opportunities but overall I kind of just want that normal lifestyle.”
Multi-talented Maria Ho focusing on poker goals is republished from