As WPT Season X progresses (Sundays on FSN at 8pm/11pm), we’ll be taking a deeper look at the WPT Season X Ones to Watch, those players who are expected to make an impact on Tour this season and are on their way to becoming household names. This week, we’re focusing on the super-talented Maria Ho, who is enjoying her second year on the WPT Ones to Watch list.
Maria is a high-stakes cash game player who has amassed live tournament earnings of more than $1.2 million dollars in just a few short years, putting her 13th among female poker players for total career earnings. She is also known for her appearance on the Emmy Award winning television show “The Amazing Race.” Get a look inside this multi-talented poker player’s life in our exclusive Q&A with her below.
From all the TV coverage, WPT, Amazing Race, poker tournaments to social media and Twitter, your life is in the public eye. What’s something we don’t know about you or don’t get to see?
Hmm, that my favorite way to spend my downtime when I’m not playing poker is to plop down on my couch, order in, pop open a bottle of wine and watch trashy reality TV marathons?! Ha ha. Something that people may not know about me is that music is a huge part of my life and something I am extremely passionate about. I learned to play the piano and violin at a very young age and throughout the years have sung in school choirs, starred in college musicals and was also in an a capella group at UC San Diego. To this day music is my greatest escape and what I find the most comfort in so whenever I have the time I still like to gig and do music shows in the L.A. area.
What is something that poker has brought about (directly or indirectly) that you are most thankful for?
I have to admit, there are days when this game and the constant mental and emotional roller coaster it puts me on consumes me to a point where I start to question my choice of profession. But when I take a step back and force myself to put everything into perspective I very quickly realize how fortunate I am that I get to travel around the world playing a CARD GAME for a living! For as exhausting as the lifestyle can be at times I can’t help but recognize what an interesting and unique life I am privileged to live because of poker. I am beyond thankful that poker has given me the freedom to do what I want, when I want, and that it affords me the kind of schedule that allows me to spend real quality time with my family and closest friends. Poker has also opened the doors to so many incredible life experiences and opportunities, the most memorable being the chance to be on season 15 of The Amazing Race.
Poker attracts a lot of A-listers from actors to athletes and we know you get to party with a lot of them. Who have you personally found to be the most exciting celebrity you’ve met through poker?
I tend to admire and notice hardworking, motivated, strong and successful individuals more than I notice “celebrity.” Someone who is famous for having done something different, innovative, and interesting with their life is what really gets my attention. It’s always so inspiring to meet people who are self-made and have really worked their tails off to build an entire career, business, lifestyle, brand etc. from the ground up. So because of that, I would have to say Mark Cuban would be the most exciting “celebrity” I have met through poker.
If you wrote a poker tell-all someday, what kind of dish could we expect to hear?
Wow. Trust me, it would be juicy and a definite page turner! Being a female in poker is like being a fly on the wall, privy to the most inner world of this boy’s club we have chosen to take part in and let me just tell you, from a females perspective that is not a world I thought I would ever get to see magnified to this extreme! I feel like I have seen damn near all there is to see in my seven years as a pro poker player. Lets just say, sh** goes down behind close doors, when the cameras turn off… and if the tell-all ever comes out it will be a very candid account of some of the most interesting stories I have bore witness to.
This is your second consecutive year as a WPT Ones To Watch. What sets you apart from the other players?
I am very proud to be asked back as a WPT Ones To Watch for a second straight season. I feel like there are definitely a lot of things that set me apart from the other players. I think I have a very unique and interesting poker personality and perspective being a female and having a cash-game specialist background who is trying to find my place in the tournament world. I am also one of those players that I think don’t really fit into either the “old guard” or the “new guard” of poker as people often categorize it. I have always felt like I am in this lost generation of poker players whose game is split down the middle because I got into this game right before the “Moneymaker effect” and the big poker boom but never really got too much into online poker until I realized I had to evolve and adapt to stay ahead of the curve. But I still think my biggest asset and the strongest part of my game are my instincts and my live read. Although I may not be the most talkative at the tables at times, I know there is a psychological component to this game and I know when best to use it against my opponents and I think that makes me interesting to watch as a player.
If you could have someone else’s job in poker, who’s/what would it be?
I think it’d be really cool to be one of the TV editors on one of the high stakes poker shows. Editors get to see things that no one else does, so that’d be fun and I think it’d be a great learning experience – getting a behind-the-scenes look at every hand, every facial expression, every moment that went to the cutting room floor!
People outside of poker tend to glamorize the game and lifestyle… give us a glimpse of some things they may not see that you have to deal with?
I’m grateful for my life but it does get exhausting. People tend to glamorize all the travel but living out of a suitcase, sleeping on airplanes, constantly jumping from one time zone to the other can take its toll. I don’t think there are many jobs out there that you can spend hours and hours, days upon days, doing your best with zero compensation… in fact LOSING money even while giving your best effort. That’s never fun and doesn’t ever seem to get easier to deal with both physically and mentally no matter how many times you’ve been down that road before.
Perfect world scenario, if you weren’t playing on the World Poker Tour, what would you be doing?
I’d buy Tiffany and I a house (equipped with our very own recording studio) in Australia, we’d adopt a child or five, (you know, finally get cracking on the family side of our lives), and spend the rest of our days writing music, recording, jamming with artists and eventually write, produce and possibly perform in a musical… on Broadway… which, I guess means we’d also be putting down some roots in NYC as well! But seriously, or maybe that was serious…Wow. There are so many things I want to do and to be involved in. I’d love to get my hands on some really interesting business ventures and invest in different ideas and projects. I’d also want to get into production anything from TV to music and theatre etc. Being able to help facilitate other people’s dreams and be a part of creating projects that will impact people’s lives is something that is very important to me. But most of all, I would just love spend my time finding ways to help others in every way possible.
You spent your college years singing and performing in musicals, if you could star in any musical what would it be?
RENT is such an iconic musical, I’m a big fan. So, I’d definitely want to play Mimi. I think the role would be challenging and its always fun to get to play a bit of a bad girl.
If you won your goal amount in poker tomorrow (millions), what would you spend the next year doing?
I think most people would say “traveling” but with my recent travel schedule, the last thing I’d want to do is get on an airplane! Although traveling to a casino for poker is very different than actually finally getting around to a proper vacation! So, I think I’d start off by treating a group of my friends and family to a baller vacation. Then after a successful period of R&R, I would take them all with me to a country in need and spend the rest of the year helping those less fortunate than I. Sharing the success that poker has brought me with those closest to me, and finding ways to give back is really what brings me the most joy in poker and makes it all worth it at the end of the day!
A non-poker related question: What TV character do you most identify with?
I’m not sure I should cop to this but I did an online quiz to answer this question and the result was Bree Van De Kamp from Desperate Housewives! Yikes. Rachel from Friends was a close second, so let’s stick with that answer!
There are a lot of highs and lows in poker, what do you do to keep your sanity?
Good question. If anyone has this figured out, PLEASE let me know! Having really good friends and being involved in their lives helps keep me grounded and gets me out of my own bubble. Especially spending time with my married friends, or families with children. It gives me something to look forward to and reminds me that there is more to life than poker, and still so many beautiful things to experience in my life.
You’ve stepped foot into tons and tons of casinos, tell us one of the most interesting places you’ve been/played?
Honestly, I haven’t been to another casino quite like WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma. Having every section of the casino be a different place in the world makes me feel like I get to go to ten different casinos in ten different places at once! The people there, from the players to the staff are genuinely some of the nicest and down to earth I’ve met.
You’ve been playing poker professionally for over seven years. These days, how do you choose what tournaments you’ll play?
I think like most pros I try to target the main/televised tours and any tournament with really good value, whether it be because the field is generally much weaker or larger than normal fields and with huge guarantees but generally it comes down to the location and how it fits in with the rest of my schedule. I would never put playing a poker tournament before important milestones in my friends and family’s lives like weddings, birthdays and the like.
The opportunities females have in poker and whether they’re deserving is always a taboo subject, after the year you’ve had in poker are you feeling like people are giving you more respect for the opportunities (like being a WinStar Spokesperson) that are coming your way?
As a female, a part of me feels like I’ll always be fighting for that respect. But ultimately, I think my resume speaks for itself and the steam I’ve been picking up with my results over the last year or so topped off by my WSOP final table this past summer has given me more confidence and more credibility. But I also think it is important to remember that if poker is going to continue to grow and flourish to its full potential in the mainstream and on a much bigger scale then poker doesn’t just need representatives for the game that are good at poker. We are going to need well-rounded, well-spoken individuals who can serve as ambassadors of the game in a way that will make poker more acceptable and relatable to the average person. So in that sense I think the types of opportunities and who gets them are dependent on a lot of different factors and just being a female in poker is most certainly not enough.
You had an amazing 2011. What can we expect to see you playing this year?
I’ll be, and have been, hitting the tournament trail a little harder this year than in years past. After final tabling the WSOP 5k event and getting heads up for the bracelet I have a new hunger and confidence that I didn’t have before. I won’t rest until I win one of those shiny little bracelets so you can definitely expect to see my playing in upwards of 30 WSOP events this year as well as heading to WinStar in September for their annual River series, which will be a $4,000,000 dollar guarantee this year! I also think that this is the year that I will take more chances with my tournament schedule and travel a little further in search of some of the best value tournaments all over the globe. Europe being one of those areas, for sure. And, of course, play as many WPT events as possible!