Through out the history of poker, women have been challenging stereotypes of it being only a "man's game" and breaking new ground. From Poker Alice, to Barbara Enright's induction into the Poker Hall of Fame and beyond; women have helped pave the way for other women to make their mark in the poker industry.
Out of the growing number of females who are making a name for themselves on the felt, Maria Ho particularly stands out. Maria is an icon for inspiring other women through both her incredible accomplishments and positive attitude as she quickly makes her way to the top of her field.
Maria moved with her family from Taiwan to Los Angeles when she was four years old. By watching her parents build a successful real estate business from the ground up she learned at an early age that working hard and taking chances can be rewarding.
When she was in college, Maria started playing poker and she successfully won money from her friends, her family, and anyone who was willing to play against her. Some of the guys, who held poker nights told her she had no chance at winning but let her join in and she happily walked out with her winnings. No one, including Maria, knew that those friendly games at college and low stakes cash games at nearby Indian casinos would lead to a professional and lucrative career.
Drawn in by the competitive and psychological aspects of the game, Maria continued to grow as a player. And increased in levels as she improved her game. She put aside her winnings towards building a poker bankroll. After playing for a year or so she tried her hand at tournament poker. She made the final table at a small $300 buy-in at Hollywood Park and any thoughts she had of turning back were laid to rest.
“I got hooked on poker when I made that final table. I thought I was a great poker player,” she laughs, “I figured out pretty quickly afterward that I just got lucky.”
In 2005, Maria graduated from the University of California, San Diego with a major in communications and a minor in law. She had originally planned to attend law school, but she had been drawn in by poker. She was now playing high stakes poker, and had grown her bankroll to a point where she was comfortable in making a move to become a full time professional poker player.
“I was just out of college and I decided that if I was going to try to play professionally that was the time to do it,” says Maria about her decision.
Since Maria's start as a professional player, she has gone on to become one of the top female pros with over a million dollars in winnings. In the World Series of Poker 2007 Main event she was the last woman standing, finishing in 38th place and took home a prize of over $200,000. She went on to cash twice in the 2009 WSOP and cashed three times in 2010.
“I think my strength in poker is my ability to read the other players. I’m observant and can get a read on a player as a whole. I have good instinct on the table dynamics” she says. “My biggest weakness is not always following through on those instincts.”
in 2010, Maria added a final table and 10th place finish at the World Poker Tour’s Bellagio Cup and a final table and 6th place finish at the World Series of Poker Circuit Event: South Africa.
This year, Maria looks to bring even more success. She started off 2011 with a bang, taking home $73,614 for a second place finish in the Aussie Millions 8 game. The 2011 WSOP also brought more accomplishments for Maria when she broke the record for winning the largest cash prize ever for a female player in the North American WSOP, when she came in 2nd in the 5K No Limit Hold'em Event.
“It is all a blur to me now. I realized the magnitude of being so close when they but the bracelet between us. The bracelet was all that was in my mind. It wasn’t the money. It was the bracelet.” she said about her experience. “ It is bittersweet, being so close. I know I did well, and I am proud of what I accomplished, but as a poker player I always want more."
"Being a woman might have added some pressure, but to be honest I wasn’t thinking about it. It is more about being the best poker player that I can be, not necessarily the best female player.”
Maria’s vast talents also lie beyond the poker tables. She has shared her knowledge of poker as an on-camera host for the WSOP, a commentator for the live WSOP final table broadcasts on ESPN 360, and a writer for several poker publications.
In 2009, Maria was seen on the CBS Emmy Award winning television show The Amazing Race with fellow poker pro and 2008 Last Woman Standing, Tiffany Michelle. “Strong women are always labeled but strong men are looked up to. I wanted to something to show that women can do anything. It (Amazing Race) was the hardest thing to do. I was challenged to push myself to the limit and was in situations that I would never think I could do,” she says.
Maria is also a very talented singer and was in the third season of American Idol where she was chosen for "Hollywood Week." She also appeared as a panelist on Anderson Cooper 360 in a segment called “Breaking Into the Boys Club” where she was joined by TV host and best-selling author Suze Orman, former Clinton White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers, and neurosurgeon Katrina Firlik discussing what it takes for a strong woman to fit into traditionally male occupations in today’s society.
Currently, Maria lends her time to two current projects Rise Poker and The River Poker Series which guarantees a three million dollar prize pool at the Winstar Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma.
“I don’t even think many people realize that there are big tournaments in the mid-west with big prize pools,” said Maria. “I love playing poker all over but there is a different atmosphere at the Winstar and in the mid-west in general. It is very competitive but laid back and friendly. It reminds me of why I started playing poker and why I love the game.”
Maria joins the “Prince of Poker”, Scotty Nguyen, Survivor-China contestant and professional player Jean-Robert Bellande and and G4?s 2 Months, $2 Million’s Dani “Ansky” Stern as the faces of Rise Poker. Rise Poker is a pay by month poker site that aims to keep online poker available American players.
What is next for Maria Ho? Legends of Poker at the Bike, the Winstar, and WSOP Europe are all in the plans.
One day she hopes to take over the family business. “Taking over my parents business is still what I plan to do in the future. I don’t know that I will play poker when that happens. I like to give everything 100 percent and I don’t think that I would be able to do both to that level,” she says. “I will still play poker just not as a serious career like it is now.”
“I am so fortunate to be able to play poker. I hope that other women are motivated by what I accomplish. I hope they see what I have done and go out and play. Women can do anything, we just can’t be too intimidated to try.”