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While at the PokerStars.net North American Poker Tour (NAPT) at the Venetian, I hitch a ride up the Vegas strip in Lady Maverick’s (a.k.a. Vanessa Rousso) yellow Lamborghini with its equally sleek black interior. Paddle shifters make the car go faster, but then suddenly even this car gets caught in the eternal traffic near Caesar’s Palace, the Bellagio and the new Aria Resort and Casino.
At her fastest, Rousso has gunned the car some 130 mph; just about the pace of her thoughts when she’s playing the game. (Custom made radar detects those nasty ticket happy policemen).
Her iPhone has been built into the speakers as well, and electric techno beats move the car along. It’s very cool. We take a turn and drive parallel to The Strip to see the entrance of the gold-gated, all-white condominium complex where she lives with her husband, fellow PokerStars Pro, Chad Brown. They’re both Hollywood good-looking and add a touch of class to chapels meant for neon lights, quickie vows and other things Sin City. Heading back to the uber luxurious Venetian (where Rousso would on day four after a string of doubling short stacks take 25th for $18,000 dollars), the hydraulics of LDYMAV’s car drop 4-inches just so the car doesn’t get damaged by speed bumps; bumps that the gorgeous, blonde-haired Rousso has pretty much avoided throughout her short but highly distinguished career in the world of poker. She has been dubbed “Her Pokerness” and is now ranked #2 of all time earning female players with a stash of over $3.6 million. She’s deadly in the game and has only just turned 27.
It wasn’t your typical Vegas upbringing. It had nothing to do with Vegas at all. In fact, parlez vous Francais? Her parents met under the dizzying disco lights at Studio 54 in New York City. Her mother, Cynthia decided to impress Marc Rousso with her language skills as she was then working as a French teacher. “Ces’t une belle couche,” she said to the tall and handsome man thinking she would charm him, but as it turns out Rousso was French, and in his native language he replied that he welcomed the compliment. The French teacher, and the Venture Capitalist married just after seven dates and then headed to Paris where they settled. Vanessa was born in White Plains on February 3rd, 1983, because it was important to her mother that she be a dual citizen. “But then we flew right back to Paris,” says Vanessa sitting in the plush players lounge at the Venetian wearing a Smashing Starlets studded jean jacket and higher than the Lord black heels.
Her childhood was typical for a half-Parisian. She loved playing in the parks along the Champs Elysees where, “I really enjoyed feeding the pigeons,” she says in a voice oozing with soft, savvy, sexiness. Eventually her two younger sisters, Tiffany and Leticia, would join in on the fun. After school, Vanessa was deeply fascinated with the Rubik’s cube, backgammon and puzzles. Her father, a chess grand master, would sometimes play games with her. “He taught me that I had to earn my wins so that when I did win against him, it was a real win,” she says. She was only five when she started playing the game that would define her life.
Rousso’s seemingly charmed life fell apart when she was ten and her parents divorced. In 1992, her mother eventually settled Vanessa and her sisters in Florida. She describes herself as a “real intellectual” as a kid. “I was done with the Babysitters Club, and the Nancy Drew series when I was eight, and by ten I was devouring John Grisham’s novels.” Vanessa attended Wellington High School, while her mother worked as a high school counselor. (She eventually became a psychologist.) Vanessa was a varsity swimmer and varsity lacrosse player, also playing basketball and softball. “My biggest activity was debate club where I competed on a national level. I got to number two for individual speaker award during my junior year.”
Oh rankings! It seems that her life became defined by rankings at just about that point. She proved it in 2001 by becoming valedictorian of her senior class of 1,000 students. “School comes easily for me, but I also enjoyed being absent,” she admits as Jason Alexander (Seinfeld's George Costanza) comes in to the lounge and gives her a kiss on her arm for providing him good karma the night before at the celebrity poker event. She continues. “My mom wouldn’t make me go if I kept my grades up. I think the maximum absences you could have per semester was ten and I always made sure I took those days off. Besides, I never really learned from teachers. I was really bored there. I learned things on my own. I would always cram and prep for a test. I could teach myself a lot in a short period of time.”
She wasn’t gunning to be valedictorian but then it became a competition and Vanessa decided to play her educational cards. You probably could have wagered on the results. “When I realized I was third in my class during my senior year, I got all competitive about it and signed up for AP classes where I got straight A’s.” She’s unclear about the details of her valedictory speech, but does recall that “it was very philosophical. There was something about doors closing…” Hmm. Sure it wasn’t about them opening for a female poker player?