Ho was the last woman standing in the 2007
Series of Poker, but if you think poker tournaments
are a big part of her life, you would be way off.
She works in LA real estate, just got back from
Hong Kong, and is a cash game specialist. We sat
down with Maria just a few days before the 2008
series and discussed life as a poker pro, why
the tournament trail isn't what it's cracked up
to be, and why dating a poker pro is probably
not in her future.
Out All The Lizard Interviews
You must be gearing up for the World
Series of Poker. It’s starting in a
few days from now?
Maria: Yeah, I’m really,
really excited actually.
PokerLizard: How many events
do you plan on playing?
Maria: Right now on my schedule
I have about 15 events planned. Because actually
I was going to play more originally but I got
invited to the World Maj Jong Tour in Asia, so
they’re flying me to Hong Kong for a week,
it coincides with the World Series, some of the
preliminary events, so.
PokerLizard: Interesting. I’ve
actually played Mahjong, boy do I suck at it.
I’ll tell you that right now.
Maria: (laughs) I mean where
did you learn, like you read online the rules
PokerLizard: My mother had a
set, tiles and all that stuff.
Maria: Oh, okay. No. You can’t
be that bad. I don’t feel like there’s
that much skill to Ma Jong where you can be like
really, really bad or really, really good. I think
most people are just like mediocre.
PokerLizard: Right. It was just
hard for me to follow everything, you know, not
growing up with it.
Maria: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.
PokerLizard: It’s like
one bam, two crack. What? What are you talking
about? What are you saying? I have no idea.
So how have you been gearing up for the World
Series? I notice you’ve been playing some
FTOPS events, but other than that?
Maria: I’ve really been
doing a couple of things after last year’s
World Series; I haven’t really played that
much live tournaments, in the last two months
I’ve been trying to play in a few live tournaments,
just locally. I didn’t really want to do
that much traveling before the World Series. I
played in the WPT
Ladies Championship at the Bellagio in April.
Then I played the main, $2,000 buy in event at
the Commerce series that just happened last week.
I’m actually gonna be playing in a tournament
at Lake Elsinore, which is Jerry Yang’s
home casino. I actually saw him at the Commerce
a few days ago and he asked me to go and play.
PokerLizard: I noticed you were
sponsored again this year by Bodog
and they sponsored you after the Main Event had
started last year. How did that work out?
Maria: Well basically when when
it got down to me and a few other females, I think
we were in the top 100. I started being approached
by a few different sites and one of them being
and I just I think they have a lot to offer. So
I decided to go with them. So it didn’t
really happen until maybe day four, or the beginning
of day five of the - the main event.
PokerLizard: They probably figured
the last remaining women would get a lot of camera
time I assume.
Maria: Yeah, they scooped me
up and the other second to last female in - in
PokerLizard: Oh yeah. And they’re
sponsoring you again this year?
PokerLizard: Cool. That must
Maria: Yeah. It is, it’s
- yeah, it’s definitely nice and I really
hope we have - have some good results this year.
PokerLizard: Last year you -
you finished pretty high up. When you finally
busted out were you just excited that you did
so well or were you just pissed that you had been
Maria: No. The last thing I
could think about was how well I had done. I was
just so - I wouldn’t even say pissed was
the word. I mean mainly it was like disappointment,
but it was kinda like shock because I was somewhat
short stacked, but it’s no matter how short
stacked you are when you make it that deep in
such a huge tournament you’re always thinking
you’re gonna do better, you know, than you
do. So I think I was a little shocked and just
PokerLizard: And you sorta walk
around in like a haze for like a couple days,
you’re probably like, “My God, what
Maria: Yeah. And it’s
so weird because every time I watch the moment
that I bust out on - on ESPN,
I always for some reason think I’m gonna
win that that hand (laughs). Like one day’s
it’s gonna change. I had just this complete
blank look on my face. It was like I can’t
even remember exactly what I was feeling at the
moment. I can barely recollect that moment.
PokerLizard: You played day
after day, hours and hours, how do you stay focused
or awake or just keep from going insane?
Maria: You know it wasn’t
so much hard to like stay focus as it was just
hard to keep a clear head, so my mind was completely
focused on poker, but there were many poker things
running through mind in all of these hands. I’m
running over all these hands in my mind and how
I coulda played them differently. All these different
situations I was in, it was really hard to keep
those clear in my head. But my mind would completely
focus on poker in general.
I didn’t really have that much distraction
until towards end where obviously anytime I needed
to go to the bathroom, I would get hounded for
an interview or something when I became the last
woman left. That was hard because I really try
to utilize those breaks as times to really just
like clear my head and try to think about my stack
size going into the break, how I wanted to be
playing when I got back from the break. I really
use that time to strategize so I didn’t
really have that. And sometimes I’d barely
have enough time to use the bathroom.
PokerLizard: Well at least they
improved the bathroom situation over the prior
year. That year there was one bathroom and everybody
would have to run down the hallway like a bunch
of cattle and knock Howard Lederer over on the
Maria: The best part, I’d
have to say about playing the World Series is
definitely watching men wait in line for the bathroom
PokerLizard: Yeah, those lines
Maria: Aside from the ladies
event day, there’s never a line for the
women’s restroom and especially not at the
main event on like the fifth day, you know. Had
it all to myself.
PokerLizard: I know when I like
bust out of a tournament, even though it’s
like a piddley hundred buck deal, thoughts are
clinging and clanging around my head. I can’t
even sleep for like five hours. I can’t
imagine what it’s like playing in the main
event of the World Series.
Maria: But that’s the
thing though, because even as excited as I was
to make it through each day I was so completely
exhausted that it wasn’t so much falling
asleep that I had a hard time with, but it was
just like like you said, it’s just like
a big haze and it’s like everything’s
- all the hands I played are like all muddled
together and I was really having problems to try
to distinguish one from the other. But actually
I was so exhausted I just really would crash every
night right after the day’s end.
PokerLizard: Probably have nightmares
of bad beats all night long.
Maria: That’s the thing
though, is in this tournament I didn’t get
lucky but I never really got unlucky, so thankfully,
I didn’t have that many bad beat nightmares.
PokerLizard: How would you say
your life has changed since your appearance last
Maria: I would say really my
life hasn’t changed all that much. In terms
of just being recognized and all that stuff, yeah
there is a little bit of that. The biggest difference
I would say is that I’ve played less poker
actually because it’s not so much of a grind
anymore. I don’t feel the need to play a
certain number of hours a week or anything, so
that’s really opened up my time to be able
to spend it with my family and with my friends.
I guess I have more freedom but it hasn’t
changed me personally.
PokerLizard: You don’t
have - you don’t have degenerates you know
asking you for money and things like that?
Maria: (laughs) You know not
much more than I used to there’s always
like two or three tournament requests I’ve
always gotten, wanting the odd twenty or forty
bucks, that hasn’t really increased in the
amount that they’ve asked or the number
of people since. I’ve had like a couple
funny stories like the random people. Usually,
in the worst situations coming up and asking me
if I was Maria Ho. I remember one time I was playing
blackjack and I was losing ten or fifteen thousand
playing blackjack in Vegas. And I was just so
disgusted. I had about five hundred left in front
of me and someone choose that exact moment to
be like, are you Maria Ho, from like the World’s
Series of Poker. It took everything inside of
me not to be like really rude to them.
PokerLizard: Throw that last
chip at their head really hard like, “Just
Maria: Yeah, seriously.
PokerLizard: So has Barry Greenstein
ever hit on you?
Maria: No. Actually, me and Barry
are friendly with each other, he hasn’t
ever blatantly hit on me. I mean he’s nice
to most Asian females. But, the times that I played
with him and spoken with him he’s just been
What do you think about them moving the World
Series of Poker Final Table this year to three
months down the road?
Maria: I think it’s definitely
interesting. I haven’t felt very, very strongly
one way or the other, but I know that the general
consensus among the fellow like pros is that obviously
they think it’s good for poker but bad for
professionals. I haven’t had a strong feeling
either way. I think that it’s just going
to be a really interesting concept to use and
a good ploy to get people interested. Because
just coming from me, I’m a poker player,
but at the same time I’m also a viewer,
so I definitely know that when I watch televised
poker events and I already know who won it gets
somewhat ruined. For instance, I just realized
just recently when I was watching the NBC Heads
Up, and Chris Ferguson was heads up against Andy
Bloch for the title, and we all know that Chris
Ferguson won. It was really at that moment that
it really struck me that like, I didn’t
like knowing who had won already, because it was
best out of three, so once that Andy Bloch won
the first match, I knew that Chris Ferguson won
the next two.
PokerLizard: That does sort
of ruin any suspense.
Maria: From a viewer standpoint
that’s what I don’t like about watching
poker on television. So I think for the everyday
average poker viewer at home, I think that’s
going to be really great and it’s going
to add a lot of intrigue and a lot of excitement
surrounding the World Series Main Event.
Of course from the professional standpoint you
look at where they’re coming from and it’s
different. I know some players really believe
in the whole momentum thing and they just want
to keep going. They also don’t want the
average player, who makes it really far to have
this time to really study their opponents and
study the game, especially with, you know, big
professional like Daniel Negreanu offering to
Maria: That’s going to
be very difficult for another professional to
win the main event now. This is only gonna make
it harder because the playing field is going to
be leveled at the final table much more than it
ever has been.
PokerLizard: I can see both
sides of the issue, it will be good for TV and
everything, but I mean think about what would
have happened, you know, two years ago, if you
had been able to see the way Jamie Gold played
on TV for like two weeks or three months in advance,
I mean you would have been, “Man that guy
is full of crap.”
PokerLizard: People would have
been calling him down left and right, super thin.
It’s not that they weren’t already
aware that he was kind of a blow hard but, I think
it takes some of the dynamic out, but I guess
it will be good for poker in the long run I hope.
Maria: At the end of the day
I think the people who make the final table will
be affected by the uncertainty, to not know whether
you’re gonna get eight million or one million.
PokerLizard: Oh right.
Maria: It’s a long time.
PokerLizard: You have a massive
chip lead and end up spending three million and
you end up donking out and coming ninth.
Maria: Yeah, exactly. I think
it will be really interesting and I don’t
know 100% if it’s gonna work out exactly
the way that they’re hoping it will. But
if it does, I can see that it could be really
great for poker, so I guess we’ll have to
wait and see.
PokerLizard: And if you make
the final table you don’t have to sign some
goofy, ten thousand dollar with Full Tilt, you
can sign a deal with Ford or Budweiser or whomever.
Maria: Definitely negotiate,
that’s true, I didn’t think about
that aspect, but you definitely have a lot more
time to negotiate and find the best deal.
PokerLizard: You pretty much
worked your way up playing limit poker from $3/$6
all the way up to $800/$1600 in a short time.
How did you work your way up so quickly?
Maria: Well when I first - well
I separate my poker playing into two phases. One,
was pre - pre professional playing, so that’s
when I started playing the three six. During that
period the highest limit I played was maybe 20/40
on occasions. But I would have to say it was online
poker that I credit with being able to jump so
fast. I’ve always felt more comfortable
playing higher online than I did live, so even
though I would be playing, 20-40 live, I was playing
40-80, 50-100 online. That really helped with
my progression. I think I was just intimidated
in the beginning. So playing online really helped
me like get over that intimidation because once
I became a winning player at the higher limits,
then the limits didn’t intimidate me as
much, so I was able to take that into the live
I try to have decent bankroll management. I
can’t say I’m the best and when I
played 800-1600 I definitely didn’t have
the proper bankroll for that game. For the most
part I try to be really, really disciplined and
responsible when it comes to bankroll management.
I think I just felt comfortable moving up limits
I was moving consistently up in the limit and
felt like I could beat the 800-1600. Honestly,
sometimes it’s in the higher limits that
actually there’s worse players. I would
definitely say that on a daily, average basis,
there’s tougher players in the 100-200 limit
game at Commerce than there is in the 200-400,
300-600, and 400-800.
PokerLizard: Interesting. Did
you have any set criteria for when you moved up
or you just figured you’d take a shot, or
just when you got the bankroll up to where you
needed it to be?
Maria: It was a combination
of the bankroll and how comfortable I felt with
the limit that I had been playing. Time wasn’t
so much a factor, I never said okay I have to
play one two for six months or a year in order
to move up. It was just more like when I felt
comfortable against the players and in the game
that I was playing. As long as I wasn’t
intimated really by the limit and had the bankroll
for it, I was willing to play the highest that
I could because the worst thing you can do is
play scared because your bankroll is on the line.
I would make sure that I can maintain my aggressiveness
at the limit that I play so, it was a combination
of all those factors.
PokerLizard: Limit Hold’em
seems to be pretty popular in California, is it
drying up at all like in Vegas?
Maria: I think you can definitely
see that it has dried up a little bit in general.
In Vegas I’ve seen that. But definitely,
like you said it’s really popular in California
still and it’s still popular and profitable
online. I guess it just depends on when you started
playing poker, you know. The people who started
playing poker in the last five or so years, they’re
all much more interested in no limit, or maybe
Omaha high low..
PokerLizard: Do you prefer limit,
or does it just fit your style better?
Maria: I think that for cash
games I feel definitely more comfortable playing
limit. I do like limit because I like to play
a lot of hands and - and there are things about
limit that I feel I’m just more comfortable
doing and it fits my style of play more. But I
love playing no limit cash games and if I could
invest enough time into no limit cash games to
be as good in that as I am in limit, then I would
definitely do that. But right now I’m really
comfortable where I’m at so I would just
rather play limit cash games and then play no
limit tournaments, because no limit tournaments
and no limit cash games are two completely different
things. And I feel more comfortable playing no
PokerLizard: What advice would
you give to somebody who was thinking about becoming
Maria: I would say like the
first and the most important thing is just to
be very disciplined. I think that people have
a lifestyle associated with this profession and
I think they need a reality check where that’s
concerned because most of the people that you
see on TV or people that you see winning tournaments,
that’s not where they make their living.
People who are the average poker playing professional
they’re playing cash games, they’re
playing five days a week. They’re playing
six to eight hours a day and that’s how
they make their living. It’s not like they
go and play one tournament and all of a sudden
they win millions of dollars and then they jump
into like really big games. That’s not really
how it works.
So you have to have a lot of discipline. You
have to be willing to put in the hours and you
have to be willing to - to manage your bankroll
properly because that’s the biggest mistake
I see with a lot of professional poker players
is they make really poor decisions about the games
that they play in and how they choose to spend
their money. So I think if they’re really
serious about being a professional they need to
know the reality of the situation is; it’s
not going to be a one shot tournament and you’re
going to be set with a poker bankroll. Most people
are still building their way up to play the games
so you have to be willing to stay within your
means and then to get to a certain level that
you want to be at.
PokerLizard: Yeah. It’s
funny how people think the poker tournament trail
is actually very glamorous when it’s actually
just a grind of…
PokerLizard: - torture.
Maria: - completely grueling.
Yeah, exactly. It’s not - it’s not
that glamorous at all.
PokerLizard: I covered the World
Series of Poker and hanging out in the Rio for
like eight hours a day and it’s like, I
wish I was dead. I mean it’s just brutal
and that wasn’t even playing!
Maria: Yeah. These people have
no time to eat. If you think about it, they’re
eating during breaks, people think all they do
is play poker and party and stuff. These people,
they’re really cramming their life around
PokerLizard: It’s just
it’s no way to live, in my opinion. If it
floats their boat that’s okay.
Maria: I agree with you that’s
why for me, whereas most people would, have a
decent score and they would want to play more
and play more, I’ve actually stepped away
from it because I just can’t do that on
such a regular basis.
PokerLizard: They get lucky
in one tournament and they think that, oh man
this is easy I’m going to make a lifestyle.
And the next thing you know they’re broke
two years later.
Maria: Yeah. I have a question
Maria: I’ve read some
of your interviews, what do you ask females in
place of the whole, Matt Damon question?
PokerLizard: Oh, if you were,
Mike McDermott in the movie Rounders.
Maria: Exactly. What do you
ask - what’s your women question?
PokerLizard: I’ve actually
asked a couple women that one, but generally I
don’t feel too comfortable asking them.
I mean if you want to answer that, that’s
fine with me.
Maria: Well I want to know what
the question is, because I haven’t see a
- a question that you ask - I just thought that
was a really great question to end the interviews
with, like with the male - with all the male poker
players that you’ve interviewed. But I was
just wondering whether you asked like the girls.
PokerLizard: I gotta - I gotta
come up with something. Let’s see here.
If you were Matt Damon’s girlfriend in the
movie of Rounders, how fast would you punch worm
in the face - no. I gotta come up with something.
Maria: You should come up with
one. That’s like one of my favorites - I
enjoy reading peoples’ answers to that question.
But it’s pretty much, it seems pretty male
PokerLizard: Yeah. It is male
centered that’s for sure.
Maria: Of course they all have
the same answer because I mean, hello, it’s
PokerLizard: Actually Negreanu
actually said he should stay with the good girl.
I think he was the only guy who said that.
Maria: Who said that?
Maria: Oh, Daniel.
PokerLizard: His rationale was,
she’s probably better for his life. Typical
Daniel. Have you ever dated a poker player?
Maria: Have I dated a poker player?
PokerLizard: Yeah, and was it
as terrible as the other women we’ve interviewed
have made it out to be?
Maria: I was gonna do a no comment
on that one. I mean I hate to be mean like that.
The thing though, like you said, is it as bad
as the other women that you’ve interviewed
have said. And I would have to say, yes, but only
because I haven’t really dated that many
poker players actually. I’ve only really
dated one poker player. And it’s just bad,
because this lifestyle is so strange. Your hours
are really weird and playing big and losing put
you this funky mood sometimes where you really
just want to be alone where you’re just
kind of sulking, and you’re a little bit
like anti-social, and I think in terms of that,
that really ruins a relationship, because I mean,
even though someone’s in the same profession
– doing the same thing, you are and they
kind of understand what you’re going through,
there’s something about playing poker, and
there’s something about poker players, I
think, that when they lose, they still don’t
feel like anybody really understands sometimes.
Especially if they’re playing at two completely
different levels, that that’s also really
hard, but even at the same level, it doesn't make
it any easier.
PokerLizard: I think being a
poker pro, I mean, I don’t care how well
grounded you are, kind of turns everybody into
somewhat of a manic depressive-type personality,
because like, there are super highs and super
Maria: Exactly. Oh, exactly.
That’s – yeah. That’s a really
good way of putting it.
PokerLizard: Your last name
is Ho, I assume junior high was a treat for you.
Maria: Yeah. You know, it wasn’t
too pleasant back then, but you know, I took it
all in stride. I think I’ve always had to
have a really good sense of humor, and I mean,
that’s my last name, so it’s a part
of like who I am but, it was a little rough.
PokerLizard: Brutal. So you
don’t have a cool poker nickname yet?
Maria: No. And honestly, and
I never really wanted one. Some of my friends
have tried to come up with some, just for fun
or whatever, but I’ve never really taken
to any of those. If I don’t feel the need
to come up with one myself, my name’s pretty
short as it is and easy to remember. I don’t
really feel like there’s anything that I
want that will make it be more indicative of the
kind of poker player I am, so I’m good with
not having a nickname for now, but I do have like
a pretty standard poker, like an online name,
but I don’t use that my as nickname.
PokerLizard: I agree. People
shouldn’t give themselves nicknames. I mean,
it should be like the Air Force, where your buddies
make fun of you and that demeaning name gets stuck,
Maria: Right, I don’t
think people should go out of their way to make
up a nickname, but I know some people do, but
I mean –
PokerLizard: That’s terrible.
Maria: Yeah. I never had a nickname
growing up, even, so there’s not one that’s
going to stick just for poker.
PokerLizard: What do you have,
goal-wise, for poker? You already have some small
amount of fame, some fortune. You really see yourself
becoming a fixture in poker? I mean, it seems
like you also are interested in pursuing other
Maria: Right. I think my goal
in poker is – I want to make sure that I’m
always learning, and that I’m always playing
the best poker to my ability, and ultimately,
yeah, that should lead to maybe wining some kind
of title of some sort, but it’s not so specific
in terms of that. It’s just that I want
to be the best poker player or I want to be a
well-respected poker player, and for nothing else
but that. So if that respect comes with wining
a bracelet, or a title, or whatever, or just being
a really successful poker player, I think I would
just want that in general.
I don’t plan on playing poker professionally
for very much longer, because like you said, I
do have other interests. I don’t feel like
I can really have a lot of long term goals, because
I don’t plan on doing this for a long time,
so it’s kind of hard to specify.
PokerLizard: I will. And you
should be glad to know, for some weird reason,
most of the time we interview somebody, the go
on a good heater, we call it the PokerLizard mojo.
Maria: Oh, yeah, yeah. Well,
that’s good to know, considering I’m
going to be going to the World Series like next
PokerLizard: So don’t
worry. It’s all taken care of. You’ll
be raking in the cash. I guarantee it.
PokerLizard: Ok, I have a final
question, to replace that Rounders one...If you
could be any pro poker player for a day, who would
you pick and why?
Maria: This will be corny, but
I'd pick Daniel Negreanu. I went to Phil Ivey's
party the other day and Daniel was so funny, everyone
just gravitated to him. He makes himself so available
to everyone and he's just so much fun, crazy and
animated. I'd just want to be inside his head
for one day, he has fun both in and out of poker.
PokerLizard: Thanks a lot for
Maria: Thanks for the interview.
You can read Maria’s excellent blog on
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