It’s taken more than a pretty face for Maria Ho to earn her rank in a male-dominated field.
ISSUE: Winter 2011-12
STORY: Shirley Lau
For reality TV enthusiasts and testosterone-fueled poker players, Chinese American Maria Ho may be a familiar face. She’s taken center stage on Season 3 of Fox’s American Idol and trekked through unfamiliar terrain on CBS’s The Amazing Race. But it was during this summer’s World Series of Poker (WSOP) when Ho’s competitive nature came out in full force.
In June, Ho became the record-holder for having the single biggest score by a woman at the U.S. WSOP, taking home more than $540,000.
“Anytime that I feel like I’m being challenged and pushed to my limits, I’m really drawn to it,” says the 28-year-old via telephone one morning as she’s preparing for another long day of betting, bluffing and showing her game face. For the last seven weeks, her life has become a routine of waking up and playing poker for up to 12 hours a day, every day.
Ho has shown she’s capable of playing with the big boys, even if they still seem to underestimate her, she says. She hasn’t done too shabby during her six-year career. To date, she’s won more than $1 million over the course of 19 live tournaments series.
It was during her college years at University of California, San Diego, that Ho realized that poker was more than just a downtime activity for her. “It was something that I was truly passionate about and that I wanted to pursue,” she says.
But to appease her parents — who came to the States from Taiwan when Ho was only 4 years old — she graduated with a bachelor’s in communications. (“I knew that I had to graduate because if I didn’t, I would never hear the end of it,” says Ho.) But by then, she had already decided to steer clear of the academic road and take the risk of becoming a professional poker player.
But the life of a gambler isn’t what Ho sees in her future — she says she’ll have to find another career at some point. “People can get wrapped up on how much money they can make,” she says. That’s when she’ll turn to her singing talents or follow her parents’ path and become an entrepreneur by opening something “along the lines of a restaurant-bar type of business.
“There’s so much traveling involved in poker,” says Ho about the constraints of her current life. “There are so many things I want to do.”
— Shirley Lau