She may have already won over $1.6 million in a career that’s been described as “whirlwind,” but professional poker player Maria Ho believes there’s still a lot to learn.
Having gotten into the game on a lark, she rose through the ranks at breakneck speed. Not only is she the strategic host for the Heartland Poker Tour and title holder for the 2014 World Series of Poker’s “Last Woman Standing,” Ho is rated as one of the top three female poker players in the world.
And, yes, she still manages to turn a few heads when she sits down at the table.
Question: Why is poker still an old boys club?
Answer: I find myself asking that question all the time and, you know, I guess it’s just rooted in that tradition of it started in back-alley kinds of situations where I think women didn’t really find themselves. … And, so, it just turned into this poker, cigars, whiskey. It just all has this similar connotation of being a way guys spend time together. … It’s just really strange to me that it’s still kind of a head-turner when a woman will walk into a poker game or a casino and sit down and play.
Q: What was the initial reaction people had to a woman at a professional poker table?
A: The reactions were fairly mixed on both ends of the spectrum. There’s the guys that are like, “Oh, well, this should be fun. This woman’s not taking it seriously. So, it’s just kind of like I’m just going to sit here and flirt with her and hang out.” Having a woman at the table is just fun for them.
But then there’s the guys who are like, “She doesn’t belong here. She shouldn’t be playing poker. I’m going to try my best to beat her.” Definitely, from both sides, there were some welcoming people and people who would almost try to intimidate me.
Q: So, in a way, you’re blazing a trail.
A: Yeah, I like to think of it that way. I think any time there’s any profession or even just as a hobby, if there’s something you don’t see a lot of women doing, I kind of like being one of those people that are going to try to break down that door for me and other women.
Poker isn’t really a game where there’s any disadvantage in being a woman, so it doesn’t make sense why a game that relies so heavily on strategy and mental ability and psychological intuitive abilities would be one that doesn’t have more women playing.
Q: What’s the biggest misconception people have about professional poker players?
A: That we’re just gambling. That we’re just sitting at a table and seeing who’s luckier. I think that poker doesn’t get enough respect, sometimes, because it does have a little bit of a bad perception from the public because it’s played in a casino environment, or there were a lot of games back in the day where it did seem a little bit more shady or seed. Read more on the history of poker and the realm of slot machines, the two are bound together but are very different from each other.
I think the origins don’t really help make poker more of an accepted game. But honestly, it’s like chess, in the sense that it’s very math and strategy based, and it’s a game that you have to study. It’s not a game that you ever really master. It’s something you’re always learning new things about all the time.
It takes a lot of mental acuity for somebody to not only pick up the game but be very, very good at the level where you’re winning and making a living at it.
Q: Any advice for women who like the game, but are intimidated by sitting at the table?
A: To just remember that everybody was a beginner at one point. You know, gender aside, every single guy you’re playing against in a casino environment, they’ve had their first time when they stepped foot in the casino and sat down at a poker table and played for the first time. So, just to remember that you’re not the only person getting into this for the first time.
Although there could be some people that aren’t very welcoming, there definitely are people that are very welcoming, as well. It’s something that, if you never just try, you’ll never know what you’re missing out on. I think it’s a really great game, and I think women have a lot of skill sets that lend itself for us to be good at the game.