In 2011, Taiwanese gambler extraordinaire and all around very nice person Maria Ho made $540,020 in one evening coming 2nd place at The World Series Of Poker #4. This was the latest of a series of considerable pay days from her 'day job' in which she used a deadpan face, some plastic coins and a deck of cards to generate enough money to show up an entry level investment banker..
Discovering poker at college, Maria found that she was quite good at it, beating everyone who'd play her and heading off to the nearby Indian casinos to make a quick buck (or a bit more). After graduation, she'd made so much and done so well that she decided to drop the 'career' and turn pro. And she bloody well did...
Yeah, there's a difference between 'having a flutter' and legitimately making a fuckload of the moneys, and it all comes from taking the whole thing a bit more seriously. FHM does a bit of Poker (amongst other things), and so we figured it'd be a good idea to talk to someone who's been 'rinsing it' for so many years to try and get some tips. Then we immediately lost our new advantage by posting the interview for you lot to read. Silly FHM. Still, you might learn something, right? enjoy!..
What’s life like as a pro poker player? How is it in the day to day?
In the beginning it was kinda hard to adjust to the lifestyle aspect of poker. Just because all of your friends have 9-5’s you know, they’re scheduled and a little more regimented. But I would travel around all the time, cos poker is something where you can walk into a casino and play at 2 in the morning if you wanted to. And sometimes I'd do that.
It definitely took a lot of getting used to and I realised I was on the opposite schedule to all of my other friends. That’s why I think poker is such a tight knit community, you spend so much of your time with these other players.
The kind of a community of people who work odd hours?
Do you every play purely for fun or is it always business?
Nowadays you get charity events that have poker tournaments. That’s the only time I really get to play for fun. It’s kinda of hard to view poker as anything but business, when you're playing for a lot of money you kinda take it really seriously. Occasionally I’ll play against my friends because they wanna get some pointers but no, for the most part it’s all business.
And we assume you beat your friends pretty badly when they do play you?
So how does it affect your lifestyle, do you have to say keep up like a practice routine?
Yeah, well poker's a game that’s constantly evolving so you have to really keep up with the trends. There’s new styles of play all the time so I am constantly studying the game. There’s so much information out there, available online and so many books that are coming out everyday about poker. I like to keep up with what everybody else is doing and I will adjust my game accordingly. So there is a daily thing in making sure my mind is stays on top of poker. You can definitely get rusty if not constantly playing or studying it.
Do you play any other games for relaxation or sport?
When I was younger I learnt how to play bridge at a young age with my grandfather and so I still like to play that recreationally. I find it to be a lot more relaxing than poker. I love games of all kinds, I grew up playing then around the kitchen table with my family so I’m always up to learn a new game. I think I have that knack for them.
What’s the best part of being a professional gambler?
I think that I find it to be challenging every single time I sit down, because the thing about poker is you never see the exact same hand twice. It's kind of like a thumb print, every hand is unique. And the player is different, the cards that you are dealt are different, the kinds of stacks you have, your opponents stack, it is always different. So there’s all these factors that makes every single hand you play unique.
It’s always challenging because it's not like you can go back and say ok 'well I’m going to play it exactly like this', its not going to work a second time around due to all of those variables.
How do you prepare for a big game then?
You know, I usually just like to clear my mind because you have to be really, really focused in the game and you definitely need to be aware of all of your surroundings. You have to make sure that you are open to being really observant to everything that’s going on around you. Sometimes people get really distracted, if people are out drinking the night before or doing something like that. Not that I don’t!
Still, I definitely try to get a lot of sleep and a good nights rest to clear my mind beforehand. That way I’m ready to hone in on all of these things that I should be paying attention to that will ultimately help me.
Would have been better if she were holding the Ace of Spades so that we could make the obligatory Motorhead reference. *sad face*
Speaking of focused, you used to be a singer and play the violin right?
Yeah, I played violin and piano growing up. My Mom forced those on me and now I’m so glad that she did.
Do they relate to your professional career?
Yeah. It takes a lot of discipline to be good at anything. You really have to put in the hours, and I remember I would have to practice violin and piano 4 hours a day. Poker is definitely like that. I think people just see poker on TV and think ‘Oh its fun and it’s exciting all the time!’
But when you’re playing a tournament for 12 hours a day for 5 days straight, people don’t realise there are a lot of lows. There are a lot of times when you really still have to make sure you have the discipline to play your best, because it's easy to just kinda sit back and not really want to get involved... its mentally exhausting!
Lots of coffee then?
I usually try to not drink too much coffee. But definitely when you're sitting there for that long, if you start to get tired you gotta have something. There’s quite a few people I’ve seen that are constantly drinking Red Bull!
Moving on to the abstract questions now... If you could have a half hour chat with any figure, real or mythical, living or dead, who would it be and what would you discuss?
I would probably pick Eleanor Roosevelt, I feel like she’s always been a historically very strong female, and I would like to just pick her brain. I’m all about getting inside head of someone who has paved the way for females and what they do.
What’s in your DVD player at the moment?
[Laughs] I just got a bootleg copy of Bridesmaids, I really really enjoy those kinds of comedies.
What’s on your iPod or in your CD player then?
I like to listen to a lot of Hip-Hop and Rap, especially when I’m playing poker. I kinda get in the zone with those, because of the really hard beat. Anything Rap is in my iPod right now.
If you could have any superpower what would it be?
I think my answer should be X-ray vision because I play poker. But I think I would rather have invisibility, I’m kind of one of those people who I think it would be interesting to go un-noticed and be able to just snoop on everybody else.
What three things would you take with you to a remote desert island?
I would take my family, my iPod, and a deck of cards because I know I could keep myself busy for an unlimited amount of time.
If you were an assassin what would your weapon of choice be?
I think I’m gonna have to go with my Asian heritage on this one – I have to go with a sword. I think you can do a lot more cooler things with a sword than with a gun.
It looks cooler as well
Any specific sword or just anything?
I was thinking of the Samurai variety!
Like a Katana?
Last question then, someone’s gave you a magical button, you press it and it completely gets rid of one thing that you don’t like, what would go?
Uhm.. Mean people!