Maria’s Mind … Maria Ho-stess

Battle of Malta style

When I was younger I wanted to be a broadcast journalist. So, in college, I set out to major in communications with a minor in law. I’m not exactly sure what I was going to do with a law minor, but if you know me, you know that I’m all about justice, doing the right thing and standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. I may or may not have gotten into a bit of a fight (allegedly… in my much younger and feistier years), with a girl who laughed at my dear, sweet, innocent friend when she stumbled, fell and lost a shoe just outside of a club. Maria Ho: keeping the peace and layin’ the smack down one drunken partygoer at a time.

If you’ve read any poker interview I’ve ever done, you’re well aware that the end of my college story involves me flying to Vegas to play in the World Series of Poker, on the day of my college graduation, and I never looked back. Bye, bye U.C.S.D. Bye, bye college education. Sorry Mom & Dad.

As the fates would have it, that communications degree of mine (and secret desire to be the next Connie Chung, Lisa Ling or Julie Chen) would eventually come back around to serve a purpose. (Cue parents, in unison, singing the Hallelujah chorus!)

I’m always looking for opportunities outside of poker — a chance to expand my horizons. Sometimes such opportunities present themselves and other times they seemingly present themselves but are actually (and still) poker opportunities in disguise. I.E., being a spokesperson for the WinStar World Casino, doing commentary for the Heartland Poker Tour and most recently being asked to host the Battle of Malta tournament. OK, OK. So none of these things are “outside” of poker, but at least it gets me off the felt and lets me stretch my legs away from the poker tables (literally), and get my money’s worth on that good ole college communications degree. (Cue parental applause.)

I was flattered when PokerListing’s approached me and asked me to host this year’s Battle of Malta tournament. Before we delve any further, allow me to answer the first, and burning question that comes to mind: Where the ef is Malta?!?! Get out those globes, kids! Class is in session.

Malta = island (or group of islands) in the Mediterranean Sea. Ninety-three kilometers south of Sicily, 300 kilometers north of Libya, and northeast of Tunisia. You might have missed it on a map or in geography class because the country is only 122 square miles in area — one of the smallest and most densely populated countries in the world. Yes, “country.” It’s its own country … technically the “Republic of Malta.” It gained independence from the U.K. in 1964. There’s some trivia to put in your back pocket for a rainy “Jeopardy” day.
Impressed? Feeling educated? I went to college, as we previously discussed. I also own a computer. But no, I absolutely did not Wiki “Malta” just now.

I was excited to check out this lovely little country island and tackle my first real start-to-finish hosting gig. Sure, I’ve done on-camera hosting for the HPT, and am accustomed to spokesperson-type duties for WinStar, but to be an all-encompassing host of an international poker tournament was a first for me. And, I had some big shoes to fill, taking over for former B.O.M. host, Kara Scott.

What I loved most about this tournament was that it provided players with a small buy-in cost for that big, baller tournament feel. It wasn’t just about the poker either. It was a full VIP experience: cool parties, luxurious accommodations, and plenty of awesome people.
The tournament had a good mix of recreational players and big name pros. Johnny Lodden, Dominik Nitsche, Sofia Lovgren, and Thor Hansen were some of the pro names who were sprinkled throughout the field, looking to capitalize on the good value; a 550 euro buy-in with a 500K euro guarantee. One player even qualified through a one-cent satellite!
I appreciate when a tournament works to bring new players (or recreational players) to the game. It’s good for the game. I also enjoy the chance to sit down and play with amateur players. Feeling their energy and excitement renews my own zest for the game, and reminds me of how lucky I am that I get to do this for a living.

Overall, it was fun playing in an atmosphere, which not only was visually luxurious, but didn’t feel as serious or intense as some of the major tour stops. The low stakes tournament, in a warm Mediterranean climate (during November, nonetheless) seemed to put everyone in a good mood. It felt more like an enjoyable vacation with friends than a cutthroat and competitive, must-win tournament. Isn’t poker intended to be a fun and social game? This tournament helped remind me of why I love poker.

A majority of the players were European, which was not only entertaining but provided a good test for me. I enjoy the challenge of playing poker against the cultural player stereotypes, and having to adjust my game accordingly. It keeps me well rounded and is always an excellent learning experience. Europeans, in general, are also more amusing than American players. They tend to be more vocal and demonstrative players, than the headphone-wearing-hoodie-rocking-gamer types that populate the U.S. poker tables. It seemed that every few hands, I could hear some player (I’ll be honest, usually Italian) yelling, celebrating, or just loudly bantering and commentating on the hand. I was very amused. It was an electric, talkative and more social atmosphere than I’m used to for a poker tournament.

I pulled double duty, as host and player. I couldn’t pass up my own chance to capitalize on the low buy-in, mixed field, and big guarantee. And, capitalize on the tournament I did — I cashed in 110th place, out of 1,447 players. That’s a 40 percent increase from last year’s field, which yielded an over 700K euro prizepool this year. Not too shabby, and a six-figure payday for first place. GG B.O.M., GG.

I wish I could give you Maria’s Tour Guide Tips for Malta, but between hosting, playing, cashing and socializing, little time was spent touring. I did venture out for a few hours one day and enjoyed the quaint feel to the country, the friendly and warm Maltese people, breathtaking views of the Mediterranean Sea, and a plethora of absolutely lovely and old architectures.

Oh, and the Maltese people know how to party. I’ve been to EPT parties. I’ve been to WPT parties. Lord knows that I’ve closed down my fair share of WSOP parties, but the Battle of Malta’s VIP party rivaled some of the best poker parties I’ve ever attended: excellent entertainment, talented DJ’s, flowing champagne, panoramic views of the Mediterranean, and sexy burlesque dancers. I’ll be back, Malta. I’ll be back.

December 2014