No Rest for the Wicked

From England to Iowa

I continuously threaten to take time off from poker but apparently I’m not that good at threatening myself … or maybe I’m just not that afraid of myself. Who would be? I’m a 5’7 Asian girl, with one teeny tiny ankle tattoo and long curly highlighted hair, who plays Go-Fish for a living … or something like that. No need to be afraid, unless we’re at the poker tables. Then be afraid … be very afraid.

Maria HoIf poker is about good decision-making, I have yet to start applying said skills to some aspects of my life, i.e. my schedule and travel itinerary. Buckle up. This was definitely the most non-stop, back-to-back, whirlwind itinerary I’ve embarked on to date.

This past month I went from my birthday weekend in Redondo Beach, straight to the airport to fly to San Jose to play WPT’s Bay 101 Shooting Star. A few sleeps (and one not-so-bad-but-not-quite-good-enough-20th-place-finish) later, I flew back to L.A. where one would assume I went home. Nope. I landed at the airport, had a friend bring me a few things that I needed from home, then shuttle me over to the International Departure side of the airport where I quickly boarded a flight to England.

If some of you noticed me missing from the EPT London field and updates, that’s because I didn’t play. Yep. I flew to London … during EPT London … to … not play the EPT London. Makes sense. I was in the country of England for about 72 hours (for media purposes) and in between the 11-hour flight (one-way) and the 8-hour time change, I’m pretty sure I went back in time somehow. I definitely lost a few days, which I now imagine are swirling around in a black hole in space, somewhere between the second moon of Endor and that place the Starship Enterprise was floating around just before it got sucked into the time warp.

Not enough sleeps later, I departed London and headed back to the States where I missed my connection in Chicago while en route to Des Moines, Iowa. Ah, England one moment … and Iowa the other. Life is an adventure! Eventually, I made it to the Iowa airport where the Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino shuttle was waiting to transport me to the hotel where I met up with my “other-half,” Tiffany Michelle.

SIDENOTE: I became quite familiar with that shuttle during my four-day stay. The hotel was kind enough to provide us with transportation any time we needed to go somewhere. Normally, I’m used to hotel and casino properties having a town car and driver available for this purpose, but no, Tiffany and I had our very own large box-shaped, 30-passenger, bright red and white shuttle with the words PRAIRE MEADOWS CASINO written in huge letters across the side. I’m not sure if there was nobody else on property who needed to go anywhere that week (thus the spare shuttle was assigned to us), or if it was the hotel and casino’s way of extending us their version of the VIP treatment. Either way, we felt pretty baller pulling up to the KCWI TV studios in Des Moines (for a TV appearance on Great Day, to promote the HPT event we were in town for) … in our shuttle. Imagine sitting outside a TV studio when an unnecessarily large, out of place casino shuttle pulls up and two small ladies (count ’em … “one, two”) emerge. We got some hilarious looks from the employees who were outside on a smoke break. Surely they thought we were lost. Tiffany and I just pulled it off like, “Yeah … what? Don’t send a limo. We ball so hard … in our shuttle! … just the two of us!”

It was the Heartland Poker Tour that brought me out to Iowa. This season, I’ll be joining the HPT as a member of their broadcast team. Throughout my career I’ve had various opportunities that have taken me to the other side of the poker table, as a guest host or commentator. I enjoy the view from the other side and appreciate the chance to broaden my career in such a way and challenge myself. I’ve also found that my game is improved when watching and commentating on others. Try it sometime. When you get to observe other players, or have to attempt to get inside the head of someone else at the table, you’ll be amazed at what it does for your own game.

So, when I was extended the invitation to join the HPT family as their season 9 and 10 resident analyst I welcomed the opportunity. I love what the Heartland Poker Tour is doing to promote and bring the game of poker to areas that haven’t quite been touched by major poker tours. It also has an exceptional team of people working on its tour who have become like family to me, like the woman behind it all, Jen Mastrud, my awesome partner in the booth Fred Bevil, and many others. When attending past HPT tournaments as a player, I’ve encountered some of the kindest people who genuinely love playing the game. That love for the game is contagious. I see too many grinders and pros lose their excitement and passion for poker, or get swept up in a toxic, cutthroat style of play. I’m excited for this new challenge, this new view, and the chance to surround myself with a new group of people.

Of course, a major topic when it was announced that I was joining the HPT Broadcast Team was the fact that this will be the first time a female has joined a poker broadcast as a resident expert or analyst. Clearly as a woman in this game, I’ll never be able to escape talking about … being a woman in this game. I don’t mind discussing it but sometimes I wish gender wasn’t a topic that was relevant or that even existed in this industry. Sometimes, I wish my accomplishments and poker resume were more of a talking point than my bra size. OK, maybe not my “bra size,” but you get the point. I wish it wasn’t “news” that a woman has been hired as strategic commentator. I look forward to a day when our community responds to a woman getting an opportunity, endorsement deal, or placing in a tournament with, “Good for her! She’s a great player.” Or, “That’s really well deserved, she’s been killing it lately.”

I want to be judged based on my game. I want my record to speak for itself. I always have and I always will. It’s never been enough for me to be “the last woman” in a field of players. I want to be the last PLAYER … every time. It doesn’t matter where I place on All-Time Women Poker lists, I want to be on the top of every list. That’s the competitor in me. That’s the poker player in me. Aren’t we all the same where that’s concerned?!

Don’t get me wrong, if there are women out there who have drawn inspiration from my career and successes, then great! I’m flattered to think that anyone (male, female, young, old, poker player or non-player) could look up to me and respect me for any reason, or that somehow I could, indirectly, have a positive effect on someone’s life. What a beautiful privilege. But I’d love to see the day when we stop making that male vs. female distinction and start acknowledging players for their accomplishments and talent.

I’m excited to bring my expertise to the HPT broadcast. I’m thankful that they’ve offered me this opportunity and believe that I have what it takes to do the job and do it well. I hope we deliver an entertaining show and provide some great analysis and commentary. And I hope you’ll tune in!

Ho … out.

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May 2013