Though her first love is mahjong when it comes to games, Maria Ho is currently ranked the second best female poker player in the world. She had never even played poker until college, and then soon after her first game (which she won), she gave up law school to play professionally. Since then, she has been the Last Woman Standing three times in the World Series of Poker. The first time, in 2007, she made it to 38th place for the Main Event, and earned more than $237,000, becoming an overnight celebrity.The second time in 2009, she finished 11th place in a Limit Hold’em event. The third (and best) time, she finished second at a $5,000 buy-in and won $540,000.
Now she has won an impressive $2.6 million, and has no plans to stop anytime soon, proving to everyone that in a world dominated by men, the world of poker, she has what it takes to stay afloat. Most poker players are male, and cute tomboy Maria says she loves to beat the boys when they do not expect her to. She relishes the fact that she is underestimated at her own game, and sometimes not taken seriously. It is all the more fun when she wins!
There is much to know about one of poker’s sexiest (and most talented) women, Maria Ho.
11. She Competed on The Amazing Race
In 2009, Maria and her best friend, 2008 Last Woman Standing Tiffany Michelle, were not only Season 15’s only all-female team, but they came in sixth out of twelve teams. Unfortunately, the poker-playing pair did not take home the one million dollar prize, but they more than proved themselves. The CBS Emmy Award-winning television show The Amazing Race had at that point, taken the women from Cambodia to the United Arab Emirates to the Netherlands. But on their final, fateful leg of what would have been a 25,000 mile journey, they became too physically exhausted to finish the challenge after switching Detours… twice. The friends can take the poker world by storm, but ran out of luck gallivanting across the real world.
10. She Holds Dual Citizenship
Maria was born in Taipei, Taiwan, in 1983. Her family moved to the United States when she was four, settling in Arcadia, California. She maintains citizenship in both Taiwan and the United States, and is fluent in her native Mandarin. Her parents Michael Phelps valued higher education and were disappointed when she chose to play poker professionally rather than stick to her plan of law school or become a doctor like her older sister. In fact, in college they prioritized her studying so much that they gave her an allowance rather than asking her to work. She used the money to play poker.
9. She Had a Fling with Michael Phelps
In October of 2008, the same year as Michael Phelps‘ Olympic takeover in Beijing, he was spotted kissing Maria in Las Vegas. But it wasn’t just that once – the fish and the card shark appeared together in many photos in the city that eventually surfaced. No one has ever confirmed that they were dating, but in the many dating histories of both Michael and Maria online, they are always “rumored” to have at the very least hooked up. Luckily for them, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas! Except not really because the whole world knows.
8. It All Started Because She Wanted to Beat The Boys
Maria was introduced to the world of poker in college. She was drawn to the strategy and the psychological and competitive nature of the game. One night she showed up uninvited to her guy friend’s house where a game was underway. She had to bribe her way into the game (the boys were adamant that no girls were allowed) with the aid of a couple of six packs. She won the first round, even though she did not know what she was doing. She loved it.
She worked her way up in stakes at the local Indian casino before she ultimately was confident enough to begin her career as a professional poker player, giving up her law school plans to pursue her new dream. It is hard to believe she had never even considered making poker her life’s work, and now she is one of the top players in the world!
7. She Has No Gaydar
…Or does she? This is up for debate, but while on The Amazing Race, Maria and partner Tiffany were in an alliance with Sam and Dan McMillen, a pair of gay brothers from Missouri who finished second in the whole race. Throughout the show, the foursome forged a friendship. They were seen flirting and the girls would say how much they loved them all the time, and that they “wanted” them. Later they were asked if they really hadn’t known the brothers were gay, and the women said that they had, and that just as they had been downplaying their bluffing abilities, so too were the brothers downplaying their being gay. But while the show aired, Maria and Tiffany seemed quite clueless. Perhaps it was editing, perhaps they are good actresses since they know how to bluff, perhaps they just have no gaydar. We will never know.
6. Her Living Situation Has Been Unconventional
For the past five years, Maria has crashed with friends and fellow poker players in furnished rental homes. She has experimented across the board with living circumstances, from sharing a place with a single roommate to living in a full house with five other people. But finally, this year she has plans to occupy a high-rise condo just off the Strip in Las Vegas – on her own! This seems a bit more suitable for a 33-year-old woman… and one who has earned over $two million!
5. She Made It To Hollywood Week on American Idol
Yes, that’s right. Besides The Amazing Race, Maria also got respectably far on another reality competition show, American Idol. She shared her vocal talents with the world on the recently-ended show in its third season (the year Fantasia won).
The Ho’s are a musically talented family who passed on their gifts to younger daughter Maria. Growing up, she developed a passion for singing and performing. She was given lessons in many instruments, including the piano and violin. As a teenager, Maria performed with her older sister Judy’s band, Another Sky, at several music events around Los Angeles. Though she is a gifted musician, in the end it was poker that became her career and primary source of income.
4. Her Deadly Instincts
There is a legendary live poker tell that consists of an opponent’s neck vein throbbing, broadcasting the fact that they are bluffing. Well, Maria actually used this tell to make a huge call for her tournament, and then go on to finish 38th in the WSOP (World Series of Poker) Main Event in 2007. It was risky to base a decision on this alone, since she did not have the greatest hand. She recalled of the pivotal moment: “…his neck just started pulsating. I could read that as nervousness, or sometimes people get really excited because they have a huge hand. But because he was an experienced pro I felt like that was just nervousness. I felt like the longer I waited him out, the more nervous I sensed his body language to be.” Turns out, her instincts were spot on!
3. She Does Not Like to Play Against Women
The truth about poker, according to Maria, is that it is actually all about the lies. She says of her game, “Honestly, it’s being lied to a lot… I’ve been lied to a lot, whether it’s through my relationships or whatever. I’ve always had a really strong intuition from a young age. Whenever I felt something was off about someone I could sense it. That’s why I don’t like playing against women. Honestly, women are good liars. I cannot tell when a woman is bluffing, almost never. When a guy is bluffing, it’s almost always I just have to look at him and get him to look at me, and there’s just a lot of things that go into why I can tell.” It sounds like her past, or parts of it, were an unwitting preparation for her future in poker. Sad, but at least those “relationships” paid off!
2. Her $50,000 Loss
There are a lot of highs and lows in poker, which many people don’t realize. For those who play it for a living, this can be emotionally draining. Maria’s lowest point was the night of the biggest loss of her career. In a high-stakes cash game, she lost $50,000 in a matter of four or five hours. Ouch. She says of that experience, “It’s definitely really hard to handle that emotionally. You really just have to be willing to. I think some of the best poker players in the world would never have been great if they didn’t have a lot of mental fortitude. I think that is the difference between a good player and a great player in this game. You can’t really attach to the idea of how much you’re playing for- it will affect the decision-making process throughout the game itself.” Well, it’s good to know that even though she lost 50k, she retained her down-to-earth perspective. That’s something, right?
1. She is Oh-So Practical With Her Earnings
Or you could look at it as her being smart. Logical. Looking to the future. Boring, even. Or… the thing everyone says they would do if they won the lottery that they would never actually do: invest. Maria invested in “a few things”, as she puts it. Her parents are proud of the successful L.A.-based real estate firm they worked so hard to build, and they taught their daughter from a young age that it’s important to save and invest your money, which she cites as the reason for her not squandering away her winnings. Maria says, “I don’t need a lot of nice things (of course I like nice things) but a lot of people get caught up in the lifestyle. I’ll spend money on taking my friends on trips and experiences, but I don’t need fancy- it’s just not something that I need.” How refreshing to hear a woman in the midst of the glitz and glam of an artificial place like Las Vegas share these sentiments.