Vanessa Rousso Interview With Woo

Written by:
Jenny Woo
Published on:

Poker pro Vanessa Rousso took time out of her busy schedule to sit down with Gambling911.com Senior International Correspondent, Jenny Woo.  And boy is Ms. Rousso busy.  She's appearing in the coveted Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and she was just made the newest GoDaddy Girl.  At press time, Vanessa Rousso was preparing for NBC's Heads Up Poker Championship.

Rousso is sponsored by the PokerStars online poker cardroom under the screenname LadyMaverick as part of their Team PokerStars


JENNY:  Why and how did you decide to start playing poker at such a young age?

VANESSA:  That's probably the question that my parents what to know most of all.  I'm probably the last person in the world that you would of thought to be a professional poker player.  I was more on the path to be a Wall Street lawyer or an investment bank or something like that.  I graduated the top of my class in high school; I was valedictorian and took a scholarship at Duke.  I was a super nerd going the academic route.  The thing is I've always been one of the "guys type" of girl; all of my friends have been guys..  When I got to law school in Miami, the group of friends that I made were guys that liked to play poker.  I had learned how to play poker when I was a little kid.  My dad taught me how to play poker, backgammon and chess.  He's a "really into games" type of guy.  So I thought, "That sounds like fun.  Let's go to the casinos and play poker."  I had just turned 21, so I was legal to go.  We went and I had a lot of fun.  However, I lost and I sucked.  (Haha) But the competitive instinct in me was ignited and I thought, "Note to self - do not suck the next time I come."  (Haha) So I went to the bookstore and bought - no joke - $500 worth of poker books at Books-A-Million.  I read them all.  I love to read.  I poured through all the poker books at that time - The Sklansky's, "The Art of War and Poker" - any book I could find.  I then had an idea of the basic strategy and started to apply it to the poker table.  I found that it was easy to be successful when your applying basic strategies in the everyday card room but I still had that competitive instinct that wanted to take it to the next level. 

One of my friends, Ross, who was my really good friend during law school flies planes as a hobby.  I was also really intrigued by that.  Everyone knows that I'm a big adrenaline junkie thus the PokerStars commercial of me bungee jumping.  So I said, "I would love to take pilot lessons."  However, we didn't want to "just" take lessons; we wanted to take it to the next level.  We decided to take flight lessons while flying to areas where there were the WSOP and preliminary events going on around the country.  We went to Mississippi, New Orleans, and Tampa.  And we eventually flew (commercial) to Atlantic City.  I was practicing and learning how to fly and then going to these tournaments. 

I had a lot of success really early on (2005).  Then in 2006 I had a pretty decent bankroll, between thirty to forty thousand, I had built up at the local Hard Rock Casino playing Hi Buy-In Sit ‘N Gos on the weekends.  I wanted to take a stab at some of the bigger hi end multi table tournaments.  I felt that especially some of the WPT events had a great structure and that I would do well with a deep stack structure.  I got the hair-brained idea that I wanted to play the $25,000 buy-in World Poker Tour Main Event which was a completely insane thing for a 23 year old girl to do.  However, I knew that I wasn't going to pay for it myself so I was going to sell shares to make it happen but I didn't want anyone to be too highly invested in this.  I sold shares for between $100-$1000 to friends and family and to different people who wanted to take a little gamble for me to get to my goal.  I raised the money; I put in $10,000 of my own and $15,000 from investors.  I prepared to go play the WPT main event in 2006.  The problem was that when I looked at the schedule, it was scheduled on the exact same day of one of my law school finals.  Believe it or not I showed up late to the WPT main event.  I wake up early in the morning, I run to Coral Gables - Miami, I'm at my class by 8 a.m. for my final, I'm done by 10 a.m., I'm at the airport by 11 a.m., I'm flying out by 12 p.m. (9 a.m. Las Vegas), get in by 2 p.m. (Las Vegas time), have a car waiting for me while someone else gets my luggage, and I'm at the casino by 3 p.m. - but mind you the tournament started at noon.  So I missed the first two ninety minute levels of the $25,000 buy-in but I knew this all along.  My plan was that I was going to play so tight in those first two levels anyway that I really didn't feel it would be too much of a loss.  I had already predicted how many chips I would have lost in that period and I had a plan for how to get them back quickly.  I sit down and in two rounds I had already doubled up.  I had built my chips back up and went off to get 7th in that tournament for two hundred and sixty something thousand that made it a ten to one return on investment for all my investors.  I dealt with PokerStars after that and went on to win the Borgata 5K a couple months later and then went off from there.

JENNY:  And who says planning doesn't pay off.  (haha)  There was a lot of planning in that.

VANESSA:  Right it was.  It seems like it was kind of a giant accident but it was kind of a meticulously planned accident.

JENNY:  You excelled in school and you seem to be a high achiever.  Do you think that has helped you in poker?

VANESSA:  Yeah.  I don't want to toot my own horn and say, "Yeah you have to be in the top 1% intelligence to do this."  That's just not true..  Poker isn't rocket science.  Sure, you have to have an above average of intelligence but the biggest thing that makes or breaks it whether or not you're going to be a successful poker player is your discipline, your willingness to continue chipping away at the ice block, and basically being a life long learner.  Yeah absolutely, I treated it a lot more seriously than a lot of people do to whom poker is just a hobby.  That makes sense, if that's their hobby they don't need to go study it and everything.  For me, if I want to still consider making it my profession I literally - and to this day - read every poker book that comes out.  I just read Daniel Negreanu's and Gus Hansen's last year as they came out..  I'm constantly working on improving my game and writing articles that cause me to critically think about the game and teaching boot camps which tests my ideas about poker.  The students always battle you in whatever you say and force you to examine the validity of the different ideas you offer them.  I'm always chipping away at it and I think that this is something that I was trained to do from my academic background.

JENNY:  You talk about teaching students.  Was there anyone that took you under their wing and coached you?

VANESSA:  No.  And here's the funny part - I would have been so happy.  I'm sure, as any amateur poker player would be of any of the pros that took them under their wing.  I get all the emails now - I get them all on Myspace and Facebook saying, "Hey I want to be your protégée."  So sure I was on the other side of the fence in the beginning.  I would have loved for someone to take me under their wing but it just didn't happen that way which is why it's such a shocking surprise when I jumped onto the scene.  No one knew who I was. 

JENNY:  Is there anyone that you look up to the in this industry?

VANESSA:  Yeah but it's like saying is there any athletes that you really look up to.  It's a really broad term.  What I do is I try to specialize in No Limit Hold'em tournaments so in that regard I look up to John Finn who's results last year were amazing.  I look up to Joe Hachem.  I look up to Phil Hellmuth.  But as a poker player in general, someone who has broad based success in all the games, I admire Phil Ivey; he's just hands down great across the board.  Then you can say cash games - you would admire Jennifer Harman or Chip Reese.  So people kind of specialize - they find their niche in poker.  I have different people that I admire for their different strengths.  Hopefully I have a lot of years ahead of me to continue to add to my poker skill set but as of now I'm working on being the best No Limit Hold'em tournament player I can be.  Then when I'm ready I'll move on to trying to have some success in the mixed games in which I have a great partner in Chad.  My fiancé, Chad Brown, is one of the world's best mixed games players.  He always cashes a ton of times every summer in the World Series and in all the mixed games.  He has a lot of broad based success in all the games.  When the time is right I intend to force him to take a couple of minutes and teach me.

JENNY:  Do you guys ever try to challenge each other?

VANESSA:  Yeah, we're really competitive.  We keep it competitive.  We do little things for example - if we ever disagree about something - we bet percentages on each other.  The loser has to give up 1% of their next cash or 1% of their next tournament.  (Haha) We do little things like that.  For instance - last year in the 2008 WCOOP we had a performance bet where the person who earned the most money over the course of all the WCOOP events won five percentage points that they could apply it however they want to whatever tournaments they wanted of the other person.  So I could put 5% on one 10K or I could put 1% on five different 10Ks.  I could do it any way I wanted.  I ended up winning that one and I put all 5% on one 10K.  We do little things like that.  It's fun.

JENNY:  Well it's always fun to keep it in that kind of perspective.

VANESSA:  For sure.  And we're game players.  Poker players are people who are kids at heart.  We love games and so we're always playing around.  We always try to turn everything into some sort of a friendly competition.

JENNY:  You mentioned No Limit Hold'em earlier.  Is that your game of choice?

VANESS:  Absolutely.  It's not only my game of choice but it's pretty much my specialty.  I just turned 26 but I've been only at it for three years on the pro circuit and so I'm still learning a lot about No Limit Hold'em tournaments.  But I think I'm at the point where pretty much in the next year I'll be ready to start focusing on other things.  I've already started to work on Razz; that's probably my next best game.  I also want to extend to the spread games.  I really like those.  I think I have an edge in those because I'm very math oriented.  There's a lot of math in those and I have a good memory for cards at the table.


JENNY:  Do you prefer cash tournaments?


VANESSA:  No.  Ironically enough, over the last three years I have over two million in tournament earnings and it's almost 50/50 between online success and live.  My online big cashes include getting second in the 2007 WCOOP main event for $700,000 and then last year in the 2008 WCOOP where I got 5th in the 25K Heads-Up for $100,000.  I got 3rd in the 1000 No Limit Hold'em Shorthanded for $60,000 and I cashed in six other WCOOP events - so my earnings on that are actually pretty high almost even with my live earnings.  I love to play online; especially the deep stack WCOOP events where you really let skill prevail. 

JENNY:  I know that you've been involved with charity in the past.  Do you have any charity work that you're involved in currently or will you be playing in any charity tournaments in the near future?

VANESSA:  I'm always playing charity events whenever they come to me.  If they happen to be wherever I am then I'm always game to go.  At this point I don't think I have any scheduled but that's because I'll be out of the country a lot over the coming months.  I do have a project going on.  I launched a foundation last year called No Limit No Profit, which the mission statement is for poker players who normally have a selfish way of making a living- I know this best of all because that's what I do for a living.  I've always looked out for myself and I don't like that.  Poker players usually have a really good heart and so the mission of the organization is to take No Limit Hold'em players and have them do something that's not for profit and to find creative ways for poker players to give back.  I launched this foundation then I won in Sydney in December $40,000 or $45,000 in a charity event, which was a grant that was donated to my foundation, and I'm using that to launch a really big charity event this summer.  It was set to be right after the WSOP - the date exactly has to be hammered down but we're hoping to do a really big event.  That's on the table right now.  We don't have all the details hammered out but it's on the table..

JENNY:  Has a website been made for it yet?

VANESSA:  No, the website is getting made right now.  That's funny that you said that.  I just got off the phone with the person who's doing the website.

JENNY:  I think that's great that you're doing that.

VANESSA:  It's responsible wealth.  It feels good but it's like I said - being a poker player it's not like I can at the end of the day look in the mirror and say that I'm a doctor that's helping people.  It's tough sometimes.  I don't like to feel like I'm wasting resources that I was blessed with and not helping others.  Hopefully this will offer a vehicle for me to be able to do that.

JENNY:  Where do you see yourself in the future?  Still playing poker or is law in the cards?

VANESSA:  I hope I don't have to do law. 

JENNY:  (Haha) But you've worked so hard for it.

VANESSA:  But honestly, I don't think I could do it now.  Get up early in the morning and go work for someone else.  I'm spoiled.  I work for myself, I get up when I want, I stay up as late as I want, and I travel around the world.  I have the best job in the world.  Knock on wood, hopefully I can continue to ride this wave for as long as possible.  Sure, I get sick of it or it might not continue to work out as it has for the past three years.  I have a couple of other things I could do and even things eventually relating to poker.  I could teach poker seminars and boot camps, I could write a book; I could do different poker businesses.  I've considered even maybe getting into acting.  There are a lot of things that I'm interested in.  I think I'm one of those people who wants to do a million things in the world. 

JENNY:  Well it sounds like you'll always have a back up plan.

VANESSA:  Right.  If you would have asked me ten years ago what I thought I would be doing - poker would have never been one of them.  So I know whatever I tell you now is probably not going to be what I'm going to be doing in ten years.  It's funny - who knows where I'll end up.

JENNY:  I think that's a great outlook.  But at least you'll always have that back up plan.

VANESSA:  Sure.  That's my sense of security and being a responsible person.

JENNY:  Responsible but adventurous.

VANESS:  Exactly.  Responsible but adventurous.  (Haha)  That's going to be my new motto from now on.

JENNY:  You talk about acting but are there any modeling plans in the future?

VANESSA:  Not really.  It's just not for me.  I can do a little bit for a magazine here and there but it's in the context of me as the poker player not me as a model.  That's pretty much where I like to be.  Me as a model - it would be way too much pressure.  I don't want to have to be worrying about what I'm eating all the time.  I like to have too much fun and I'm too laid back for that.  I'm not blessed with the perfect genetics where I can eat what I want and have a perfect body.  If I want to be ready for a photo shoot, I have to really work hard at it.

JENNY:  What's next for you in poker circuit?

VANESSA:  I'm going to the WPT L.A. Commerce Classic and then I have the Celebrity Invitational and then I have NBC Heads-Up the first week in March and then I have Bay 101.  I have some family things going on and then I'm going to Europe for the Monte Carlo and then the 25K Main Event at the Bellagio.


Jenny Woo, Gambling911.com Senior International Correspondent

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