Brittany's Bleacher Conversation: Maria Ho Talks Poker, 'Amazing Race'

Brittany FrederickContributor INovember 21, 2011

Maria Ho. CR: Jeff Thacher.
Maria Ho. CR: Jeff Thacher.

Maria Ho has steadily climbed the ranks of female poker players; currently, she ranks 12th in the world among female players in overall earnings, and this year, she raked in the largest World Series of Poker cash by a woman when she was the runner-up in the $5,000 No-Limit Hold'em Event No. 4 (a crisp $540,020).

Yet Maria has also displayed diversity in her talents and interests. Not only does she play poker, but she has also served as a commentator for World Series of Poker coverage on the ESPN 360 website, and also competed in the 15th season of CBS' Emmy-Award winning reality series The Amazing Race.

Joining me recently for the inaugural Brittany's Bleacher Conversation, Maria discussed her career both on and off the felt, including an appearance on FOX's American Idol.


You're best known as one of the top female poker players in the world. How much do you think gender still is a factor in the poker world?

It's male-dominated in the sense that only 3 percent of the entire tournament fields are female, so mathematically and statistically speaking.

But in the sense of it's men running the show, then I would say definitely not. There's been a handful of women who've really asserted themselves. They've made their mark and they've had amazing results, and for the fact that there are so few of them, they've done just as much as the men.


What's your favorite tournament or casino to play in?

There are so many tournaments all over the world now! Probably Australia. There's a big tournament every year in Melbourne. That's the best part, is you get to travel so much and go to all of these amazing places and play poker.


What's going to make you consider your overall career a success? Is there a specific goal that you still have in mind out there?

I still haven't won a major tournament title. I really want first place badly now.

More importantly, I'd say a World Series of Poker bracelet. It's any poker player's dream to win a bracelet. Even now, I still feel like that would make my career.


You've also been a poker commentator for ESPN. What's it like being on the other side of the table?

It's interesting. It's a really good way to learn and reflect on my own game. You're kind of stuck in your own head. Every time that I've ever gotten to commentate, I walk away feeling like I've learned something more about poker. It's also nice to mix things up for a bit.


Beyond the sport, you've established a television resume. What did you take away personally from your sixth-place finish in Season 15 of The Amazing Race?

I took so much away from it. it's one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

I learned so much about myself. There were always things that weren't always a position you'd put yourself in, so you had to be willing to go outside of your comfort zone.

I had to push myself to the limit every single time. I felt so challenged. That taught me that if I really put my mind to something, I can do anything.

And it made me appreciate so many of the little things in life. We had to bring 30 days of stuff in one backpack. They definitely wanted us to suffer a little bit.


True or false: you appeared in the third season of American Idol? What was that about?

It was very random. I made it to Hollywood Week in the third season. I was very young and it was the first time I'd auditioned for anything as far as music went. Idol was a really interesting experience. It was kind of a good kick in the butt. I gained confidence from even being able to try out and get that far.

But music has always kind of been a big passion and interest of mine, because my parents were into music and my sister also sings and plays instruments. I was in a lot of college musicals and I was in my college a cappella group.


That's a lot of face time, especially once you factor in the poker appearances. What's it like being a personality in the public eye and not just a poker player?

It definitely wasn't something that I thought would come with the territory. But with how popular poker has become, and the opportunity I got to be on The Amazing Race, it's something that I've gotten used to.

It's always been pleasant. People will come up to me and tell me how they enjoyed watching me or that I'm their favorite poker player. Obviously, this is on a very small level and it's not like my personal privacy is being invaded, but it's been a really interesting part of my career that I didn't foresee.

For the most part, I like going to events and doing things and if any of me being in the public eye can be used for something good, then it's great.


Having done quite a few things already, what's your next move?


Since Amazing Race, me and my partner on the show [Tiffany Michelle] have got a few production companies who are interested in doing a reality series about being a female poker player. We've been entertaining that.

I still have that goal of wanting to win a major title, so I'm still traveling the poker circuit, trying to take my career to the next level.


What's something that you'd recommend for people to check out?

Music-wise, the new Drake album [Take Care] is really, really awesome. I feel like they're really overplaying Adele these days, but she's so amazing. Adele's always good. She's my go-to.

And I have a really good show - Once Upon A Time on ABC. I think it's a really, really good show.

My thanks to Maria Ho for this Bleacher Conversation! For more on Maria, check out her official website and follow her on Twitter.