A Female Perspective of Poker: Maria Ho

A Female Perspective of Poker: Maria HoWith $1.5m in live tournament earnings, Maria Ho is one of the most respected and revered female poker players in the world.

Her deep run in the 2007 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event – and subsequent coverage on ESPN – had all of the cameras flashing, all the interviewers tongues wagging and all the poker writers pens scribbling; and they haven’t been able to stop since.

She not only plays a good game, but she talks a good game too; as evidenced by the Heartland Poker Tour’s (HPT) decision to add Ho to the broadcast team for the 2013 tour; the first role of its kind to be offered to a female in poker history.

Here is Ho’s female perspective on poker.

When you have to wear make up or behave in any way that may fall into the category of hyper-sexualization. Do you think you have a choice, or do you believe this is just the way it has become for women in order to survive?

Of course it’s a choice. Every woman has a choice on how they display their outward physical appearance and I think women make those decisions based on a variety of factors, including A) our own happiness, B) what the circumstance calls for or what we’re trying to accomplish in a specific situation, and C) our desire to please other people, or whom specifically we are trying to please/impress. I don’t think a woman’s physical appearance is essential or detrimental to their survival, that’s a bit extreme. There are some women who need their looks to get by, others who don’t and some who have a balance of brains and beauty and chose to employ one or the other (or both) based on what it is they are trying to obtain in their life, career, and/or relationships. Every person, man or woman, has an arsenal of traits, tactics and skills that they use to get what they want in life.

Do you feel under pressure to be someone you are not in order to fulfill your role in poker?

Yes and no. As much as possible I try to be myself and stay true to myself, but I think anyone who is a public figure automatically has to adapt to the responsibilities and pressure of being in the public eye. You become more aware of what you say and do, and how you are perceived. If you have a certain brand that you have to uphold, then yeah, sometimes you can’t just do or say whatever you want because your career success and financial opportunities and responsibilities depend on upholding that brand. I’m still me; I just try harder to be the best version of myself as possible, knowing that I’m, at times, under more of a microscope.

In terms of the standard male/female stereotypes, a lot of men believe they are superior in a lot of departments, and this belief stems from social conditioning. Have you ever felt the reverse of that as a woman?

The fact that some men believe they are superior to women in a lot of different ways is something I have learned to use to my advantage, instead of being upset or angry about it. I think it is great to be underestimated and as long as you know within yourself your capabilities, you should never allow others to make you feel inferior. I can’t think of any specific instances where I have felt the reverse of that as a woman, but I will say that generally speaking there are plenty of characteristics that are much more innate among women that could and should if used properly make us a force to be reckoned with in many facets of life.

Does it anger you that you cannot just wake up, brush your hair, slap on any old rag and head down to the poker tables?

Haha. What you don’t know is that there ARE plenty of days that I roll out of bed, don’t brush my hair, throw something on and head to the poker tables. This question assumes that I go through an entire beautification process (that men are exempt from) prior to playing poker. I actually know plenty of guys with beautification rituals and vanity that would put mine, and many women’s to shame.

What’s your view of the poker world when it comes to the theory of hyper-sexualization?

The fact of the matter is (historically) poker is a man’s game – not just because its statistically comprised with an overwhelming majority of male players, but because of the style, strategy and tactics of the game which don’t exactly appeal to the innate characteristics of the female gender. This doesn’t bother me, nor do the conversations that stem from the increasing gender diversion we are currently experiencing with this historic norm. In a culture, which primarily separates male and female competitors, its taboo and understandably fascinating to watch men and women compete head to head. As a woman, this scrutiny isn’t something I’m offended by and, to be honest, plenty of women have gained a lot of exposure and opportunities in the poker industry primarily based on the fact that they are female.

Maybe in the next 20 years, if/when women comprise the same percentage of poker entrants as men, it’ll be less of a hot topic but for now I get it. In the male dominated game of poker, it’s compelling to watch a woman match wits, wallet, psychology and sheer aggression with a male opponent.

Do you feel that the media are actually doing more harm than good when it comes to attracting new female poker players to the game when they focus on sexuality?

I haven’t personally seen the media doing “harm” on that front. I think women are drawn to this game for a variety of reasons and, in fact, some women like being singled out for their sexuality and the attention it brings them. In my experience, media can only focus on sexuality exclusively when that’s the ONLY thing they have to talk about, or when that’s the only thing a woman has chosen to primarily put on display. There are plenty of women in this game who have respect because their resumes and tournament earnings have garnered them respect… not because they appeared on the cover of a magazine in their bikini or lingerie. Personally, as a woman in this game, I have discovered that my career is my own. I have a lot of control over what I put out there, how I present myself, how I want to be branded and how I go about culminating respect in this game. Media can only talk about my looks or sexuality when that’s the only topic they have to go on. At some point, when you start breaking records, winning tournaments and amassing results… they start talking about how good you are, more than how hot you looked.

What is your view on the role that female attractiveness plays in poker, particularly when you have to work in front of a camera?

In ANY job, industry or social group a person’s physical appearance most definitely factors into how they are received and the opportunities they are offered… especially in the film and television business, or where on-camera positions are available. Poker isn’t exempt from these social norms. I think what people don’t realize though, is that for as much as a guy can feel slighted for not getting an opportunity because a “hot chick” (with less experience) got it… we as women deal with the same exact appearance discrimination verses other women. Looks can be a curse and a blessing.

A recent politician in the UK recently suggested that women do not get the top jobs because they are not aggressive enough, what’s your opinion on this, and do you think this relates to success in poker?

I believe that throughout the years society has very strictly defined certain gender norms between the sexes, and society will nurture and develop qualities within each gender group that they believe are paramount to continuing these gender norms. Woman are usually raised to be more demure, more nurturing and therefore less aggressive overall, and because of this there are certain women who may not be used to stepping outside of what they are comfortable with and really going after what they want. Being aggressive is definitely an attribute that is very necessary to become a successful poker player, and while that may not come naturally for most women, I do strongly believe it is a characteristic that they can develop within the game and not have it become a part of their personal lives and interactions outside of poker if they choose to do so. I would say that I am much more aggressive than the average female in the actual game of poker, and when it comes to my career and professional life, but in my personal life I really embrace being a nurturing and kind individual.

Do you have any stories of blatant sexism since you have been involved in poker?

No, luckily I can’t really think of any encounters I’ve had with blatant sexism since I became involved in the industry. I would say that for the most part I have been treated well and fairly despite the fact that women account for such a small percentage of the industry. Of course I have had the silly run-in with a guy or two at the table who makes snide remarks insinuating that maybe I don’t belong, or I shouldn’t be playing poker because I am a woman, but that is just sheer ignorance that I don’t pay any attention to. I think as a whole the community and the poker media has really embraced me as a poker player and fortunately I have had pretty good results for them to talk about and focus on rather than my gender.