Lee Davy sits down with Maria Ho to talk about the recent Chad Brown memorial night, to learn how she prepares for the World Series of Poker Main Event, and much more.
Lee Davy talks to Maria Ho about her deep runs in the 2007 & 2014 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Events. How she prepares for them, and the gratitude she feels for being able to play in them. Other topics up for debate included the recent Chad Brown Memorial Poker Tournament, how a chance meeting with Thor Hansen put everything into perspective, meditation, what philanthropy means to her, and what advice she would give to a 16-year old version of herself.
It’s the Main Event this week. In 2007 you finished 38th, and last year you finished 77th. Whilst both runs must have ended in crushing disappointment, how do you view them in the cold light of today?“I think in retrospect I feel very fortunate to have made two deep runs. I haven’t played the Main Event that many times. I think I have played seven and cashed three times, with two deep finishes. That’s a great ratio to have. Each year my game gets better, so I am not shocked to see the results come, because of the improvements I make to my game, but I always have hope that I will do better than previous years.”
How do you prepare for events like this?
“I make sure I get a good nights sleep. It really starts the afternoon before. It’s about making sure my day is not stressful and I am relaxed. I like to make sure I get into the routine that will hopefully be present throughout my run in the Main Event.
“I like to get a good nine hours sleep. I then wake up at least three or four hours before I am going to play. I work out, meditate, and give myself time to eat breakfast and do those things that we normally rush through. I don’t want to be rushing out of the door. I don’t want to sit down at the table of the Main Event with anything on my mind except. I need to be in the mindset to just focus on that day.”
What are your tips for getting a good night’s sleep?
“I have taken melatonin before. A bath and a glass of wine also helps. Once I am in tournament mode I come home and I am running hands through my head, and it won’t slow down. All I can think about is the game. I try to do something mindless like watching a sitcom, or a reality show – something that doesn’t take much effort. That helps me as well.”
What forms of meditation do you practice?
“I started meditating when doing some yoga. I use a site called YogaGlo.com and they have a section for meditation videos. I find it difficult to meditate for long periods of time. I use guided meditations to meditate for 10-15 minutes. I find them so much more helpful. They bring me back to where my mind is supposed to be when it wanders off.
“I have tried to meditate without guided meditation, but it’s so difficult for me to control thoughts. So that’s what I would recommend to people. Guided meditations have really helped me.”
What are the things that you think about when meditating?
“It’s so difficult not to think about all the things you have to do during the day. An average person must have 20 things on their daily to do list. Any ambient noise also distracts me. I am staying on the Strip and the noises from outside distract me. This is why the guided meditation helps, because I am focusing on the meditation and not the surrounding noise.”
You were the host of the 2nd Annual Chad Brown Memorial Poker Tournament. What was Chad Brown like and can you think of a particular memory that you shared?
“I met Chad very early on in my career – eight or nine years ago. I met him playing live at The Commerce playing cash games. He was always the friendliest person at the table. He was so welcoming, he would never get angry, he would never berate players, and he was always in a good mood and never seemed to get upset about anything.
“Jennifer Tilly told a story about Chad that I think sums him up. She said that she was playing a tournament once when she realized she had forgotten her music. Chad leaned over and said she could listen to his music. Those kind of things, where he puts the comfort of someone else ahead of his own, is what defined him.”
How does a loss like this affect you?
“It gives you so much perspective. I busted from a tournament this summer, and it was the most upset I have been for a long time. I walked into the corridor and there was Thor Hansen with the biggest smile on his face. Here is this lovely guy struggling with terminal cancer, and it clicked that I cannot be upset about poker when he looks like he doesn’t have a care in the world, and yet he is in the midst of this huge battle. The same happened when Chad went through what he did. I gained so much insight on remembering that I have a good perspective on life every single day and that life is so precious.
“There are bigger things out there than what’s happening in your own day-to-day life. It could be busting from a poker tournament, or suffering from road rage – all the times you are angry at someone or something it takes you away from focusing on the good in life, and the fact that you are alive. I have had a lot of personal struggles this year. Things that have made me understand what is important. Seeing these people fighting bigger battles everyday, and wearing that smile – that’s very inspirational to me.”
How do you make gratitude a permanent part of your life?
“It’s very important to be aware and actively remind yourself of these things. I’m not going to bump into Thor Hansen every time I have a bad day. You need to keep a constant reminder some how.
“I try to wake up each morning and talk about gratitude and intentions with my boyfriend and best friend Tiffany Michelle. If they aren’t here I will say gratitude for the day ahead, and I am also very spiritual and pray often. I am always grateful for waking up and taking that next breath. That raises the awareness for me.”
How did the event go?
“The event went really well. I was nervous going into it because I had never hosted my own charity event before. There was a bigger sense of responsibility and it’s tough to get poker players to commit ahead of time, especially during WSOP.
“I am so thankful that so many people, who are friends and acquaintances, helped me promote the event on social media, and also turned up. It had a great turn out. There were lots of very well known pros, lots of people who were close to Chad, and so many fun moments.
“During the rebuy period I kept running around the poker room badgering people to get it in bad. I was handing out shots to people. I could tell people were in the mood, and there weren’t a lot of waiters around. I offered up a $1,000 for the next ten people who got knocked out so they could rebuy back in.
“Nolan Dalla and Jennifer Tilly talked about Chad. We raised about $80,000 and it was a tremendous success. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Jennifer Winter and the poker community.”
I believe you won it and gave the winnings to charity.
“I felt a little sheepish. I knew I was going to donate any cash back to the charity, but I knocked out six people at the final table. I made a habit of saying: “thanks for coming, and thanks for your donation,” when they were eliminated. But it became awkward when I was actually eliminating people because you know in the poker industry we say someone is donating when they are giving you chips. But I genuinely meant thanks for donating to the charity, but it came out so awkwardly.”
The need to give back is rising within the poker community. What’s your view on philanthropy in general?
“I am all about giving back. It’s not about how much make, everyone can give something. It doesn’t have to be your money, it can be your time. I have always tried to be involved with philanthropic endeavors: poker charity events, shelters, children who need help with their schoolwork, and I have done a lot of things in the past few years that don’t involved poker at all.
“Where poker comes into it, this community has the ability monetary wise, and the capacity to be really generous people. Poker is so self-serving. People talk about poker being a zero sum game and because of that people feel an even greater responsibility to give back. I feel great that people are willing to step up and say that we are so privileged, and have so much, and to give to those less fortunate. We can all get behind these movements. We are so privileged to be doing what we are doing. We have access to so much liquid cash. Poker players are starting to realize they can do so much good and take more initiative.”
How do you balance the maintenance of a poker lifestyle and giving to others. Do you often get conflicted that you could be giving more?
“I have had my moments when I have felt guilty and I think I do a good job of knowing and being aware of the fact that I have a lot. I am not a materialistic person but I know I have collected a lot of things. I try not to feel too much guilt. It’s about balance. I feel like I have worked really hard for the things I have. I don’t want to make myself feel guilty for that. I don’t want to detract from the effort that I have put in to have what I have.
“It’s hard to go through life always thinking that there is always more to give. If you don’t enjoy the things you built and made for yourself, I don’t think that’s a healthy way to live either. I think about whether I can live without all of these things and I guess I can. But I would rather enjoy some of the finer things in life and still be very proactive in giving more.”
What advice would you give to a 16-year old Maria Ho?
“A lot because a 16-year old Maria Ho was a nightmare. She was a tough one. She was a rebel without a cause; a delinquent wannabe, she got herself in a lot of trouble, ditching school regularly and picking fights with people. I would tell her to be a kind and loving person and not to be judgmental and much more happier and carefree person.
“I have always struggled with over analyzing everything and trying hard to force a certain outcome or be in control of everything. I would tell her to let go and just enjoy things as they happen and realize that there is something good to be gotten out of every situation.”