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Maria Ho Discusses Recent High Roller Win and Doing Poker Commentary

36-year-Old Poker Pro and Broadcaster Discusses Taking Down A $25,000 Buy-In Event At The L.A. Poker Classic

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Maria Ho took down the 2019 L.A. Poker Classic $25,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em high roller for $276,690 in March, defeating Kristen Bicknell heads-up to secure one of the biggest titles of her career. The win increased Ho’s lifetime live tournament earnings to more than $3 million.

In recent years, Ho has spent more time focusing on no-limit hold’em tournaments, and the results speak for themselves. Three of her top five scores have come in the last 16 months. The 36-year-old professional poker player has also been doing more work as broadcaster and commentator, appearing on CBS Sports, NBC Sports, PokerGO, and ESPN.

Card Player caught up with Ho at the WPT Venetian DeepStack Showdown main event to discuss her win at the LAPC, making the transition into playing high roller events, her work as a commentator, and much more.

Card Player: You took down the LAPC $25,000 buy-in tournament for your first win in a high roller event. What does a victory like this mean for you?

Maria Ho: Traditionally, in my career, I have always been a bankroll nit. I feel like I have been able to take ego out of the game enough to know that I don’t need to play every high roller tournament if the field isn’t good. At the same time, the high roller events I do play are relatively tougher fields than most tournaments, so it means a lot to win.

I obviously wouldn’t have registered in the first place if I didn’t believe that I was a favorite in that field. But, of course, when you get down to the final four or five players, it is more likely that you are up against the people that play high rollers more regularly and are the top players. That makes winning feel all the more sweet, because you beat tough competition and not recreational players at the end.

Maria HoCP: That win was the second largest cash of your live tournament career. While you’ve been putting together good results in live tournaments lately, playing poker hasn’t been your only focus in recent years. Can you tell me a bit about how broadcasting and doing commentary has become a bigger part of your work schedule?

MH: I have always enjoyed playing poker, but I don’t want to have to sit down and play when I don’t feel like it. So, being able to transition into also doing poker broadcasting and some esports broadcasts… I’ve been trying to find avenues, through poker but outside of just playing full time, that keeps me in the game. I want to stay fresh and up to date with the latest in regards to what is important from a poker strategy perspective, while also giving me a breather from playing.

Career-wise, I always saw myself going into broadcasting in some capacity, as I was a communications major. So that has been the key shift in my career over the last few years, towards doing more broadcasting. I definitely still try to play as much as I can, but it is now very much a balancing act.

CP: That is one way in which your career has shifted, but it also seems that there’s been a change in what type of poker you are focusing on when you play these days. Starting out, it seemed as if there was more of an emphasis on limit hold’em and mixed games. Is that still the case?

MH: There has been a transition. I started out as a limit hold’em player, and then from there, I shifted my focus into limit mixed games. I would play a little bit of no-limit hold’em tournaments here and there. Over the past five or six years, I have played a lot of no-limit tournaments, moving up to play a few high rollers here and there in the past three years or so. I would say that my specialty now is definitely no-limit tournaments, but I will still play pretty much anything. If I have an edge, I will sit down in any game, whether it’s a cash game or a tournament. I will pick my spots wisely, but I’m not afraid to mix it up.

CP: You just cashed in the $3,500 buy-in WPT Venetian main event. But the way the modern tournament scene is, there is a big jump in stakes from the more common main events to the high rollers. Can you tell me a little bit about making the decision to take a shot at the high rollers, and what it is like in your first few events at that level?

Maria Ho with Justin Bonomo at the 2018 Super High Roller BowlMH: I feel like, being in poker for as long as I have, it is really important to be able to separate how big the buy-in is from the way that you play. But the first couple high rollers I sat down in, I did definitely feel the sting of like, ‘Oh gosh, I put up $25,000 in this event.’

Traditionally speaking, I have been never staked and I’ve never been backed. I will piece myself out in small pieces for bigger buy-in events, but I still always have the majority share of myself in those situations. So, it is my money that is riding on the line in those spots. So making the move up in stakes was something that I had to get used to. You very quickly realize that you, psychologically speaking, can’t look at it like, ‘This is how much real money I put into this one event.’ You have to make the best decisions possible and realize that you need to chip up. Just hanging onto those tournament chips isn’t going to accomplish anything for you. I got over it pretty quickly, but I am human, so the first time I sat down in a high roller event I did feel the effect of moving up levels, even after 13 years as a professional.

CP: You’ve been doing more and more analysis and commentary on no-limit tournaments while also playing more high roller events. For both of those endeavors, staying on top of tournament strategy must be very important for you. How do you stay on top of all of it?

MH: I definitely try to study on my own, but that is also supplemented by talking hands and strategy with friends of mine whose games I respect very much. We might not play the same game, but that’s actually even better for me to get a whole new perspective. The broadcasting I’ve done is also helpful. You end up watching a whole lot of poker, maybe eight to 10 hours of cards-up coverage every day throughout a series. That level of immersion allows me to hone in mistakes that I might see players make that I don’t want to make myself. On the other hand, I also get to watch incredible players, and I can observe what they are doing well and then do my best to implement those things when I play.

CP: Having access to all of the hands for every player at a final table must be incredibly instructive and a great way to improve your game.

Maria Ho at the WSOPMH: The best part about PokerGO’s events, many of which feature hole-cards up coverage from the beginning of a tournament to the final hand, is that you don’t just see one stage; you get to learn from top players and how they approach the different phases of a tournament.

CP: So you’ve done analysis and commentary for several top events including the World Poker Tour and the World Series of Poker. You also sometimes do reporting from the tournament floor. Of all of the hosting and commentating that you’ve done, what aspect of that work do you appreciate the most? What part is the least enjoyable?

MH: Doing bustout interviews is easily the worst part. As a player myself, I know how difficult it can be in that moment. So, when I’m working the Super High Roller Bowl and there is a $600,000 money bubble, I definitely felt awkward approaching people that are my friends and that I would normally easily spark up a conversation with to interview them when they just got eliminated from this huge event. I had a job to do and I did it, but it didn’t feel comfortable by any means.

But the best part is honestly just getting to be a part of the biggest and the best poker productions in the world. They are the highest quality productions and are filled with the best players. To be a part of a production that is at the pinnacle of poker broadcasting is such a privilege for me.

CP: What are your you looking forward to in the near future, in terms of playing and broadcasting?

MH: So for me, the World Series of Poker is the big thing coming up. My focus is primarily on playing at the WSOP, but I am going to do some commentating as well. I’m really looking forward to balancing those two things, and hopefully, I’ll win a bracelet! I’m going to head to Monte Carlo for the European Poker Tour stop there, but other than that I’m just going to recharge and get ready for the series. I’m going to play a 40-tournament schedule, so it can be easy to get burnt out by the end. Spade Suit