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Vanessa Rousso: Dressed to Impress

Vanessa “The Dresser” Rousso is just 27, but one of the top ranked woman poker players in the world. The law graduate is also the biggest sex symbol in the game, but as Richard Jeffries discovers, she’s more than just a pretty face...

by The Suited Connector PokerJolt May, 31st 2010
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Vanessa Rousso

Above: Vanessa Rousso

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In tournament poker, young people are underestimated, women are underestimated…and blondes are always underestimated

Ever wondered what it’s like to be perfect? Brains, looks, money, charisma, ambition. Meet Vanessa Rousso.

But within seconds of shaking her hand, you sense she seems way too tough to come from a perfect family. She didn’t.

 

Her mother, a psychologist, divorced her French father when she was just 10 and moved back to the United States. Both remarried.

 

Unsettling? Maybe. But Rousso, who now lives in Miami, seems proud of the extended family: Two sisters, three stepbrothers, a half-brother and two half-sisters.

 

 

“As dysfunctional as it appears, we work it out,” she says. “My parents are still friends and I’m really lucky to be part of such a large group of people. If I need someone, they’re always there.”

 

Support is something Rousso has in spades. She is married to fellow poker pro and former actor Chad Brown and often takes her 21-year-old sister Leticia on tour with her.

 

Not that she needs any encouragement. The tight, selectively aggressive play for which she is famous has earned her more than $2.5m in prize money, including one payday of $749,467 when she won the European High Roller No Limit Championship at Monte Carlo in 2009. Two years earlier she finished second in the World Championship of Online Poker - the largest online tournament ever held - pocketing $700,000.

 

She speaks six languages, including English, French and Spanish, but irritatingly, she’s charmingly modest, discounting Italian, Portuguese and German because she’s not “100 per cent fluent.” And of course, she is, as Derek Zoolander would put it, really really ridiculously good-looking.

 

So is she fed up with being dubbed the sex bomb of poker? Wouldn’t she prefer to be judged solely on her merits as a player?

 

 

“Not really. I get tremendous opportunities thrown my way because I’m a woman.

“I could choose to become resentful of that, to believe no one really respects me for what I do. But I choose not to.

“Besides, men are deceptively simple. You don’t have complicated emotional issues and you’re quite easy to read.

“You flirt at the table all the time. Some women mind that. I don’t.

“I recognise my great edge in poker is that I’m underestimated.”

 

Rousso has dubbed herself the “Master of Low Expectations” at the poker table, because - despite her phenomenal record - no-one ever thinks a young, blonde, woman will be able to play.

But Rousso admits underestimating women players is something she’s done herself.

 

“In tournament poker, young people are underestimated, women are underestimated…and blondes are always underestimated!

“But “I would be lying if I said I don’t underestimate women myself. I have a tough time reading them.“

Maybe. But doesn’t her success on the tour - and that of fellow female pros like Coren, Annie Duke and Isabelle Mercier - show that female-only tournaments aren’t needed any more. That if women are good enough, they should put up or shut up.

 

“I don’t think it’s my place to say that women’s only tournaments shouldn’t exist,” Rousso quickly adds.

“Sure, I think they’re unfair. Their structure doesn’t allow skill to shine through and they’re highly luck orientated.

 

“But it’s not for me to say they should be scrapped completely.

“It can be intimidating playing with men when there’s a lot of money on the line. And men will intimidate you on purpose.

“So if some women think it’s in their interests to play in them, who am I to insist otherwise?”

Rousso - who one day wants to use her law qualification to fight anti-gaming legislation - attributes her success, very simply, to studying poker. While on a scholarship at Duke University she majored in economics, but it might as well have been a degree in poker.

“At university I studied a variant of economics called game theory,” she explains.

“I was only 20, not yet old enough to play in the casinos, so I started playing on the internet, on pokerstars.com - that’s where it all started.

“I would request my hand histories and analyse them. I began to derive formulas to optimise plays.

“With game theory you have to make assumptions. There are, of course, an infinity of variables.

“Someone can be irrational. In a bad mood and decide to move all-in with terrible cards. You can’t legislate for that. But you can make assumptions and derive generalisations that will help you formulate an optimum strategy - and that will maximise profits in the long-run.”

 

That‘s all very well, but you can’t monitor your hand histories and take time to develop statistical strategies in live card rooms. How has she handled the long, hard progression to live tournament play?

 

“It’s trial and error,“ adds Rousso. “I often get my Blackberry out at the table if I have a difficult situation and make notes to analyse later.

“I’m constantly doing math at the table, revising my formulas.”

 

That all sounds great. But not all mathematicians make good poker players, do they? Poker isn’t just about percentages and theories. It’s about balls. Does her game theory, for example, explain bluffing?

 

“Of course it does,“ she grins. “Sometimes bluffing is the optimal statistical play. Sometimes bluffing is the only way to take down a pot.”

So, is Rousso, the college debating champion and theoretical whizz, just a glorified boffin?

She blushes. It’s the second new English word she’s learned today.

 

‘I know my hair is minging,” she lies. “But what’s a boffin!?”

 

Nothing fazes her, not even the accusation that she’s dull.

“I’m an academic. I performed well at school and have the mental faculties to constantly evaluate things on an academic level.

“Pi, three dimensional calculus, in-depth statistical understanding. Yes, I have great maths skills. That’s an advantage in poker when time is a factor. If I had an infinity of time, I would always make the right decision. But it’s to my advantage that I can make near-accurate decisions in a limited time because I can think so quickly.

“But I’m a people person too. I have a sense of humour, I’m sociable, I have a good understanding of the human psyche, I’m a quick learner, I’m fun.

“So, no, to use your English word, I’m not a boffin. But I guess I’m a closet dork.”

 

Honesty. Another attribute to add to the growing list. But after making such an incredible impact on the worldwide poker scene, what now? What are her goals, her ambitions for her career?

"To continue to be the top ranked woman. That’s important to me. People can’t argue with that.”

 

Argue with Vanessa Rousso?

You’d be mad to even try.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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