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Poker News | World Poker News

The Round Table - Inside Vanessa Rousso’s Head

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I met up with Vanessa for breakfast a couple of months ago and we talked a lot about her introduction into the major poker circuit. It came with a lot of ups and a few downs and she definitely spoke candidly about it.

She began telling me about her journey starting out with a final table experience that came with a funny twist.


"Before the World Championship, last February 2006 at the $1500 buy-in Harrah's Atlantic City preliminary WSOP circuit event, I woke up that morning late. I was already registered but it was about 5 minutes into the tournament. I figured I had two choices, either go with it, wearing the bathrobe I had on, or take the time to get ready and be an hour late. I knew if I missed an hour of blinds in a short event that wouldn't be good. So, I wore the bathrobe, put on my cowboy hat and boots and headed downstairs.

The looks on peoples' faces were priceless. They were like, ‘who is this girl and what is she doing'. It worked out though, I final tabled, I took fifth and won $18,000 in my bathrobe. It was great.

That's kind of a trend in my life any time I do something unusual or out of the box, it works out. I am very karma fortunate. I am very lucky in a lot of ways. Who takes the shot of playing in their bathrobe then has it work out? That sort of thing has put me in a lucky position to be able to have confidence to continue to take shots in my career and try to propel myself to that next level.

When I went to the Bellagio to play the Championship in April of that year, I had a $60,000 bankroll. I had won a lot of tournaments at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino local where I lived, but as far as the poker world, definitely an unknown. I wasn't on NBC like I was a couple months ago. To watch myself on NBC right before I played in the Bellagio $25,000 event, where it all kind of started for me, it was kind of surreal. I think it bodes well for women poker players and all poker players. It just shows you that this is the industry where if you work hard, and I definitely worked hard, it can happen.

My nick name is Lady Maverick. If you have ever watched the movie Maverick, the main character raises the $25,000 buy-in for the World Championships. So, I had this idea in my head that I wanted to play the $25,000 World Championship. It didn't make any sense for my bankroll, though. That would be career suicide if I lost. What I decided to do was go around to my family and friends and sell dollar for dollar, $1000 shares in myself, exactly like Maverick did in the movie. One of my dad's friends actually came up with the nickname Lady Maverick because he was comparing me to the movie and that's where the nickname came from.

I ended up selling the shares of myself so that I could play, and I ended up getting 7th, $262,000 and made each of my $1000 investors $10,000 richer. I catapulted myself to a bigger bankroll where I could now play in the $10,000 events.

My plan was to first get a sponsorship because that makes things a lot easier. Going into day four of the WPT last year I was sitting in my room with Brent, one of my managers, right before the tournament started. We were going through my game plan for the day.

I should tell you I was very strategic about that tournament. I had never played with any of those players before and I would know everyone that was going to be at my table. I would look up, online, all their profiles. I would develop a unique strategy of how I was going to approach that table and that really, really helped.

So, we are sitting in our room that morning and I get a phone call. ‘Hi Vanessa Rousso this is Rich Corbin, marketing director of Poker Stars. We are interested in talking to you about sponsorship.' I was trying to keep my cool, thinking ‘oh, yeah' this happens all the time.

He said he wanted me to do well in the tournament but after, we were going to have a dinner and talk about things. I hung up the phone and started screaming. It was just crazy, that is what every aspiring poker player wants. I didn't even know if most people's sponsorship happened that way, and out of the blue, phone call, but this call was out of the movies.

I go on to bubble the TV final table, which sucked, but I had 262,000 reasons to be happy. I went on from that tournament and had to finish law school that semester. I decided to take the fall off, went back for the spring and I have one more semester to go. I stayed in law school somehow, managed to keep my grades up, and I don't know how.

I had a good 2006 World Series, cashed three times, and made the final table in the $5000 short handed event, had about $80,000 in earnings which was profitable for the World Series. It was a great experience, continuing more results, and getting more and more experience. Now, looking back I realized that my game has come so far in the last year, how much I thought I knew and how much I actually know. I credit Chad for that. Dating Chad has definitely helped my game out a lot as far as going back and analyzing things. Learning his high limit strategy has helped my no limit strategy, there are lessons you can learn from limit strategy which are logical underpinnings of the game which can cross apply to no limit very well. Only the most advanced players use some of these things.

So I played the World Series, then Legends of Poker which I cashed in. I was living with Jennifer ‘Jenecide' Leigh at the time. We were the only 23 year-old girls really at that time on the tour, we were friendly, we got a long, and it made sense to share an apartment while we were in LA. We had a great time, we bonded, and we both played in the tournaments.

I was hungry for a big win now. I hadn't had a big score since April, it was September, and I was hungry. I buy in to the $5000 event at the Borgata. It was a prelim event before the $10,000. I went on to win that one, which was awesome.

Going into the final table of that one I was in a crazy zone. It was like, enough of 7th place, enough of 5th place, enough of all these non first places! I didn't care about anything but the win. The level of focus, people said it was scary. They would try to come and talk to me and I was just so focused in the game, I was 100% focused on the game. Some of the players that were sitting at the table said they couldn't get a read on me. My expression didn't change for 8 hours at a time. I was so extremely focused, picking up reads like I never had before. Using some of the advanced things I had learned from Chad for the very first time.

Going into the heads up, a crowd started to gather around, wondering, ‘who's this girl?' Meanwhile in my head I know this is the biggest buy-in ever to be won by a woman if I do it. I am playing and I made a sick call to win. On the turn he pushed all in and I called with third pair. He had outs going into the river but it held. At that moment I looked at the dealer and said, ‘did I just win?'

The dealer said yes and then all of a sudden I just lost my shit.

I am a very tough girl; I play with the guys all day long, every day. It takes a lot to swallow your ego and be underestimated every day like I am. People don't really know me and they don't know my story. They sit down and they just see a blonde 24 year old girl. They think girls can't play, young people don't have any experience and blondes are dumb. You deal with those stereotypes; they benefit me. I would be a moron to disabuse people of those notions. A lot of people think what they think, but at the end of the day it's really tough to go home and think, ‘I believe in myself, I know I can do this, I'm doing the right thing and it doesn't matter what others say.'

In that moment where I won, I knew no one was ever going to take that away from me. Some people go their entire careers without a first place finish and I have one. I have a Rolex engraved with WPT Champion. That feeling was just incredible. I was just so caught up in that moment, I called my mom crying.

Now, I should tell you my mom isn't the biggest supporter of my career. I was the valedictorian of my high school of a class of almost a thousand. I went to Duke University with full scholarship and graduated in two and a half years with a four year degree. I was on track to get to Wall Street, not be a degenerative gambler. So, she wasn't the biggest fan. So I called her and I could tell in her voice she was finally proud. I looked around and the guys in the crowd actually had tears in their eyes, it was really funny. I was crying like a girl but so were they!

That was great, that was the peak of my year, and then shortly after I did an interview with Geraldo. He did an interview with my parents and myself at Indiana's World Series Circuit event, also interviewed me at my home in Las Vegas I was living in at the time. They did a really cool show that they aired on Thanksgiving day.

At this point I had been dating Chad Brown for a couple of months and it was going really well! We traveled together, we traveled to London together, he final tables, we're going back and forth final tabling tournaments, and it's great. It seemed like everything is on a roll.

The holidays were great, and then I was planning on taking the spring semester off of law school. All of the sudden I just had a panic attack and I was thinking if I didn't go back to school right then I never would. I'm not the type of person that can just walk away from two years of law school. It's paid for, I'm on scholarship, it's a great plan ‘b' if poker doesn't work out. I decided I had to go back to law school and I would still try to play as many tournaments as I could.

I went back and started living at home with my parents, which was kind of funny, a 24 year old living at home with my parents. It was great though, because I hadn't lived there since I was 18 and I really had a renewed appreciation for my family. I had class on Tuesday's and Thursday's, and the rest of the week I was usually out of town. There is nothing like those Wednesday nights. My mom cooks dinner and my whole family is there and it's great. With all of the being on the road, having that rock and home base that you know isn't there because of anything with the poker world, they are there because they love me and I love them.

So after being back in law school a little bit, I started a streak, a really disappointing streak. I started to bubble tournament after tournament. I would be top 10 in chips going into day two in so many tournaments. For example, The PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, the Borgata 10k I went deep day three, got 60th when 54 places paid. The NBC Heads up tournament I made it to the second round, which is the bubble of the money, and lost to Barry Greenstein. I had him down to about 16,000 chips and I had 54,000 and he got queens and doubled up and then we were even and then I ended up losing that match. Then I went to the WPT Invitational, 500 players, top 6 pay because it is an invitational, I got 10th. I was starting to be bubble girl all over again, memories from the 7th place finish at the Championship, bubbling the TV final table.

I hadn't had a big cash since September and I was hungry again. In March I played the Ultimate Poker Challenge at Binions and got 2nd, which was cool. That was another $70,000. And finally I had the moral confidence to be done with my negative variance streak and be ready for the moral uptake again."

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