Poker, Passion, Pretty Women: A Winning Combination

Susan notes: This story by Sarah Polson, originally headed "Poker Babes Good For The Game," is republished with permission from, which is blocked in some locations.

vanessa-rousso-29325.jpgPretty women and poker - they're not mutually exclusive, but they're also not something the typical person naturally associates.

But there are more than a few women who are passionate about playing poker, and they’re creating a powerful challenge to stereotypes.

Vanessa Rousso (left) turned up the heat recently at the NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship, AND in the pages of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. That combination gives whole new meaning to the old cliché: “Not just a pretty face.”

Tiffany Michelle gained notoriety at the 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event as the last woman standing. Now, she, Erica Schoenberg and Evelyn Ng are scheduled to do a photo shoot for Knockout Magazine.

They're successful, they're hot, and they’re passionate about poker. That means a lot more people outside the usual poker circle will get to see that poker is no longer just a backroom card game played by old men.

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Schoenberg said she thinks it makes a huge difference that a magazine like Knockout would choose to use real female poker players for an issue rather than just hiring models and giving the photo shoot a poker theme.

Real Women Playing Real Poker

tiffany-michelle-23359.jpg"If guys want to just see hot girls, they can pick up a Maxim or even a Victoria's Secret catalog, but this way they get to see and hear about real women in the game," Schoenberg (left) said.

"Not all that many young attractive women who play poker are willing to do something like this," Michelle (right) said.

Some cultures and religions, such as Islam for example, do not permit gambling. But in societies where gambling is permitted, getting more young female poker players out in the media could help draw more players to the game, including more women.

"Dealers have told me that more young women would be playing poker today if I'd made the final table at the WSOP," Michelle said.

Just that little extra televised exposure would have seen many more women take a shot at playing. But even the coverage Michelle did get as the last woman standing had an effect.

"I've had a lot of people tell me their wives or girlfriends got more interested in playing poker after seeing me in the WSOP," Michelle said.

erica-schoenberg-24199.jpgSchoenberg (left) agreed that exposure to real female poker players is good for the game and good for women in the game, even if it's through a men's magazine.

"You know you can go look at poker sites online and poker ads that feature beautiful women, and you know they don't actually play," Schoenberg said. "With the magazine, they'll be getting real women who play poker. We really are someone you could be sitting at a table with."

These women have the game, too, as well as the looks at the table.

Michelle has more than $350,000 in tournament winnings in the last couple of years. Her biggest cash is the 2008 Main Event 17th-place finish, but she also has a World Poker Tour cash from 2008 to her credit.

Schoenberg has more than $700,000 in tournament winnings on her poker resume. That includes five WSOP event cashes since 2006 along with five WPT cashes.

Winning Women

evelyn-ng-20459.jpgAdd Evelyn Ng's $340,000 in tournament winnings, and Knockout's summer issue will feature women with nearly $1.5 million in winnings between them. (Ng is pictured here on the right)

Rousso has more than $1.3 million in live tournament winnings on her own as well. Some of that comes from her recent second-place finish in the NHUPC. She defeated poker heavyweights such as Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey, Paul Wasicka and Daniel Negreanu to make it to the final round against Huck Seed.

Her largest cash comes from playing online poker. She took second place in the 2007 PokerStars World Championship of Online Poker main event to earn more than $700,000 and boost her earnings up over $2 million.

Her success has led to a sponsorship deal as well as to the launch of her own poker tutorial camp in Florida, where she'll be pairing her skills with teachings from The Art of War to give poker lessons.

"The Art of Poker - An Intro to Game Theory and Poker," is put on by Big Slick Boot Camp, and has several dates scheduled between now and April 26 in several Florida locations.

"My biggest passion outside of playing poker is in teaching poker strategy," Rousso said. "I love watching that lightbulb go off in my students' minds when they discover something new."

Despite all that experience, it can be hard for a female pro poker player to be taken seriously at the tables.

Rousso said she sometimes feels like she's singled out because she's a woman. She still takes a lot of grief in online poker forums as a woman in poker.

"But in the end, being a woman is definitely to my advantage at the poker table," Rousso said. "I can take advantage of the underestimation and stereotypes that will be attributed to me simply due to my gender."


Michelle agreed there are certain advantages to being an underestimated player at the tables because you're a woman, but in the end, what you want most is to be respected as a player.

"I realize that anything you can do to gain an advantage is good," she said, "but I think at the end of the day we all just want to be seen as good players."

Schoenberg said that getting more women into the game will help bring more respect to all women players in the game.

"Because there aren't as many women in the game as men, the really good players that are out there just don't get noticed," Schoenberg said. "Bringing more women in and making them a bigger part of the game will help with that and continue to bring more respectability to poker in general."{endif}