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Multi-talented Vanessa Rousso's game is peaking as the WSOP nears28 April 2008
Vanessa Rousso's staggering success at the age of just 25 years old should not come as a surprise. The fact that she's done it by playing poker for a living, well, that's something that may have caught a few people off guard.
To put it bluntly, the career options for someone with the smarts (and looks) of a woman like Rousso were countless. She was a self-described "academic nerd" who graduated at the top of her class at Wellington High School in Florida in 2001. She then went to Duke on a full scholarship, where she breezed to an economics degree in just 2 ½ years, graduating cum laude.
From there it was straight to the University of Miami Law School on another scholarship where the plan was for Rousso (pronounced "Rue-so") to obtain a law degree, decide on a career and then work her way to the top of that profession, whatever it may have been.
"I was heading to Wall Street or a law office; that's the track my life was on my entire life," she says with a laugh. "To be where I am today is not something I ever envisioned."
And where she is today is sitting in a condominium high above the Las Vegas Strip -- the brand new digs that she now shares with her fiancé, Chad Brown. She's already earned more than to $1.6 million in career earnings as a professional poker player, which places her in the top 25 all-time for prize money won by women.
Next week she'll be in Brazil for the inaugural event of the Latin American Poker Tour and after that it she'll retreat to Vegas for a three-week break before the start of the World Series of Poker.
Three Things You Didn't Know About Vanessa Rousso
1. The familiar ripped jeans she has become known for wearing actually have a brand name: True Religion. "I just like ripped jeans," she explains. "They are super comfy with the laid back style that I prefer. As for a future line of Lady Maverick ripped jeans…who knows?"
2. She has a different set of songs that she listens to while playing poker, depending on her mood. "For instance, I have a bad beat play list to put me in a better mood after a bad beat. Something like Chumbawamba's "I Get Knocked Down." I also have a lot of techno music like Moby for when I'm cruising through tournaments."
3. She is into extreme sports such as sky diving, bungee jumping and white water rafting. "When I was a teenager I used to go to Daytona Beach and there was a bungee swing that simulated bungee jumping. I would go on it all the time. Ever since then I have been hooked on those kinds of things. I love the rush that it provides."
Keeping her busy during that time off will be two book projects the multi-lingual Rousso (English, French and Spanish) is working on. The first is a poker strategy and game theory piece that is set to be published within the next year while the other is a novel set in a casino that she hopes will go to print next year.
"Life is good right now, I can't complain," she says. "It finally feels good to have a home base here in Vegas. It's nice to have a closet and be able to see all of my clothes instead of living out of suitcase."
Traveling has always been a part of Rousso's life, even before she became a regular on the World Poker Tour. She was born in New York, but spent the first 10 years of her life living in France. And by her count, she has moved more than 20 times since coming to America for good.
"I'm not really from anywhere," Rousso adds. "I've pretty much lived my life on the go."
As Rousso traveled across the country, the one constant was the games she played with her family. Whether it was board games, chess, basketball, or, yes, poker, Rousso, her two younger sisters liked to compete. Rousso first learned to play poker at the age of 5. But her interest in the game soared to a whole new level when she took a class in game theory at Duke.
The school's course handbook describes the class a place where "students will learn how to analyze situations in which two or more parties are competing, decide what the best course of action for each is, and hypothesize what the outcome of the conflict will be."
And Rousso credits this class with creating the poker star that she is today.
"It was a tremendous asset," she explains. "Using game theory I can reduce the probability that a particular individual will bluff, right down to certain variable. So what you do is insert that variable into an equation to optimize your behavior and maximize your profits in the long run."
And that's what's she's been doing ever since. During her first year of law school, Rousso began competing in tournaments and was more than holding her own. In 2005, she finished seventh in the WSOP Tournament Circuit event at Harrah's in New Orleans.
In the months leading up to the 2006 WPT Five-Star World Poker Classic, Rousso, who had already earned $40,000 as a poker player, began asking friends and family to buy "shares" in her as she attempted to accumulate enough money for the $25,000 buy-in.
Ten people decided to make the investment. And when Rousso earned $250,000 with her seventh place finish in a field of more than 500 players, not only did her investors make their money back ten-fold, but they secured a place in history as the people who helped jump start the career of one of poker's most-recognized players.
"That was the tournament that put me on the map," says Rousso. "About that time, PokerStars came to me about signing a sponsorship. That's when the wheels in my mind started to turn and I began to think that I could do this for a living."
Rousso also earned her nickname "Lady Maverick" at that event. The moniker is a reference to the Mel Gibson movie "Maverick" in which the main character "stakes" himself out in order to collect enough money to enter a poker tournament.
Rousso spent the next few years playing as a part-time professional poker player while finishing up classes for her law degree. Once that was done, it didn't take an economics degree to help her decide what to next.
"When I finished classes at law school I had already made close to $1 million playing poker," she explains. "I had my PokerStars sponsorship. I had the TV appearances. I was looking into a book deal. It just made sense for me to be a full-time professional."
While the decision to go pro full-time made so much sense on a many different levels, it was still something that took some getting used to, particularly for her family.
"It certainly wasn't what they had in mind for their little academic daughter," she admits. "It took my mother a while to come around. But now that she sees I live a good life and that the job isn't like most people think it is, she's very supportive."
Rousso also receives plenty of support from her fiancé, who is also a professional poker player. She first met Brown on the same day she recorded her breakthrough seventh-place finish at the 2006 Five-Star World Poker Classic. Brown, a former actor who has more than $2 million in career earnings, finished ninth in the tournament.
"Not a bad day for me," she laughs. "I won a quarter of a million dollars and met my future fiancée. Does it get any better than that?"
Rousso and Brown, who got engaged on Christmas Eve, not only clicked on a personal level, but they have helped each other become better poker players. Rousso has taught Brown a little bit about game theory while Brown has taught Rousso the basics of the other mixed events.
As for when they play head-to-head, Rousso said she probably holds a slight edge. But because they know each other so well it usually "just depends on who gets the better cards."
Playing poker is one thing this happy couple won't be doing together in the three weeks before the 2008 WSOP. Rousso says she will keep her poker skills sharp by playing 10 hours or so a week online at PokerStars, but other than that it will be all about enjoying the outdoors, going to shows and working out three to four hours a day.
"You really need to take advantage of the time off and keep your mind and body fresh and the best way to do that is limit the amount of poker you play and to work out," she says. "The World Series is such an intense period of time. It's basically six straight weeks of playing tournaments every day. You've got to be mentally ready for that kind of competition."
If she is in the correct mental state, Rousso could be a dangerous figure in her third WSOP. In her last 20 events she has moved on to Day 2 on 18 occasions and Day 3 eight times, including the first-place $120,000 check she took home last month when she captured her first NBC Poker After Dark title, where she beat Gus Hansen, Eric Schoenberg, Beth Shak, Clonie Gowen and JJ Liu.
"I'm playing as well as I ever have," she says. "Everything is really coming together for me. I know what to expect, now it's just a matter of executing and getting the right cards. If I do that, I'm expecting big things."
Multi-talented Vanessa Rousso's game is peaking as the WSOP nears is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
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