Inside Vanessa Rousso's Boot Camp

PokerStars Women's Caribbean Adventure
January 14, 2011, 9 a.m.

Its four short hours before the 2011 PCA Women's Caribbean Adventure 1K Main Event and the women who are scheduled to play today are soaking up some last minute advice from someone who knows a thing or two about winning these events. A conference room down the hall from the main tournament room is filled to capacity with women from all walks of life. Some are satellite players playing their first live event, and some are tournament veterans looking to pick up a few pointers to add to their already substantial skills. The oldest participant today is 70, but most are in their twenties and thirties, although the 40-60 contingent is well represented too.

This room at 9 a.m. the morning before a big poker tournament, when most poker players would be sound asleep, is as serious as a college lecture hall, as Vanessa Rousso hits the ground running. She laughs and parries with her audience, loosening them up for the four hours of theory and analysis that are to come. Her students are solemn and a bit slow to warm up to the banter until the first cups of coffee kick in, but Vanessa keeps the tone light as she tells jokes and pokes fun at herself--referring to "her ADD brain" that causes her to get bored and jump from topic to topic.

She refers to herself as a "dork" in school who "read everything she could get her hands on." But don't let those self-deprecating remarks fool you. As a result of all that "dorkiness," Vanessa wound up receiving a full scholarship to Duke University where she studied game theory, which ultimately led to her career in poker. She got her degree in two-and-a-half years but felt she wasn't taken seriously when she went for job interviews in her field. She decided to go to grad school in Florida and got into playing poker there. Her poker tournament career started there with a $263,625 cash in the WPT $25,000 NL Championship in 2006.


The women here today have come from as far away as Finland to play in this tournament, and they are soaking up every word as Vanessa gives them strategies and theory to help them advance their game to the next level. The majority of the women in the room won their entry into Vanessa's Big Slick Boot Camp as part of the PokerStars Women's Caribbean Adventure Package and they are trying to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn from one of PokerStars most famous and most successful pros.

The boot camp lasts half a day and the booklet that comes along with the lecture is titled Poker Tournament Theory--Optimal Strategy Phase by Phase. But it is so much more than that. It's starting hand requirements, pot odds, hand analysis, and tips on how to deal with the physical and emotional challenges of a long tournament. It's also answering questions that are sometimes slightly off subject, but important nevertheless and Vanessa answers every one.

She throws out facts and figures, jumping from one minor segue way to another, but always returning to the focus of the day--how to win the $1000 buy-in tournament they are all about to play. And Vanessa is perhaps the best person on the planet to tell them how to win this particular tournament, since she won it here herself last year, in 2010. In addition, Vanessa is a seasoned tournament pro who recently finished the year as one of the top female money winners with a third place finish at the Bellagio Five Diamond Classic in December 2010 for $358,964. Her biggest cash to date was in May of 2009 at the EPT Grand Final, where she won the 25K High Roller Tournament for $946,696.

The next four hours fly by as Vanessa talks and entertains (she's a natural teacher who obviously enjoys what she does and is good at it). The women study and internalize the content, even taking a couple of "pop quizzes" along the way to test their comprehension. They have learned the basics like hand selection and position, but there were also a few concepts thrown in that you won't see in other poker boot camps. For instance, from Vanessa's hand- out, Flirting with Short-Handed Play, there is a section called "The Importance of Foreplay," and another called "I'll Show you Mine If You Show Me Yours." No secrets will be revealed here, so if you want to know what that's about, sign up for the next boot camp!

By the time the morning is over the women are chatting with each other (and Vanessa) like old friends, and they have made a giant step in advancing their poker skill set. They file out of the room chatting and laughing, but armed with an arsenal of tools that will help them fight their way through a field of players in the next two days that includes many pros and advanced players. They are armed and ready, but they are also having the time of their lives!

Rebekah Mercer
@PokerStars in PS Women