Table talk and guilty pleasures with Vanessa Rousso

Vanessa Rousso is one of the most recognizable and formidable players in the game today. Her blonde good looks and friendly smile make her a favorite both at the table and with fans. But that friendly persona disguises a steely intellect and a competitive spirit that can destroy you in the blink of an eye if you happen to be seated at the table with her. We were hoping that she might share a secret or two with us, and in a recent interview, she did just that. Along the way, she also gave us some insight into how she came to be the success she is today.

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PokerStars Women (PSW): Vanessa, you just returned from playing Deauville recently, and I understand that you have dual French/American citizenship. Do you spend much time in France outside of tournaments?

Vanessa Rousso (Vanessa): I do spend time in France outside of playing poker. My father lives in Paris, and I try to make it out there a few times a year to spend time with him. I also really enjoy travelling to Nice and the South of France since I love the Cote D'Azur, the beaches near San Remo, and being near Monaco and all that has to offer.

PSW: Does speaking French fluently at tournaments like Deauville give you a huge advantage since you understand all the table talk?

Vanessa: I left France at the age of nine to move to the United States, and as a result, my French is occasionally, without practice, sort of rusty, especially the speaking side. I do understand it 100 percent, though, and usually within a few days of being in France, my speaking comes back fully. Being able to understand people at the table is of course an advantage. Being a professional poker player who has travelled the world for the past seven years, I have found myself occasionally at tables where I don't understand the table talk, and I find that's a huge disadvantage. Poker is a game of incomplete information, and having as much information as possible is very valuable in terms of making decisions.

PSW: Is there anything that distinguishes the French style of play from others?

Vanessa: I find that French poker players are slightly more aggressive than average and they hate to fold draws, especially flush draws. I also find that French players try to bluff me more than players from other countries, and that probably translates to women generally. Not sure why that is, but I kind of like it when they bluff me because I'm usually pretty good at picking off those bluffs.

PSW: What's next for you on the tournament circle?

Vanessa: I'm headed to Montréal to head a $5K launch of a VIP poker room, then to Atlantic City to host another two-day boot camp for the WSOP Academy. Then I'm off to Miami to host a charity tournament to benefit a legal aid foundation. My next professional poker tournament will be in London at the EPT in March.

PSW: I know you have a very successful poker school and other business ventures that keep you very busy. Care to give us an update?

Vanessa: Teaching poker is still a major focus of mine. I just launched my new book on heads-up poker strategy called "Heads-Up Tournament Poker Hand-by-Hand," which I co-authored with Annie Duke. My book is available on in paperback and Kindle form. I am also teaching at the WSOP Academy regularly, and I have six more camps scheduled before the end of this year. Please check out for more information. If people are interested in individual coaching, I do offer that, and they can get in touch with me at Last but not least, please have a look at my heads-up poker strategy app available on the iTunes store for iPhone or iPad.

PSW: On those rare days when you're home and just want to chill out, what's your favorite guilty pleasure?

Vanessa: My favorite guilty pleasure is making music, both writing lyrics and composing songs. In my down time you can always find me in my music studio at home.

PSW: Now for some nosier questions. What was it like for you growing up as a child in your household? For example, did you have brothers and sisters? Did you play a lot of competitive sports or games?

Vanessa: I was the oldest of three girls, and my mom was a teacher before becoming a guidance counselor. The school ethic was a very big part of her parenting. She always encouraged us to be involved in school and school activities. As a result, I did really well in school and was valedictorian of my high school. I was very involved with school and sports. Even through law school, I was involved in 10 to 12 clubs at once. My biggest activity in high school was debating, where I competed successfully at a national level. I was also on varsity swim team and lacrosse team, and played basketball and softball intramural leagues. These sports definitely help foster my competitive spirit.

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PSW: I know you're very health conscious. How do you keep in such great shape while traveling all the time and playing poker?

Vanessa: I keep in good shape by not doing extreme dieting but by trying to make good food choices consistently. For instance, not drinking soda and avoiding extra unnecessary bread and carbs, not eating too late or just before bed, and getting enough sleep. I find that when I'm tired, I have poor self control and have troubles maintaining my diet. I try to get into the gym three to four days a week, which is much easier when I'm home. But when I'm on the road, I will schedule appointments with friends and trainers to meet me in the gym to force myself to get my butt there.

PSW: Since this is still cold and flu season, do you have any tricks for getting through a tournament if you feel a cold coming on?

Vanessa: I try to load up on Vitamin C and Emergen-C, which is really good stuff. I love natural and homeopathic elixirs that boost the immune system and keep me healthy. It's difficult to stay healthy on the road so I try to get plenty of sleep and eat light healthy foods. Chamomile tea with lemon and honey always make me feel great.

PSW: What is at the top of your wish list for the coming year?

Vanessa: I want 2013 to be a milestone year for me in terms of my career. I have big goals at the poker table and away from the felt, and hope to really push myself to achieve those goals.

To read more about Vanessa and all the other Team Pros see the PokerStars Women home page.

Rebekah Mercer
@PokerStars in PS Women