Learning from the Best: Vanessa Rousso

In my quest to become a better poker player, I have been studying female Team PokerStars Pros and their playing styles to see what I can learn from them. Recently, Vanessa Rousso has captured my interest; with success in so many areas of her life, I think there is a lot to learn from her.

Rousso is quirky and fun, not to mention a talented poker player. I also admire her for her work in the women's poker community, running and teaching boot camps specifically catered to women poker players. Her more-grind, less-glory approach to poker has allowed her to rake in over $3 million in poker winnings, which is a hugely successfully career in anyone's book.

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So, what is her secret? Her background in mathematics must surely be a factor. Having the ability to calculate complex statistics is definitely an advantage in this game, but what can really give Vanessa, and, in fact, any poker player an edge is the understanding of game theory.

If poker is a game of information, then surely the more information you have, the better poker player you'll be, right? When we sit down to a poker game, we all have variations of the same information - how the cards on the table fit with the cards in our hand - and aside from the usual secret glances at an opponent when they read their cards and judgements made on the bets they make, these are the main methods of garnering information. Using strategies and statistics are a way of amplifying it.

Understanding how different variables interact and effect one's own personal outcome and having the skills to filter this information is a definite advantage. While it does not require a fancy formula to acquire this skill, I guess it helps.

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To follow Rousso's example, I have been reading up on game theory. I will not pretend to be an expert or to fully understand the intricacies of it, but what is has done is refined my focus on other players. It may sound like the simplest of things to do, but when learning to play poker, it is easy to be preoccupied with your own hand and to get over-confident. But playing poker in this way means we are only playing with half the information available, and, when it comes to poker, this is a recipe for disaster. I have to admit this is a weakness of mine, but just being aware that game theory exists has prompted me to pay more attention to what other players are doing or are likely to do.

Another thing that strikes me about Rousso is her endorsement of the relationship between healthy living and poker performance. She eats clean and keeps in shape. I can't say I am anywhere near that in terms of avoiding carbs; I can't resist the traditional beer and pizza that makes the rounds at most home games. Although I have taken up yoga, and I have to say it does help with focus and keeping a clear mind during game play.

Vanessa balances all these talents with a fun personality and many other skills, including being a really awesome DJ; trust me, I have heard her play! On top of all this, she still manages to find time to commit herself to charity work. If this is not success, then I don't know what is.

Ann-Marie McCarthy
@PokerStars in PS Women