Maria Ho Recalls Her San Diego Poker Roots

UCSD grad Ho, and former CA First Lady Maria Shriver, hosted a charity poker event at Jamul Casino

“Poker is so good for the brain—it keeps the brain learning and strategic,” says Maria Shriver.

The former First Lady of California and journalism icon was speaking at Jamul Casino’s new outdoor VIP event room called The Rooftop. The posh, open-air space was the October 1 site of the inaugural Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement charity poker tournament.

Shriver is the founder of WAM, an advocacy group that brings awareness to the researched fact that 2 out of every 3 brains affected with Alzheimer are female. A WAM report states that women of color are affected at an even higher rate.

“All the research we have tells us you have to keep using the brain in order for it to work,” Shriver says.

Poker definitely requires brainwork.

The tournament was organized by San Diego poker dynamo Lena Evans. Shriver and Evans met because their sons played rec basketball together. While the boys were rooming together at USC, Evans proposed the poker event.

This one at Jamul could be the inaugural for a series of tournaments around the country benefitting WAM.

Poker professionals who donated prizes of one-on-one lessons to WAM tournament winners include: Phil Hellmuth, Antonio Esfandiari, Greg Raymer, Chris Moneymaker and Maria Ho.

Maria Shriver (right) plays a hand at the WAM charity poker tournament. (Photo by BCI.)

Maria Ho’s San Diego Poker Roots

Ho was the celebrity attraction who attended and served as emcee for the WAM tournament. Raised in Los Angeles but schooled in San Diego, Ho is 38 but already a Women in Poker Hall of Fame inductee.

She’s amassed more than $4 million in live tournament winnings and made four World Series of Poker final tables. She doubles as a TV host and commentator, including for ESPN’s WSOP coverage.

Ho and her good friend, poker player Tiffany Michelle, teamed up to appear on the 15th season of The Amazing Race as “The Poker Girls” team.

Reminiscing on The Rooftop before the WAM tournament, Ho recalls learning to play poker while attending University of California, San Diego. She graduated in 1985 with a double major in communication and law.

“Freshman year at UC San Diego there was a home game that guys were playing in the dorms on Friday night,” Ho says. “I was at the Marshall Apartment Building J. There were no women in the game at first. But I showed up with some free beer and asked to play.”

She got into the game—even though she’d never played before. After honing her skills in home games, Barona Resort & Casino was the first casino where Ho tried her luck playing limit games.

“I’d go to class then drive out to Barona to play,” she says. “Sometimes I would play all night—just to win back $100—and literally drive back just in time for my class the next morning.”

After getting started at Barona, Ho also began visiting all the local rooms around town, including Viejas Casino & Resort (which currently doesn’t have a poker room) and Ocean’s Eleven Casino.

San Diego Poker: Looser & Splashier

WAM tournament players, center left to right: Courtney Adams, Ron Donoho and Tavish Margers. (Photo by BCI.)

Now that she plays regularly in Las Vegas, and in casinos all over the country and the world, Ho enjoys looking back on the time when she was just figuring out the game.

“When I was playing in San Diego, I really didn’t know what I was doing,” she says. “I felt like everybody was better than me and so experienced with the game. People are friendly, but when you’re playing at lower stakes, everybody is a little looser and splashier. Both in L.A. and San Diego, people are out to gamble but mostly have a good time.”

Ho lives in L.A. but comes down to San Diego regularly—often to meet with friends/locals Meghan Rickey and Cheyne Whitney, winners of Season 15 of The Amazing Race.

“We go to the Gaslamp Quarter and to the amazing restaurants in Little Italy,” Ho says. “And everybody knows the Mexican food in San Diego is second to none. There’ve been a lot of late-night runs to Roberto’s for me.”

Right after the Friday night WAM tournament at Jamul, Ho’s plan was to make the 5-hour drive to Las Vegas to participate in several events at the 2021 WSOP (running from September 30 to November 23).

If poker is good for the brain, as Maria Shriver points out, that drive from So Cal to Las Vegas is definitely a time when you want your cranial neurons functioning on all cylinders.

Get more information about the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement at their website. SDSun


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