Not a lot of people specialize in Omaha Hi/Lo, but not a lot of people are Shirley Rosario.
“A lot of players don’t know what it takes,” Rosario said. “You can’t expect to be at the top of the world all the time.”
And Rosario’s had her fair share of uphill battles. Aside from surviving -- and thriving -- in a male-dominated world, Rosario overcame a battle with breast cancer back in 2006.
Rosario has since been cancer free and is trying to score her first WSOP victory in the $10,000 Omaha Hi/Lo championship. She's sixth in chips with 18 players left at the end of play on Monday. She feels good about it too.
“It’s the first game I ever learned, it’s the game that I’ve studied the most,” Rosario said.
“I can pretty much guarantee in that room -- and I’m not gonna say I’m the best player there or that I’m in the top 5 percent of players -- but I guarantee that I’ve put in more work, more hands, more thought, more hand simulations then probably like 98 percent of the people in there.”
From Serving Drinks to Playing Cards
Rosario first learned the game about 13 years ago, when she was a cocktail waitress at the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles.
“One of the players kind of took me under his wing and then taught me,” Rosario said. “He’s since retired but he still has the most titles in Omaha and to this day, he works with me on it.”
That player was Steve Badger, a player who dominated Omaha Hi/Lo in the 90s.
It was a decade where cell phones were for rich people, Saved by the Bell was all the rage and Steve Badger won a WSOP bracelet in Omaha Hi/Lo in addition to taking down nine tournaments in the Los Angeles area.
Rosario took to Badger’s tutelage quickly.
“I’ve always been a math person and I’ve always liked games and you know, challenging myself to win. Then when I played Omaha I just kind of started out well,” Rosario said. “I felt like I had a grasp of the game, but it was more than that. I did get lucky in the beginning and of course that kind of fed me to believe that ‘Wow, I’m good at this.’”
That break came in 2003, when Rosario won an Omaha satellite for $1,000. Then she won another later that night.
Rosario then played the $1,060 Omaha Hi/Lo event at the L.A. Poker Classic the following day and finished 2nd, losing only to the one-and-only Phil Hellmuth. The runner-up finish earned Rosario $27,740 and she soon quit her job as a cocktail waitress to pursue poker full-time.
Breast Cancer Diagnosis in 2006
Rosario now realizes she started out on a hot streak and wasn’t as good as she thought she was. The beginner’s luck was soon evened by the grinder’s variance and Rosario learned to deal with that side of poker.
Then her health took a big downswing. In 2006, Rosario was diagnosed with breast cancer and faced surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
“I was playing online poker and I did it while I was going through chemo and stuff which was a horrible mistake. I was a losing player that year, it was the only year that I’ve been a losing player,” Rosario said. “But it kind of helped me get through it, I should’ve dropped down in limits but it helped pass the time. Fortunately I had the income from the affiliates.”
The affiliates Rosario was referring to were those from her former website, www.Poker-Babes.com.
Rosario started the site with Badger’s help around the time she turned pro back in 2003. Rosario wanted to promote women in poker and profile big-name players.
“There was no information on them back in the day. I wrote these articles about the players and I was one of the first ones,” Rosario said. “[Badger] helped me with SEO and I ended up doing really well with the card rooms and PokerStars ended up buying it.”
Rosario Rekindles Love Affair with Omaha Hi-Lo
PokerStars bought the site in 2010 and it’s been back to Omaha for Rosario.
“I mean I am constantly learning, trying to learn trying to improve my game,” Rosario said. “You know, I’ve been doing it for 13 years and I always think to learn.”
This, in Rosario’s opinion, is what gives her the advantage in the game.
“I just think that people don’t put the work into [Omaha Hi/Lo] as much as they do in other games,” Rosario said. “I find that there’s a bigger edge, at least for me, in Omaha Hi/Lo.”
And Rosario’s in a field where there aren’t many edges. The $10,000 Omaha Hi/Lo Championship drew the likes of David Baker, Phil Galfond, Phil Laak, Vanessa Selbst and Erik Seidel.
But all those players have fallen while Rosario keeps grinding.