Vanessa Rousso's resume reads like she's gunning to be made president of the world someday.
She attended Duke University on a full ride and graduated cum laude after two and a half years with a B.A. in economics and a list of extracurricular activities about as long as your arm. Rousso had memberships in the Alpha Delta Pi sorority, a debate team and the mock trial and business clubs, and spent a substantial amount of time volunteering for organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Make-a-Wish-Foundation, and the Center for Race Relations at Duke.
She enrolled at the University of Miami School of Law as a recipient of the Chaplin Scholarship, made the dean's list in both of her first two semesters, and continued to devote herself to volunteer work, organizing a number of charity golf tournaments through her limited-liability company, The Celebrity Players Tour Florida. She's stylish and articulate and can speak three languages. Oh, and she can play a little poker.
The daughter of a French businessman and an American school psychologist, Vanessa Rousso was born in White Plains, N.Y., on February 5, 1983, but spent much of the first ten years of her life in Paris.
A dual citizen of the United States and France, Vanessa exhibited signs of above-average intelligence at an early age, speaking in sentences at age one, reading by age three - and playing poker by age five. She would become fluent in both French and English, and eventually in Spanish as well.
In 1992, Vanessa's parents divorced, and her mother, Cynthia Ferrera, moved back to the United States with Vanessa in tow. Ferrera and her daughter settled in Wellington, Fla., where Ferrera worked as a high school guidance counselor and Vanessa grew accustomed to life on the western side of the Atlantic.
After completing middle school (where she was voted vice president at age 13), Vanessa enrolled in Wellington High School, where she signed up for just about every extracurricular program she could find.
She competed for the swim and lacrosse teams while playing basketball and softball in her free time, and represented the school at the National Forensic League's National Tournament as a member of the debate team in 2000. In her senior year, Vanessa was named valedictorian and accepted a full scholarship to Duke University in 2001.
Vanessa Rousso: Multiskilled
While at Duke, Vanessa majored in economics with a minor in political science and again took part in as many extracurricular activities as she could dig up. Somehow, she also found time to delve heavily into game theory, which began as a hobby and quickly became a passion that would fuel her burgeoning interest in poker.
Vanessa began playing backgammon and chess, but was drawn more to poker because of the human element of the game. She started playing online while at the same time building her resume in preparation for applying to law school. After two and a half years at Duke, during which she debated on, chaired and founded a plethora of committees, clubs and councils, Vanessa graduated cum laude and prepared to enter the University of Miami School of Law in 2004, at age 21.
Nothing changed for Vanessa at the University of Miami, as she continued her tradition of academic excellence and tireless extracurricular work, including time spent with The Celebrity Players Tour, as well as the Miami Law Women organization and the University of Miami Law Review. As at Duke, Vanessa managed to squeeze in some time for poker amid her other responsibilities and, now 21, she could play in brick-and-mortar casinos as well as in her dorm room.
Soon Vanessa was making the drive to the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in nearby Hollywood, Fla., where she built up her bankroll and her tournament experience playing No-Limit Hold'em in $65 single-table sit-and-gos. In May 2005, Vanessa and then-boyfriend Ross Romash, a Florida real-estate developer, kicked off the summer break by traveling to New Orleans for the Harrah's New Orleans Poker Challenge WSOP Circuit event.
Playing in the $200 No-Limit Hold'em tournament, both Rousso and Romash made the final table before being eliminated on the same hand. Rousso had more chips before the hand and so logged the higher finish, taking down $6,465 in her first major tournament, in the process becoming the youngest woman ever to make the final table in a WSOP Circuit event.
She would follow up her initial success with a first-place finish at the Palms Summer Series' $300 No-Limit Hold'em tournament, besting 15 other competitors to take down a $2,330 first prize.
After taking home a 45th-place finish in the Ladies' Event at the 2005 World Series of Poker, Rousso went on a hiatus until February 2006, when she again final-tabled a WSOPC event, this time finishing 5th out of 195 in the $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em event at Harrah's Atlantic City while playing, legend has it, in her bathrobe.
That $17,550 cash - occurring only six days after her 23rd birthday - would prove to be just the beginning of a huge year for Vanessa, although in later tournaments she would opt to wear more than a bathrobe to the tables.
After a number of minor cashes in the spring of 2006, Rousso got out of class one day in April, boarded a plane and headed to Las Vegas, where she arrived at the poker room at Bellagio a mere three hours late for the $25,000 main event of the WPT Five Star World Poker Classic. If the late arrival of an attractive, well-dressed blonde to the poker room wasn't enough to cause a stir, her rivering of quad queens to double through Liz Lieu on the first hand she was dealt was certainly enough to create a buzz. Within a few minutes, Vanessa Rousso's name was on the lips and fingertips of just about everyone in the room.
Rousso would continue to turn heads throughout the tournament with her animated demeanor, chatty table image and smart play. From that first auspicious hand, she continued to build her stack throughout the event, outlasting many of the top-flight pros as the field dwindled to the final seven. By now, everyone in the poker room knew her name, and nearly everyone (WPT organizers especially) had hopes she would survive to the TV table.
Unfortunately, it was not to be, as James Van Alstyne kicked her to the curb in seventh place with A-J against A-K when a jack hit the turn. It was a crushing blow, but when the smoke had cleared and the tears dried up, Vanessa was $263,625 richer, and had firmly established herself as one of poker's rising stars.
The World Poker Classic immediately put Vanessa Rousso on the poker map. She quickly signed a sponsorship deal with PokerStars.com, and would represent the online poker site at the WPT Grand Prix de Paris and at the 2006 WSOP, where she took home almost $70,000 in tournament earnings.
In addition, Rousso appeared on the poker reality show Wild Card Poker, as well as contributing strategy articles to numerous publications and making appearances on a number of television shows, including, strangely, Geraldo.
After playing one of her first tournaments in a bathrobe, Ruosso has turned heads at later events by consistently showing up dressed for high society. Her penchant for couture clothing and over-sized Dior sunglasses is so unique in the generally slovenly world of poker that Dave "Devilfish" Ulliott saw fit to rename Rousso "Vanessa the Dresser." She is better known by her PokerStars.com moniker, LadyMaverick, which stems from her alias as "The Lady Maverick of Poker."
Even with the heightened publicity so integral to life as a high-profile poker-world star, Rousso still found time to hit the tables, building on her success from early 2006 to log her biggest win to date, a $285,450 haul for her first-place finish in the $5,000 No-Limit Hold'em event at the Borgata Poker Open in September 2006.
With this major tournament win she found validation as a bona-fide poker star, silencing the critics who had earlier wondered aloud whether her fame was due to her poker play or her position as an attractive young woman in a male-dominated sport.
With over $650,000 in total tournament earnings (as of Dec. 2006) - of which the lion's share came in 2006 - Rousso doesn't have to worry about being seen as anything less than a talented poker professional. She is not without her detractors, however, as both Jean Gluck and Liz Lieu have spoken out against her perceived attitude at the tables. She does have a fan in Phil Hellmuth, who has written admiringly about her in his blog, and she is close friends with fellow pro Jennifer "Jennicide" Leigh, with whom she leased a condo in Los Angeles during the fall of 2006.
Shortly after her win at the Borgata, Vanessa announced she was in a relationship with fellow poker pro Chad Brown. Brown is an actor/rounder who has over $1.6 million in total tournament earnings and is the host of the poker television show Ultimate Poker Challenge.
He also happens to be 15 years Vanessa's senior, but the age difference doesn't appear to be a problem given that Vanessa seems to possess a maturity far beyond that of the average 23-year-old. The two have so far managed to balance their relationship with their busy poker lives, appearing at the European Poker Tour's London stop and the October 2006 Festa Al Lago together.
Between law school, poker and a serious relationship, balance appears to be a key in Vanessa's life, as she told PokerListings.com during the 2006 WSOP. "I definitely have to make sure that this is all the work I do, law school and poker. I do need to work on my game. I also have to budget in time for breaks and stuff ... it definitely requires efficiency and scheduling and just making sure my priorities are in order."
Of whether she plans to play poker for a living or make use of that law degree, Vanessa said, "I'm only 23, so I think I have time for quite a few careers. So I'd say at some point in my life will I utilize my legal education? Absolutely. Will it be in the next three or four years? Probably not."
When she's not balancing law school with poker and Brown, Vanessa can be found doing one or more of the following activities: flying, Segway-ing, boating, running, skydiving, skiing, and moving in any and all other forms.
When she is stationary, she can be found playing chess or backgammon, reading Dan Brown novels and freestyle rapping. She divides her time between Las Vegas, Florida, and wherever the poker world takes her.