Vanessa Rousso is a survivor.
Over the last nine years Rousso has stood the test of time in the poker world while having one of the most unusual career paths of anyone to play the game.
Since bursting onto the scene in 2005, Rousso is the only poker player in the world who’s been sponsored by GoDaddy, appeared in Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Edition, championed online poker before congress and won millions in poker tournaments along the way.
She’s also one of the longest serving members of Team PokerStars Pro and one of the most recognizable poker players on the planet.
Despite all the ups there have also been some noteworthy downs for Rousso and this year was perhaps her hardest ever as ex-husband Chad Brown finally succumbed to cancer after a long battle. Rousso was one of many poker players who spoke at the memorial.
“It’s been a rough six months,” said Rousso. “I didn’t play very much poker for quite awhile.”
Nine Years of Professional Poker Takes its Toll
Vanessa Rousso at the WSOP in 2006.
It wasn’t just Brown’s passing that kept Rousso away from the poker table.
“I’ve been doing this professionally for about nine years now and you get to a point where it’s your job,” she said. “It becomes a bit of a grind. You wake up in the morning and you’re like, ‘I don’t really want to go to work today but I’ll go to do it.’”
After a considerable break from poker Rousso made the trip to Australia for WSOP Asia-Pacific and has plans to play major tournaments in Montreal, South Africa and Vegas.
“I’m actually hungry for it,” she said. “I’m going to be playing a lot of poker over the next five months or so.”
While Rousso’s interest in poker sometimes cools, it never leaves her completely.
“There is always a core appreciation for the game and a thirst for competition but there are large lulls between successful events in poker. It’s just the nature of the game as a tournament player.”
Rousso: Selbst, Obrestad, Coren are No One-Hit Wonders
Rousso helped inspire another generation of female poker players after her headline-grabbing seventh place finish at the WPT World Championship at the height of the poker boom in 2006.
Now she’s just one of many success female tournament players along with Vanessa Selbst, Annette Obrestad, Liv Boeree and many others.
At this point Rousso isn’t even sure there’s much to discuss when it comes to female players.
“It’s funny I get asked about [being a female poker player] all the time but I don’t really get it,” she said. “This thing goes way back. It’s sort of like asking why knitting is sometimes thought to be a female thing. It just started out that way.”
“Men just had such a head start on women it will be hard for women to ever catch them as far as representation at the tables. Of course women have solidified their place with players like Vanessa, Annette and Victoria. They aren’t one-hit wonders.”
Poker Can Hurt Your Soul in the Long Run
One major change for Rousso over the last few years is that she’s been able to find more balance in her day-to-day life. A big part of that is through her new-found love of DJing.
“It lets me use the right side of brain and gives me something else so my life isn’t entirely consumed by poker,” she said.
“I also try to spend time with my friends and family. It’s all so the swings of the game don’t determine my mood.”
DJing in particular has been a welcome contrast to the game of poker for Rousso.
“Poker is a zero sum game,” she said.
“My win is always someone else’s loss. Over time that can add up. It doesn’t feel so great when every time you do something well it’s directly at the expense of someone else. It hurts your soul over the long run.”
Fortunately Rousso has found solace in DJing.
“In music, on the other hand, my success is people’s happiness,” she said. “When I play a great set everyone is out there dancing. There is no greater feeling than that.”
“It kind of makes up for that soul-killing aspect of poker. That’s really what music is all about for me.”
Adapting to Ever-Changing Poker World
Despite her sometimes love-hate relationship with poker, Rousso appeared happy to be back at the tables at WSOP APAC.
She banters with the other players at her table and carries herself with the poise of a veteran.
How long will Rousso continue to play? She’s not quitting any time soon.
She’s hopeful online poker will become fully legalized in the US in the next five to 10 years and there will be a mini renaissance that harkens back to the boom years of the early 2000s.
“I don’t know if it will but I’d definitely be really happy if it did,” she said.
In reality the only constant in the poker industry is change but that seems to suit Rousso just fine.
“The people who survive in this game are going to be forced to evolve,” she said. “That’s a part of it that I really like.”