Shuffling law school, poker is tough turn for Rousso

ON GAMBLING

April 25, 2006|By BILL ORDINE

Perhaps the second most important poker tournament of the year was scheduled to finish sometime in the wee hours earlier this morning with the final table showdown of the World Poker Tour Championship at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

The biggest name among the six finalists was Men "The Master" Nguyen, the flamboyant California card room veteran who has been a mentor to a generation of Vietnamese players. But Nguyen, known for his effusive personality, was the short stack at the six-player table with 1.49 million chips. James Van Alstyne, a Las Vegas poker pro, was the leader with a little more than 8 million.

A record 605 players had entered the $25,000 buy-in tournament and its $3.7 million first prize and more than $15 million pool places it behind only the World Series of Poker main event, which is scheduled for August, in terms of prestige.

The final table bubble player - meaning the last person eliminated in seventh place - was Vanessa Rousso, a 23-year-old law student at the University of Miami. Rousso's seventh-place finish earned her more than $263,000, fourth highest for a woman in a single event all-time on the WPT.

Rousso - who graduated cum laude from Duke University in 2 1/2 years with a major in economics - appeared to be in good shape to make the final table Sunday night by amassing nearly 3 million chips, but two bad beats within about a half-hour sent her to the rail.

On the first, her pocket king-queen turned into a pair of queens on the flop but her opponent drew to an inside straight on the river. Then on the hand that saw her ousted, her suited ace-king had Van Alstyne's unsuited ace-jack dominated for about a 4 million chip pot but he paired the jack on the turn.

"It smarted at first," Rousso said yesterday. "But now when I can look at it with more clarity, I realize that I went in with the best hand and that's all you can ask of yourself in poker."

Rousso has been keeping a whirlwind schedule this academic year, attending law school classes from Tuesday through Thursday and hitting the road for poker tournaments Friday through Monday. In her short career, she has had a handful of successes, including final tables at World Series of Poker Circuit events in Atlantic City (fifth, $17,550) and New Orleans (seventh, $6,465). Now, she plans to fly back to Florida to take her semester final exams Friday.

"I'm in a tough spot," Rousso said of the decision whether to return to law school in the fall or try poker full time. Major online card rooms who might sponsor her, Rousso said, have approached her.

"A lot will be determined by sponsorships and the time commitments that might involve," she said. "While I've been able to do both poker and law school so far, there's only 24 hours in a day."

When she was a child, Rousso was a games player - gin, backgammon, chess. As an economics major at Duke, she specialized in game theory as it applies to physical and social sciences. These days, that particular bit of acumen has its applications on the green felt.

"There's the old saying that you have to exploit and maximize the mistakes of others and minimize your own and that's a simplified form of game theory itself," she said. "So being an expert in that field allows me to see things three, four steps ahead as opposed to the average person.

"And I use being a woman to my advantage, too. People have a tendency to underestimate you and everything I do at the table, every word, is calculated."

With an extended break from law school coming up, Rousso plans to hunker down in Las Vegas and play in WPT events scheduled at the Mirage and Mandalay Bay and then play through the World Series of Poker that will go on for seven weeks. Last year, she had a small cash-in (45th, $1,640) in the WSOP women's event won by actress Jennifer Tilley.

"I don't feel like I'm destined to have one career in life," Rousso said. "Perhaps for right now, it's poker. And then later, the law will always be there." bill.ordine@baltsun.com

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