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Roxanne Rhodes, Putting on Her Poker Face

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Professional poker may not be America's favorite pastime just yet. But more than 2.5 million people reportedly watched the final hands of the World Series of Poker last year on ESPN. The 2005 World Series is now under way in Las Vegas and one contestant is Roxanne Rhodes. She is a wife, grandmother and health-care consultant who won more than $100,000 on the professional poker circuit last year. She also teaches women and men how to play the game. She joins us from Las Vegas.

Thanks for being with us.

Ms. ROXANNE RHODES (Professional Poker Player): Thank you. It's my pleasure.

SIMON: Has anyone ever had the nerve to say to you, `This ain't no place for a lady'?

Ms. RHODES: Oh, they tease, but, of course, the ladies can come right back and tease them. As you know, men outnumber women in the poker field probably 10:1, and I would sit at a table and there'd be no girls there. And I'd look around. There'd be one far off, and I'd wave, and she'd wave, and I thought, you know, `We've got to get some more women out here. What part can I take to achieve that?' So I thought, `I'm going to start teaching women poker.' And they really just came out by the droves. And so we brought the men in this month, so we have coed classes now, and the guys are loving it, and the girls are loving it.

SIMON: For a lot of these women, do you know why is it poker and not, say, bridge or mahjong.

Ms. RHODES: Because the women want to get out there and compete with the men now. I mean, it's really the only sport that you can get out there and be--really in a lot of ways have a competitive advantage against men in the game and they're recognizing that. They're seeing all the glitz on television and we have all the celebrity games going on and then you have the Internet, which has brought on, you know, three of our last World Series winners.

SIMON: I'm interested when you say women can have a competitive advantage. What do you figure that competitive advantage is?

Ms. RHODES: We are very good at multitasking. So we can sit at a table. We can be carrying on a conversation at one end but really be keying on to everybody and how they're playing which is very important in poker, is being able to get a read on somebody. They're great detractors. When a woman sits down at a table, she's absolutely a distraction at the table, and I don't care if she's 25 or 80.

SIMON: You wear sunglasses while playing?

Ms. RHODES: Oh, absolutely. You name it, Chanel, Roberto Cavalli, you know, Christian Dior. I have them all.

SIMON: Now is that so people can't see the expression in your eyes?

Ms. RHODES: You know, I'm a very expressional person. You know, I'm smiling all the time. My eyes twinkle. And so sometimes that could be a dead giveaway for me, and so not only do I like the look, it's a sharp crisp--it's a distracting look. People are looking at your glasses and going, `Those are really nice. Boy, look how they sparkle,' and it's taking their attention, a lot of times, away from their cards.

SIMON: Well, Ms. Rhodes, good luck, although it sounds as if you don't need it.

Ms. RHODES: Well, you know, we all need a little bit of luck. It's just how you use that luck when you get it. It's how well you play your bad cards.

SIMON: Roxanne Rhodes, professional poker player and teacher, is now competing in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.

And it's 22 minutes before the hour. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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