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Rousso headlines 'Betting for Justice' tournament

There likely has never been a better fit between celebrity and cause: Vanessa Rousso lending her name to a poker tournament that provides legal aid for those who can't afford it.

That's because before she discovered poker, Rousso was well on her way to becoming a lawyer.

After graduating from Wellington High in 2001 as the valedictorian and concentrating on debate, Rousso breezed through her undergraduate degree at Duke University, graduating in 2 1/2 years with (foreshadowing alert) a major in economics but a heavy interest in game theory.

"It was the course that I fell in love with," she says. "It's a really complicated study of strategic decision-making, and it made the study of poker come much more quickly."

 She used that soon after she enrolled at the University of Miami law school when she began playing -- and winning -- at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood.

  She returns to the Hard Rock at noon Saturday as the featured player in the Betting for Justice Charity Poker Tournament. Buy-in is $150, with rebuys of $25 and a $50 add-on. The money will go toward Legal Services of Greater Miami, which helps Miami-Dade and Monroe county residents with civil cases.

  Back to Rousso: She has won more than $3 million in tournaments and done quite well in the endorsement field, representing everything from to She's also recognizable in the poker field because she is among the more photogenic players. She was featured in an advertorial in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue in 2009, and also in Maxim magazine. She's also popular at poker instruction camps.

 "My tournament play forms my boot camp content," she said in an earlier interview. "And the more I teach the better I play, because when you start playing at a certain level, the strategic maneuvers that separate a good player from a great player are very subtle.

"The thing is that process can sometimes stray very far from the fundamentals and if you don’t refocus or recenter on them then you get very far away from an optimal version of the game. Sometimes I may do something that works but I may not necessarily spend the time thinking about why it works. But if I’m going to teach it I have to think about why it works. It forces me to reach new levels of fundamentals.

 She also borrows from Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" to explain how poker is about conquering your oppponents.

 "It's one of my favorite books," she said. "I like the thought that if you know yourself and you'll win some of the time; know your opponent and you'll win some of the time.

 "But if you know yourself and know your opponent, and that's where the big payoff comes."

 You have been warned. To play Saturday, visit, call 305-438-2513 or just show up at the Hard Rock.

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