Exclusive: ‘Overwhelming in the best of ways’ – Maria Ho wins thrilling finale of Game of Gold

Adam Hampton
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Posted on: December 8, 2023 9:01 pm EST

In a winter season that’s already seen the return of the NAPT, bracelets awarded in the Bahamas and the biggest live poker guarantee in history, it says a lot that the poker world has been abuzz with talk around Game of Gold. From Charlie Carrel’s nipslips to Dan ‘Jungleman’ Cates’ unique approach to team-building, GGPoker’s groundbreaking reality/poker format has provided all of us with plenty of water-cooler moments.

With the winner revealed today in a special two-hour episode, PokerOrg was able to grab the first interview with the champion, Maria Ho.

In a field packed with talent, from super-high-roller crushers to online phenoms, Maria held her nerve and plotted a course through all of them. From heroic laydowns (such as folding trips vs Charlie Carrel) to ice-cold bluffs (pushing Jungleman off a hand with eight-high), she showed just why she was chosen for the show, as well as what it takes to win.

And it’s been quite a week for Maria. She narrowly missed out on her first WSOP bracelet in the Bahamas, finishing third after dominating the final table in Event #1 of Paradise.

Our very own Tiffany Michelle snagged the first interview and asked her why Game of Gold captured the imagination of players around the world, and how the win stacks up to the rest of her poker achievements.

Game of Gold The End Game
A huge hand in the final episode spelled the end for Kyna England and catapulted Maria to victory

Maria, you just won Game of Gold!

I did. I mean, it was a year ago, but it feels like I just won!

That’s the most interesting thing to me… how did you keep this up? You’ve known you’ve been a big winner for so long, and people are watching and they’re getting excited to watch a show and they’re piling on, the poker community loves it. Has it been massively hard to not tell people, tell like the whole world, I’m the GoG winner?

You know, it’s kind of fun to watch it back after it was filmed so long ago. It actually feels like I’m watching it and living it for the first time. I think there was never a point in time when I felt like I wanted to spoil it. It was almost like I forgot the result, it was like, wait, what’s happening, this is amazing. And yeah, I feel like it was pretty crazy that the other competitors on the show that knew the result were able to keep it a secret. Like, who knew poker players had it in them?

Being there live is totally different to watching the entire show. What were your overall thoughts when you watched it back? Were you surprised by anything that you saw on the show, compared to being there in person?

I think the most interesting part for me watching it back was obviously hearing all of the commentary from the different rooms, as well as my own teams. I have to say my favorite part was definitely watching how excited Josh and Fedor were during my heads-up matches. And just seeing that camaraderie play out in the back room as well was something that was fun for me to watch.

'Jungleman' Dan Cates sleeps as poker pro Kyna England looks on in GGPoker's Game of Gold
Why is Dan ‘Jungleman’ Cates sleeping so damn entertaining?

Did you have one favorite moment or a favorite player on the show when you watched it back? Was there anyone specifically other than yourself and your team that you were rooting for and that you really enjoyed watching on the show?

I feel like it’s very hard watching it back, to not root for Kyna. You know, seeing her journey and just how much she wanted it, I think we can all kind of relate to that. And people love to root for somebody that is so relatable. So I remember watching it back and just wishing that she could have made it further. Not that she didn’t get far, she obviously made the finals, but at least get further with more gold coins.

As far as my favorite moment, there’s so many that I didn’t get to see filming it, but something that made me laugh out loud was definitely when Kyna was pretending to talk to Jungle, like having a two-way conversation, even though he was sleeping during the heads-up matches. That was super funny.

Another favorite moment of mine is definitely the banter between Josh and Fedor in the back room. Like they had this crazy bromance and it was so fun to watch. And Fedor is somebody that you don’t see that emotional or excited side of. It’s something that I’ve always known about Fedor, but I love that so many people get to see that side of him now as well.

Maria Ho WSOP Paradise
Maria Ho almost won her first WSOP bracelet this week, finishing third after dominating the final table

It’s been a good week to be Maria Ho. You just made a WSOP final table and the poker community was massively rooting for you on Game of Gold. It feels like a real winner week for Maria. What does winning mean to you?

It’s definitely overwhelming in the best of ways, obviously just the support, but also poker is something that you become so invested in when you play it through a couple of days. So that applies to obviously the WSOP Mystery Millions event that I final tabled as well as Game of Gold, which was filmed over the course of like eight or nine days.

It’s nice to have such a big score, you know, in both the tournament and on the show. It would have been nice to win the bracelet, of course. But as far as being the champion of the first ever Game of Gold, I can’t even really fully express in words what that means to me, because I felt like this was the first time I was really able to show more sides of who I am—the side of Maria that I think my friends see, but I don’t know if the poker community at large does.

Also, beating a lot of really tough players, players who I look up to, players who I respect, and Jungleman as the final person that I had to get through to take this all down. He was so, so incredibly tough. It’s like, who woke up Jungle for the last heads-up battle because I really wish he just stayed asleep for that one.

You can see why people gave him so many props throughout the show of just being a beast because he definitely unleashed that beast mode on me. I feel fortunate to get out of there alive. But of course, you know, the accolade is really meaningful. The money matters, of course, but at this point, you know, we all kind of want to continue to build that resume, build on a legacy that I hope to leave behind for people in poker in general, for myself, for women. And so all of those things, I just can’t really fully express how happy, how excited I am. And I definitely want to soak up this win just for a little bit.

How do you celebrate tonight in Bahamas? Speaking of soaking it up, what do you do? How do you celebrate?

Oh my gosh, um, well, I’m thinking…uh, the lazy river with a couple of Bahama mamas is a nice like daytime activity and way to celebrate. And then obviously just going to get a good meal. I’m a little older these days, you know, maybe I won’t hit the club, I’ll get a nice meal and treat myself to some expensive sake. People are asking, oh, what’s the first thing you’re going to buy with your Mystery Millions money? Because there’s a lot of nice shops here, like Chanel and Gucci. But no, I’m going to splurge on a $1,000 bottle of sake. So, people who like sake come join me.

If you haven’t watched the Game of Gold finale yet, we’re sorry for spoiling the result for you. But the two-hour special is well worth a watch anyway, with Maria coming out on top of a table packed with super-crushers like Fedor Holz and Jungleman. Holz might have a fierce stare but he wilted in the face of Maria-power.