Show, hosted by the poker champion Joe Hachem a Channel Ten HD channel, it was a game version of The Apprentice, Donald Trump, a Talent contest, which allows a novice to hit the big time.
After beating 18,000 applicants and 11 finalists, the red carpet was rolled out for De Cesare. She spent a year travelling the world with Hachem as her mentor, competing in tournaments in Monte Carlo and Las Vegas.
The victory was one of those pinch-yourself moments. ”The show sounded like a bit of fun and I thought I’d give it a go,” De Cesare says. But never in her wildest dreams had she expected to win.
At the time, the chips were down in her personal life but soon her fortune was on the way up. De Cesare poured the winnings into the mortgage she took out on her house after buying out her ex-husband, Frank, when their marriage ended in 2008. The two remain friends and share custody of their daughters Sarah, 14, and Chloe, 9.
De Cesare, a speech pathologist, learned to play poker because of her ex-husband. Six years ago, while still married, he was short of a player for his weekly game with friends so she took a seat. She’s been showing her poker face ever since. And it was because of the separation that she had more time to play and hone her skills.
The first big tournament De Cesare won was the Joe Hachem Deep Stack Series at Crown in 2009, pocketing $72,304 – a week after winning the $100,000 on TV. Excluding the reality program, she has banked $190,716 from her tournaments.
The Aussie Millions poker championship, the largest in the southern hemisphere and the fifth-largest in the world, is under way at Crown and although De Cesare is not competing in the main event, which requires a $10,600 ”buy-in” – the entry fee – she’ll try her luck at smaller games.
During the 18-day event, which ends on Sunday, there are 20 tournaments with a prize pool of $20 million and from that; $2 million goes to the winner of the ”no limit holdem” main event. More than 3000 entrants are vying to be the last man or woman at the poker table, and players have jetted in from the US, Canada, Britain, South Africa, Israel, Estonia, Portugal, Russia and other countries.
De Cesare is a female player in an overwhelmingly male world where blokes sit transfixed, wearing caps and sunglasses, often listening to iPods.
She has noticed a cultural difference in the way she is treated overseas. While male players in Melbourne treat her same, she is the subject of more aggressive tactics from men in the US. ”They try and bully you out of the hand. They bet big and think you’ll get scared and fold.”
Although she previously didn’t consider herself competitive, De Cesare soon discovered when she started playing that she wanted to win, regardless of the prize money. ”Being a female, the boys tend to get a bit macho. I love to beat the boys at their game.”
But she says poker’s main appeal is the opportunity to broaden her social circle. ”Generally with the activity you choose, you find people very similar to yourself. Poker draws people from all over the place. You could be sitting next to students or doctors.”
After her whirlwind year playing poker with Hachem, De Cesare returned to work as a speech pathologist and now divides her time between the two pursuits. Working with children with special needs, she focuses on non-verbal communication, such as expressions, and found her expertise came in handy at the poker table.
”My biggest skill is reading body language,” she says, divulging some handy inside information for her competitors. ”I look at things like breathing rates; people will hold their breath if they are bluffing. If I touch my chips, what reaction do they have?”
Once the cards are dealt, players look down at their cards but De Cesare doesn’t. ”I don’t look at my cards until it’s time to act. I can tell which people have a big hand. People do things instinctively and they don’t know they’re doing it.”
Poker has been her financial saviour and a window into another world, but rubbing shoulders with celebrities still gives her a thrill.
Corona De Cesare was a day when the avid poker by the way Shane Warne, said:”Hey, Amanda”Aveva heard of him through his friendship with Hashem… De Cesare was blown away, thinking of the time: ‘Shane Warne has just said my name! Amanda is just the outskirts.”