THE BLOG
07/07/2010 02:47 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Diary of a Poker-Playing Novelist Housewife

"Over on the table of death, Helen Ellis has been giving the pros a hard time." - Poker News

I am home and in mourning. I haven't unpacked. I haven't cooked my husband a meal. I haven't written a word of my next novel. All I can think about is that I could have advanced further in the 41st Annual World Series of Poker if I'd played that last hand better - you know, re-raised pro Paul Sheng from the button pre-flop or flat-called his bet on the turn to set up a nice bluff on the river. If you can't follow that last sentence, I'll explain it to you: I messed up.

Let's start at the beginning. My husband and I went to Vegas. I entered an innocent $200 tournament and - 15 hours later - had outlasted more than 400 people to win $9,000.

That was more than enough for me to enter the big leagues: Event #32 $5,000 No-Limit Hold'em/Six Handed. Not quite the $10,000 main event, but pretty darn serious. Since 2008, I've cashed at three WSOP and World Poker Tour circuit events and made two final tables. But I've never played for such high stakes and certainly not at the level that requires a 5K-entry fee. As the three-day event wore on, I was noticed by the press; one reporter dubbed me "Ellis an Island in a Sea of Pros." Poker Listings asked, "Where did this sweet looking lady come from?"

I don't play online, so I was one of the few players in a field of 568 who was not done up in NASCAR-like sponsorship. I was also one of only a handful of women, and the other one I spotted - Jennifer Harman - stood out more for her poker prowess than her gender. And then there was me, a complete unknown (in a dress and pearl bracelet instead of mirrored shades and headphones) three-betting the young guns.

On a break, Bellagio Cup III winner Kevin Saul asked me, "Lady, who ARE you?"

I said, "I'm a housewife."

He said, "Bullshit!"

I am a housewife. And a novelist. But at poker tables, my demure ways transform and I become something I'm normally not. A killer--metaphorically speaking, of course. It's not unlike what happens to the heroine in my new novel, The Turning: What Curiosity Kills. She transforms into a creature that can steal breath and stalk prey in the dark. Me, I can sit at a feature table under the glare of spotlights, surrounded by spectators and press, and coolly stare back into eyes of one of the best players in the world.

I miss Phil Ivey's eyes. I wish he were sitting across from me now.

I placed 41st in the tournament and won $12,653. The killer in me wanted to take the winnings and head back for the Main Event in July. But alter ego #1, the economical housewife, deposited the money into my checking account and paid off alter ego #2's student loan for creative writing.

I regret my prudence a bit. But like a busted set of sixes, what's done is done. The killer is going to have to wait for the next tournament.