WSOP Winner Watch: Vanessa Selbst

WSOP Winner Watch: Vanessa Selbst

Monday, 14 July 2014

We get the lowdown on bracelet #3.

Owner of two Law degrees from Yale and a helluva lot of raw poker talent, Vanessa Selbst is a force to be reckoned with in whatever she does. We get the lowdown on her bagging her third (!) WSOP bracelet after winning the $25,000 Mixed Max Event for $871,148.

Hi Vanessa, congratulations on the bracelet. Did winning it feel at all different to the other two?

Yeah, they all felt pretty different I guess. This one was a smaller field with tougher competition, so it felt like a shorter road to get there, but a tougher one.

What was it like playing heads up against Jason Mo after he tweeted saying you were bad?

Oh, I don't care. It was whatever. I try not to get involved in any of that stuff, I just kinda play my game. Ultimately I think it might have worked against him a little bit, where he made some plays that I thought were pretty obvious. In those spots I knew what was going to happen based on what I knew that he thought of me, and that's a mistake that you just can't make at all. Any time that you give away information as a poker player it can only really hurt you. So I think when he gave that information away I just used it to my advantage.

How would you feel if Jason or any of the 'Evil Empire' crew turned up on your One Drop table?

I don't care! I think that honestly we're doing a disservice to poker right now by even talking about them in this interview. I think they're really not worth the breaths that we're wasting at this moment, quite honestly.

Selbst July 2

You didn't get to play the One Drop the first time round, are you looking forward to it?

Yeah, I'm really looking forward to it. I think it's a really cool event, obviously a huge buy-in with tons of excitement and energy, and a great cause. It has all the makings of a really really fun three days.

Will you approach it differently to other events?
No, at the end of the day it's still a poker tournament. It's very similar, in terms of the competition, to the $100ks I've played in the past. So the same way that I approach those is the way I'm going to be approaching the One Drop.

Do you think there's enough of an edge to be had considering there'll be so many top pros?

Yeah, absolutely. That's the primary reason I'm playing it, that there's a lot of amateur players. The $100ks may get some players who are very nearly tournament pros, or are taking a shot, but the One Drop is really only pros who have established themselves so far. So the ratio of pros to amateurs is actually much lower. I think there's a lot of really good value there.

What would it mean to you to win it?

It would be incredible. I think if I won it'd probably make me the highest-earning poker player ever. Not that that matters really, but it would be kinda cool. Any time you win any kind of elite field like that it's incredible, and when you have a million dollars on the line that's the best time to do it. So I would be really excited. I dunno, it would just be amazing.

How do you feel when you're called 'the best female poker player in the world' rather than just 'one of the best players in the world'?

I understand the reason why people want to use that title. It's a lot easier in poker to distinguish. I think the reason people grasp on to that so much is because it's concrete. People talk about who the best poker players are, but there are so many amazing poker players these days in so many different disciplines, it's really difficult to kind of nail it down. I think even with the GPI and other ranking systems, there's still no certainties, and nobody can ever speak in certainties. You can say, 'This player's in the Top 10 for this' or 'So and so is in the Top 5 for that', but the reason people really glom onto the 'best female' title is because it's one of the only real concrete things there is.

How much do you follow yourself in the rankings?

Honestly, when I'm playing a lot and doing well I do, because it's fun and definitely drives motivation a little bit. For example, when I'm at Number 2 it gives me a little bit of extra motivation to get to Number 1. But I don't really play all the time, I'll take a lot of time off during the year to work on my other projects. So there have been times when I'll drop down out of the top 5, or out of the top 10 even. At that point, it's healthier for me because I don't really pay attention to it. At the end of the day, poker is about making money, and it doesn't matter what your ranking is in the world. It matters how much money you're making, and what your ROI is. So I try not to focus on it when I'm not playing much, although sometimes I can't help it. For me to try and be competitive in the rankings when I'm not at a big tournament series... it just doesn't make any sense.

Selbst July

What's your work/life balance like at the moment?
Well, right now at this very moment I'm obviously playing a ton of poker because it's the World Series, but I'm finally settled in a place where I feel like I've got multiple balls in motion. I got married last year, and I feel like I'm finally coming into my own in terms of what my career might look like in the long run. I'm pretty happy with that. 

You mentioned your other projects, what are those?
Basically, there's one project I've been working hard on. I don't really want to talk about it too much because it's still in the developing stages, but it's a website that's trying to do something to alleviate the problem of police misconduct. The other things I'm talking about are that I've joined the board of another organisation called the Urban Justice Centre in New York. I'm going to be trying to organise some fundraisers for them, and just trying to get more into a little bit of non-profit work myself. As well as that there's regular person stuff, like playing tennis, cooking, hanging out with my family – stuff like that. 

How much personal experience have you had with police misconduct?

[Chuckles]. Not so much personal experience. I've been arrested a couple times, but not anything major. I've just always been a huge advocate of social justice in general. In law school I worked a lot on police misconduct but also other abuses of authority. We worked with clients that were in Guantanamo Bay. Gross misuses of power have always been upsetting to me, and police misconduct is a very real manifestation of that. It's something that exists and you can see all the time if you're looking for it, especially in a big city.

I know you were once arrested after a disagreement with an officer at a university party. What were the other times for?

The only other time is not even really worth getting into. It was literally that I was crossing the street at the wrong place and an officer decided that he wanted to tell us off. I told him that I didn't think it was appropriate the way he reacted, and then he decided to throw me in the back of a cop car and threaten to arrest me. My friend who was there said to him, 'You know this is ridiculous, right?' He eventually backed down. I wasn't technically arrested, I didn't go through processing or anything like that. But it was just another situation over something ridiculous that escalated because the police officer didn't like the fact that I was talking back to him. Honestly, though, I didn't even really talk back. He'd said a really rude comment about us being Yale students and thinking we could do whatever the fuck we wanted, and how we were so entitled. Literally all we did was cross the street at the wrong section!
It's just stuff like that, like, how can there be such a ridiculous power imbalance? This person has done literally nothing to gain this authority, yet they get to just do whatever they want pretty much all the time. The two incidents that happened to me are basically nothing. It's more the fact that going through these things makes me realise... ultimately, I was in the back of that cop car, and my friend was like, 'Look, we're Law students. We know this isn't right and you're never going to get away with this, what are you doing?' As a result of that, he let me go. In the other case, I got arrested but I had the means to pay for a lawyer and get it off my record, but there are so many people that if that happens to them it could be devastating. That could end in a conviction, impede their chances to get a job and so many other things, just because they don't have the resources. It's just another way that our society favours people who have money over people that don't. That's really the heart of the issue for me.

A lot of people get into poker precisely because they don't want to answer to authority. Do you think that plays into it at all?
[Laughs]. Maybe, I don't know. I've definitely always had issues with authority for sure. For me though, poker was just a game. I've had jobs – I went back to Law School, and I've had plenty of jobs with people I really liked and respected. But for me, poker is definitely more about playing this really cool game all the time, and it's really fun.

Do you remember when you first got into poker? How much do you think you've changed since then?

I first got into poker in high school, and obviously I've changed since then – I'm going to be the big 30 in a few weeks. All of us change. I guess I've just got my shit together more. I know what I want out of life and I'm taking steps to achieve that, rather than just letting my life happen to me.

Tags: Vanessa Selbst, interviews, WSOP 2014