Hey everyone - I'm Vanessa Selbst.

I started playing poker about 9 years ago, just messing around with friends. I then learned about online poker and online poker forums, got serious about the game, and starting building my bankroll in cash games. In 2006, I played my first couple of tournaments and made my first televised final table at the WSOP. I somewhat infamously busted 4-bet shoving 52s and running into AA in a hand that Norman Chad referred to as a "blowup of monumental proportions" or something along those lines.

Though I had some early success, I struggled with the idea of making poker a long-term career as I wasn't convinced it was sustainable as a way of contributing to a healthy and meaningful life, so I went to law school in 2008. While there, I played and won a few tournaments including the NAPT Mohegan Sun for $750,000. That win catalyzed my signing with Pokerstars and my return to a career as a pro, this time as a tourney donkey rather than a cash game pro who dabbled in tournaments. I'm still not convinced poker as a career is fully healthy or meaningful, but I'm doing everything I can to make it that.

I have since graduated from law school and also become the highest earning female poker player of all time, with more than $7 million in career earnings, and a bunch of tournament wins.

I am also, incidentally, a lesbian, and a strong supporter of civil rights (LGBT and otherwise). I am engaged to my wonderful fiancee and will be married in August of this year in New York.

I'll be back in 2 hours - at 2PM Pacific time. What do you wanna know?

OK - it's about that time to head out. I've had a lot of fun with this... thanks reddit, you've made me a fan for life!

Comments: 871 • Responses: 48  • Date: 

spez388 karma

Couple of fun facts: I met Vanessa and her brother Andrew on a cruise in 2005, a few months before we started reddit.

Alexis and I crashed at Andrew's place at MIT when we were applying to YC.

edit: fixed the link. derp.

vselbst171 karma

Hi Steve!!! You're still like, my most famous/accomplished friend :D see you soon I hope!

PhilGalfond312 karma

What are your thoughts on Phil Galfond? Is he one of the best PLO players out there? Is he really as humble as people make him out to be?

vselbst467 karma

He's actually a huge jerk because I never got a chance to slide on his slide before he sold his apartment.

jacobontheweb155 karma

Hey, Vanessa! Remember our video project for High Honors French where we went to the mall, you asked people questions in French, and I "translated" them?

vselbst164 karma

I definitely remember... I still cite that project, to this day, as one of my best TV moments :D You have a copy of it lying around somewhere?

philipquarles149 karma

Can you tell us a little bit about what "$7M in career earnings" actually means? How much of yourself did you have? How much have you made or lost staking others? How much have you spent on buyins, travel expenses, and living expenses while accumulating those cashes? How much have you won or lost at side games at tournaments? (I assume you still play cash, even if you're now primarily a tournament player.) I understand if you don't want to go into detail, or if you want to talk more generally, rather than about your specific situation.

vselbst292 karma

As your question implies, these career earning stats are definitely very skewed, and it depends wildly on the player in terms of how much action they had sold, how many buyins they had played, etc etc. Without going into specifics, I will say that I've run decently well with respect to having a substantial amount of myself when I binked big and have not been backed for any of my big scores, though I have swapped and sold pieces in some of them. I play much less than most pros as I value quality of life more than playing all the time... I would say I've probably spent somewhere between $1.5MM and $2MM in my life in buyins. After buyins, travel expenses (which are pretty costly), and taxes, I definitely have nowhere near that $7M stat that I've made from tournaments in my actual possession, but for me those numbers about career earnings are more like a score in a videogame than an actual commentary about anyone's net worth.

MSkog110 karma

Good afternoon,

If someone had well-tuned poker skills (obviously a sizable assumption), how would that person begin the path towards playing poker professionally? What kind of a bankroll do you need, where do you go, what games do you start at?

Thanks for doing this AMA and for your civil rights work. I'm a huge fan. Incidentally, it's entirely your brother's fault that I'm addicted to reddit. It was a good way to survive 1L.

vselbst111 karma

Hey there, I'm glad my brother got you, too. He got me into reddit as well.

As far as your question - I think the most important thing is to play online. Putting in ridiculous amounts of volume while studying the game through discussions, videos, and what not is the best way to go about it. I think if you're really serious about wanting to take the plunge, take a few months and go live in Canada, Mexico, Europe, wherever. Play cash games, always making sure that you have 100x the buyin for the stakes you want to play (this is very conservative bankroll management but might be right in the state of today's games). Putting in that kind of volume is by far the best way to prove you can do it while building your bankroll and improving all at the same time.

PeaceOfTheJourney85 karma

Vanessa, two questions:

What was your thinking behind 6-bet shoving in the infamous J7s/AA hand with Prahlad?

Do you get pissed with people calling you 'probably the best female poker player in the world' rather than, as it should be given your results, 'one of the best poker players in the world'?

Thanks for doing this, you're one of my poker heroes.

vselbst129 karma

Hmm - well at the time my thinking was that Prahlad's 5-bet range is super super polarized as deep as we were. Like, even with pocket kings I thought he would have just flat-called my 4-bet. I'm sure I'm right about all of that still, the problem is a polarized range to {AA, bluffs} is still super strong if it's AA 95% and bluffs 5% :D One of my bigger leaks is assuming people are as crazy in certain spots as I am, and that was just a giant misstep in assigning him a much bigger bluff frequency than he actually has in that spot.

As far as the female poker player comment - I don't get pissed, per se. I wish those distinctions didn't have to exist, but I understand that people want to make them, given how relatively little success women have had in poker thus far. As women get better and better and a few of the up and coming players become really elite (which WILL happen), hopefully that distinction will be made less often.

And you're welcome! This is pretty fun!

The_Great_Destroyer63 karma

You seemed shocked with the call by Sylvia that ended the main event. (as a lot of us were) How much was Jesse playing based off the advice you were giving him up to that point? In other words, were you giving him more advice on spots to be more or less aggressive, or was it much deeper than that? Also, do you think fatigue was a factor in the hand, or did Jesse think Greg had a huge edge against him and was willing to take a huge gamble to try to end the tournament? Thanks and good luck!

vselbst154 karma

Great question, actually. Jesse is typically a cash player and a lot of the stuff that he was doing throughout the final table, like 5-betting light based on ICM, limping in certain spots or checking back certain hands that might be autobet in a cash game, was pretty new territory for him. I think he played really really well with relatively few mistakes until the last couple of hours, and I do think fatigue played a decent role in the mistakes he did make. As far as the final hand, I wasn't shocked at the call so much as the overall play - 3betting QJs on those stacks wasn't optimal just given the chance that Greg decides to 4bet shove light. I think Jesse hadn't realized they were only 30-something BBs effective because two hands ago they had been 45ish effective, and he was planning to 3bet to 5b shove. Once he 3bets and gets shoved on, I think it's actually a mandatory call given Greg's probably range (discounting extremely strong hands which he would probably 4bet small).

I didn't really want to be so hands-on at the final table because I wanted him to play his own game and to play it with confidence, but I guess I ended up talking to him quite a few times just because I kept seeing opportunities that I thought Jesse was missing. I just can't imagine how difficult it is under that kind of pressure, 3 handed for so long on poker's biggest stage. Most of the time I was just telling him to start bluffing more, and then he didn't, and then I told him again, and then he didn't, and then I yelled at him to do it... and then he ran a 3 barrel bluff and we were all good again :)

lalanana52 karma

Who do you think is the best poker player in the world atm?

vselbst169 karma

Phil Ivey, always Phil Ivey, will perhaps forever be Phil Ivey.

kissmyallison52 karma

Hey Vanessa- What is the biggest challenge of being a queer woman in the professional poker world? Have you experienced outright homophobia from your peers/fans of poker?

Thanks for the AMA!

vselbst204 karma

Heya. Happy birthday! (Is that what that slice of cake means? I'm a reddit noob!)

Um, being queer is awesome because it means I get to be in an amazing relationship with a woman, and it also means I get an extra community of really f-ing cool people. It also caused me to take all of these classes about race, gender, class, etc., which just made me so much more of an empathetic person generally.

If all that means that I have to block a few more trolls on twitter every week than I otherwise would have to, then so be it, I'll take it any day of the week. No one that is actually intelligent has ever given me any sort of trouble, so it's mostly no problem.

Digging a little deeper to answer your question, I would say my biggest challenge lies in perception. I think as a masculine lesbian, there is a tendency for people to expect me to be mean and aggressive. When I live up to that stereotype (which I do, sometimes, though not nearly all the time), the media wants me to play that character, so that's what gets shown. So honestly, I think a lot of what people see and characterize as me being "angry" results from selection bias of which moments the media is going to show from me, and I think some of that results from me being typecast based on my gender presentation. And that, I would say, is by far the toughest challenge.

omaha846 karma

Why don't cash games get more attention? Especially on TV.

What were the best and worst things about your experience on High Stakes Poker (the show)?

Which tournament players are also really good at cash games?

vselbst105 karma

Cash games don't get more attention probably because stacks are deeper and thus decisions are more complex (thus bad TV). I also think a tournament tells more of a story with a beginning and end point, triumph and glory... cash games, while interesting to really serious poker players, just don't excite the casual viewer as much as seeing someone beat out 6000 other people to become a multi-millionaire.

HoratioBumbaclaat35 karma

Hi Vanessa, thanks a lot for taking the time to do this AMA! I'm interested in hearing your take on the state of the poker economy and in particular, poker in the US.

1). Do you think the poker economy is in a good place right now?

2). How about the legalisation of online poker in America, what time frame do you think we are looking at here?

3). Assuming online poker does get legalised some time in the future, how large of a poker boom do you think will undergo in comparision to the Moneymaker boom?

Good luck with your future tournaments!

vselbst49 karma

1) I definitely don't think the poker economy is in a good place right now - I don't think anyone would think that. The "poker boom" happened in the 2000s, and the poker economy will never be what it was in 2006. That being said, I am hopeful that we will experience another mini-boom when online poker comes back to the US and new sites pop up with more secure regulation, and all the television programming returns as well.

2) I really have no idea, but a shot in the dark would be 2-3 years. That's based on no more information than any of you have, and you should be wildly skeptical of my guess.

3) Sort of answered that in #1 - but yeah, I think definitely less than its 2006 peak, but a mini-boom is imminent for sure.

checkboxes34 karma

Bearing in mind your law background, do you believe we will see Pokerstars/FTP return to the market in the United States any time in the foreseeable future?

vselbst159 karma

I'm not sure, but I have a feeling Pokerstars didn't spend hundreds of millions clearing their name with the DOJ just to clear their consciences.

Superpretend029 karma

I went to high school with you a few grades lower. I remember a monologue you did for women's history month assembly in which you talked about the high school baseball team, basically sidelining you because you were female. I also remember playing some town league baseball with you and you were really good! That speech you made was so powerful and I still think about it once in a while. Can you elaborate on what made you give it, or if you caught any flack for it afterward from the admin? Sorry to bother you if you don't remember it. It just made an impact on me. Thanks

vselbst10 karma

Hey, I think I sent you a PM but I'm not really sure if it went through or not. Anyway, thanks for posting... Getting cut from the baseball team without getting a fair tryout was definitely a tough thing for me, especially since I had worked on my pitching harder than I've ever worked on anything, including poker. I don't remember the speech specifically or what I said, but it's really touching to me that you would remember something like that and cool that at least some good came out of that whole situation :)

Who are you, anyways?

OnlyHalfRacist29 karma

If you could give amateur players one tip what would it be?

vselbst81 karma

Be more aggressive. If you think you might have the best hand, bet or raise. Don't be worried with the times you might not have the best hand... be worried about the times you do.

HoratioBumbaclaat29 karma

You played an extremely exciting hand against Kevin Macphee in the EPT8 Berlin main event where he made a brave call with A9o following your 6/7bet shove. At the time you clearly thought his call to be a terrible one, have you had any time to reflect and do you still disagree with his play? What are your thoughts on this spot in general?

vselbst23 karma

haha, yes, I've talked ad nauseum about this in other interviews so I won't go into any more detail here, but his play there was terrible. We are friends and I wish I hadn't blown up at him the way I did (a lot was due to issues behind the scenes around our friendship), but his play is and was completely terrible. That being said, Kevin is normally a great player.

SharkyOne27 karma

Hi Vanessa. I do pretty well in donkaments, I have final tabled the Sunday Million twice. However, I struggle in cash games online. In your opinion, what are the biggest adjustments from tournament play one has to make to become a very good cash game player?

vselbst52 karma

Hi Sharky. I personally started with cash and moved to tournaments, and most of my friends that are awesome all around players did as well. I would say you have to just not overvalue your hands - I would start at cash by playing extremely tight preflop, and then open up as you get more comfortable with understanding other people's ranges. Because there are no antes, ranges are just so much tighter (it's not profitable to raise KJo in EP when there are no antes to steal), which means that there is less bluffing generally. Thus, top pair goes down tremendously in value. Most of the mistakes tourney players make in cash games is stacking off with top pair or overpairs in terrible spots (see: my hand on HSP, lol), so be cognizant of that, and fold top pair without hesitation when you get raised and it just isn't that likely that your opponent is bluffing.

fyrite26 karma

how many nights a year do you sleep in a bed that you own?

vselbst30 karma

Well probably around 180, but only because my primary residence is actually Las Vegas so I'm there for the WSOP and all the Bellagio tournaments. If you don't include Las Vegas, then maybe like 70-80?

HelenVonBiscuits25 karma

What's #1 thing you look at when trying to read someone?

vselbst46 karma

For me, it's much more about betting patterns and bet sizing rather than a specific physical read. I just try to pay attention to when people are betting, on what sorts of board textures, and how big their bets are when they have it and when they don't... that kind of thing.

FetusPooper20 karma

Hi Vanessa, congrats on your success at the PCA! It was fantastic to watch.

My question for you would be when you were starting to think you would like to turn professional and use poker as your main source of income, was there any moment that really rocked the boat and made you think "hang on, is this what I want to do" and if so, what was this moment and how did you overcome it?

Thanks a lot, I look forward to your continued success in 2013!

vselbst41 karma

Hey, great question. I don't know that there was a moment that rocked the boat for me... it was more of a long series of moments. In 2007-2008 I was playing full time - mostly cash games, though I was also traveling around to tourneys as well. I kept awful hours, often playing all night and sleeping all day. I rarely went to the gym, and I didn't keep in very good contact with my friends from outside of poker. Long story short, I was depressed, even though I was doing well at the game. That time made me think poker wasn't sustainable as a career if I wanted to be happy.

I left poker at that point and went back to law school, intending to leave poker for good. When I missed poker too much and decided to get back into it, I just decided that I was going to be healthy while doing it because I refused to go back to what I was like during that pretty dark year in my life. Now, I make sure that I take significant time off to catch up with old friends and to spend time at home with my fiancee and dogs. I play sports or go to the gym and eat healthy, I [sometimes] make time for other activities outside of poker, and I go see a therapist as regularly as I can.

For me, that's the biggest difficulty with life as a poker pro - the balance between a normal life and "poker life" and keeping it healthy even while on the road. Ever since making all that stuff a priority, I'm much much happier than I was 5 years ago.

quod_erat_demonstran19 karma

Great to see you doing so well on the circuit!

Given all the cheating and mismanagement we have seen from people running poker sites over the years what responsibilities do you think Pros have to investigate how a site is run before they take a sponsorship deal with someone?

What questions did you ask of Pokerstars before signing with them?

vselbst47 karma

I think it's pretty tough for poker players to thoroughly vet a site before representing them - especially in the unregulated world where so much of the important information about the management of a site isn't publicly known. That being said, if there's any good reason to doubt the integrity of a site, I think it would be irresponsible to turn a blind eye to it.

As far as Pokerstars - they're the best out there, and I've said it long before I represented them. When they offered me a contract, I was just thrilled as I knew I'd be working with the best and most professional site there is... (I'm not even paid to say this stuff, I just really believe it).

jmaccadillac18 karma

What was your most embarassing poker moment?

vselbst51 karma

I think I was probably most embarrassed by my QQ hand on HSP, just because of how god awful it was. I was really really thrown off by the lights and cameras and scrutiny of each hand on my first big televised cash game, and I hadn't played cash in quite some time. I think my nerves caught up with me, and what should have been a super easy fold just cost me like $170k. So yeah, that was probably my most embarrassing poker moment.

Lokaji17 karma

I have so many questions!

How have you adjusted your game as you have had more televised hands?

Do you like the way that the WSOP is getting around excluding men from the Ladies event?

Do you think a women only poker league would help more women get involved with poker?

vselbst18 karma

Hi there!

I have definitely adjusted my game in certain ways - I can't take all the most obvious bluffing spots I used to be able to take, which is sorta lame. I have to look for more suicidal bluffing spots nowadays to be able to get away with them :)

As far as the WSOP - I don't like the idea that they have to use semantics to get around the laws since the laws should just allow for protected classes to have exclusionary events. (And women should be a protected class). Given that it is what it is, I like the fact that the WSOP is committed to doing everything in its power to keep the women's event women-only, so yes I do support their efforts.

I think any time you create a more inviting space for women who don't have to deal with annoying misogynist BS from guys that they often have to deal with, it's going to get more women involved with poker.

123Shoot17 karma


vselbst26 karma

I took it down because it caused a lot more strife than the positive benefits of keeping it in. It was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, and 140 characters doesn't allow for me to write all the caveats about the amazing law enforcement officers out there that do an amazing job to protect us. So the sentiment is still there that I dislike law enforcement generally and the power structure and pervasive racism that result from it, though I understand there are some good officers out there. GL to Pokerstars in case they want me not to say something controversial that I actually want to say :D though if you know Daniel Negreanu, you know Pokerstars doesn't do a great job keeping him on a leash either :)

Keysar_Soze16 karma

Best tilt story you had or have seen?

vselbst56 karma

I don't know if it's a tilt story, but any time Matt Marafioti goes on a facebook rant and it ends up on 2p2, that's pretty much comic gold.

showtimepoker15 karma

I've heard you talk about how balance isn't as important for tournaments because the player pool is more diverse. Can you give some examples of your frequent unbalanced play against players other than nits or showdown monkeys?

vselbst51 karma

Well I'm probably not going to tell you exactly which spots I'm always bluffing in, but there definitely are some of those. Probably some where I'm always for value, too, though those are harder to think of :D In general, I'm extremely balance-aware (maybe overly so) when I'm playing high rollers, or against anyone whom I know I will be playing again soon.

One easy way to think about balance being overused is with opening-raise bet sizing. Let's say you're playing at a table with a bunch of people who have no clue about poker... wouldn't you raise 4x with aces rather than 2x, since they'll probably call anyway, and you build the pot much better that way? Or let's take the example of bluff-raising a K73r board when an amateur bets out with like 30BB behind... I might float that board very often for balance against better players (or bluff-raise, but also value raise some good hands) but why not just minraise against someone who will fold every single unpaired hand, despite the fact that there's basically no hands I would ever take that line for value with?

People often fall into a robotic playmaking mode based on what's best against the entire set of all players, rather than exploiting the fact that when playing weaker players, you can be completely unbalanced, and in fact, it's more profitable to play that way.

bcabano31215 karma

When was the first time you won a considerable amount of money? and how did it feel?

vselbst28 karma

Mohegan Sun NAPT was my first huge score, for $750,000 (and I had most of myself since I had just quit my backer before law school). It was... um, surreal. I still never really understand when I win a lot of money - like I've said before, it's more of a score in a game than anything else. I never really buy things that are very extravagant, so the money doesn't change all that much honestly. The only thing I've spent real money on are law school, my condo, one nice car, fancy sushi, and now my wedding.

dgsportsfanatic14 karma

How much math goes into your live poker game?

vselbst34 karma

It used to be a lot, but now in my old age I usually try to do it for all of 3 seconds, and then give up and get the dealer to spread the pot and make a bet size based on approximately "whatever it looks like there is out there." :P

ninxdo11 karma

Thanks Vanessa!

  1. When in a downswing or losing streak, how do you go about keeping motivation levels up, confidence up, and head level?
  2. How do you improve your tournament game? Do you study board textures and use calculators (ICM/Chip equity) or do you approach it in more of a logic deduction way?
  3. How much time is dedicated to bettering your game?
  4. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to become the best possible tournament player they could be?

vselbst44 karma

  1. What's a downswing?
  2. Talk to friends. Review hands. Talk to friends. That's me, anyways. If you're an online player, looking at HEM and stuff would probably be helpful too, but I'm much more theoretically-motivated.
  3. It's really hard to quantify - I used to spend a lot more time on poker forums reading about poker and also a lot more time talking to friends about poker. It's definitely less now, but it's difficult to say just how much. I still think about it far more than is healthy, probably :)
  4. Flip well, young jedi.

t0fu199210 karma

Hi Vanessa. Thanks for taking the time to do this AMA! Congrats on your recent success and engagement.

-Which side do you like in the recent Team Pokerstars vs. Team Fulltilt HUSNG challenge?

-With the average skill level of poker players rising, do you think playing poker professionally is becoming less profitable?

-What other projects/passions are you working on outside of poker?

-Do you ever plan to retire from poker?

Thanks again!

vselbst11 karma

1 - I like Team Pokerstars side. I won't say more about the specific matchups, but I like our side by a LOT.

2 - Yes, it's definitely less profitable than it was 5 years ago, and will be really really hard to make a living in it 5 years from now. We went through a boom, the boom has subsided, and it's close to back to being an industry where only the most meritorious will make it. I'll consider myself extremely lucky if I'm still at the top 5 years from now.

3 - I started a foundation to support nonprofit organizations which I have yet to getting off the ground, but I'm currently funding it and excited to get it off and running. I'm also working on a TV show (though this is in poker) and hopefully if/when it happens, you will hear more about it. Other than that, my hobbies are cooking, sports, my dogs, and watching TV. My future plans (not immediate future, but not too far off) are to coach a little league sports team, volunteer at a civil rights organization, and go to culinary school.

4 - I don't think I'll ever retire from poker entirely, but I'll definitely cut back in a few years. I want to start a family eventually and I can't possibly travel as much as I do now if I am going to do that.

fibe9 karma

awesome player, really enjoy watching you. you haven't been playing much cash recently, as you said, but how do you think you would fare in today's online lineup? who have been the toughest players you'd faced when you were grinding online cash?

vselbst11 karma

I think I'd probably get destroyed in cash by the game's toughest players. I haven't been playing much cash in recent years and the game's elite are so far ahead of where they were when I played a lot. Given how many amazing players there are right now, it's extremely rare for someone to be elite in all forms of poker - and that's what makes Phil Ivey just so awe-inspiring.

damnringer8 karma

Can you post a picture of the engagement ring?

vselbst12 karma

I would, but I don't know how to do that :(

vselbst38 karma

Here it is, I think. Nothing too flashy, that's not my style.

WeveGotEverything7 karma

Do you listen to any podcasts or watch any poker shows you could recommend?

vselbst10 karma

Mmm I don't really watch any or listen to any myself as I'm pretty busy, but I guess this is as good a time as any to plug some - Rootbone Radio is run by a few friends and if they're still making them, I'm sure they're hilarious. The twoplustwo Pokercast is usually a pretty good listen, if you have 5 hours/day to kill. Thinking Poker is another one that I've been on that's pretty sweet and run by a couple pretty smart dudes. Deuces Cracked runs a few podcasts, strategy and otherwise, that are pretty good.

Loofamayne7 karma

Hey Vanessa! I'm a big fan!

So, I'm sure you get this a lot, but of course you remember the Heads Up Championship match against Peter Eastgate... Some would call what you did a sick slowroll. Can you explain what you were thinking at the time?


vselbst24 karma

Yeah, I'm not sure how the misconception that I slowrolled came from, but I guess it might look like that from TV.

Anyways what happened was we were the last two people playing in our group after each of us doubling up and the match swinging quite a bit. The TV team had just made us take like a 20 minute break to get us to the feature table, despite our protests since we only had like 12 bigs and it was super annoying. Finally we are all set up and the very first hand I raise and he shoves and shows JJ and I guess I shook my head a little in disgust before flipping my QQ over. I just thought it was so absurd that the match would end that way and I felt bad for him that he had this setup on the very first hand after this whole thing had gone down. So my head shaking was part "lol what a cooler" and part feeling bad for him, and I guess it came across like a slowroll on TV. Peter definitely didn't think it was so that's what's important, I guess.

Nutzillaa6 karma

Who is the most talented cash game player on Team Pokerstars Pro?


vselbst10 karma

Really tough to say as I haven't played cash with many of them. Isaac, Jason, Elky, Eugene, Ville, and I'm sure tons I'm forgetting are great cash game players as well as tournament stars.

MetellusCimber6 karma

Hey Vanessa, big fan of your play.

When you started getting into high buy in tourneys did you get staked, try to get in via satellites, or buy in the full amount?

What about now, does Pokerstars cover most of your buy-ins? How does your sponsorship deal work with them?

Anyways interested to see the results of this thread!

vselbst14 karma

Hi there. I started playing high buyins in 2007 I believe, and I was pretty new to tournaments generally. My friend just put the word out that I was "pretty good" and that was all it took in those days. Timex and Steve PA picked me up and all my friends loved how one of my backers was 17. Anyways, I wasn't that good at the deep-stacked tourneys and I would typically bust day 1 or 2 running a giant bluff for all my chips and getting called every single time :) Luckily dudes were still folding to me at the WSOP and my success there in 2008 led to a decent profit for myself and my backers.

As for now, Stars covers some of my buyins and travel and some I pay myself... hopefully once I bink the main (3 times in a row) they'll begin to put me in everything and anything I want, but for now this is how it goes and I couldn't be happier with representing them.

Matt_Wolfe6 karma

Are you ever going to make more vids for DC?

vselbst13 karma

Honestly, I'm not sure... it really depends if I start playing online a lot more again, in which case I could see myself making more videos. In the past when I have tried to make videos about live play, they have tended to not come out very well.

RunGoodApp6 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA, Vanessa!

  1. Please describe your thought process and the factors you weigh before reaching the conclusion, "this is a good spot to raise and take down the pot". We know this happens a lot :)

  2. You've had great success at tournaments with large fields. What do you think it is that you do better at these types of tournaments than other good poker players?

Thanks again for doing this. It's always fun watching you play.

vselbst5 karma

Usually if the board texture is one that is unlikely to hit someone (J53 or the like), or if someone tends to give up very easily to aggression, or if someone is shorter stacked and it's near the end of a tournament where there are ICM considerations they have to worry about... those are all great spots to raise to take down the pot.

jaymdee5 karma

Hi, Vanessa- thank you for taking the time to do this! As a lawyer and a fan of poker, you were always my favorite to watch on televised games. You mention still not being convinced that poker as a career is your endgame; do you have any areas of law you're attracted to? I seem to recall an interview where you mentioned wanting to do something in the area of LGBT rights- is that still the area of law you'd practice if you decided to put that degree to work?

vselbst8 karma

Hiya - I'm still not 100% sure what my end game is. I doubt I'll be a full-time lawyer in any traditional sense, but I'll always work on issues about which I'm most passionate, in whatever sense that happens to be. It might be doing charity poker tournaments, or volunteering with organizations, or funding start-up non-profits with my poker winnings. I wish I had a more specific answer for you, but I don't. As far as what field, I would say I'm most interested in fighting for racial and economic justice, though the gays need love too, so who knows?

papayasown5 karma

Hey Vanessa, I have a bunch of questions: 1) What is the best way to improve now that there is no internet poker available for someone who wants to get better?

2) What specific details do you look for when you sit at a table to weed out amateur/ bad players and how do you play against them? How does this change from cash games vs a tournament?

3) What goals do you try to set for yourself when you sit down at a tournament in order to set up for a deep run? For example, do you try to double up before the 4th level?

4) What is the best way to be a winning player at 1-2 NL when a player(s) doesn’t know how/ why to bet or how to bluff? Should you just play around the top 10% of hands and ABC straight forward poker, or is there a certain trick? What strategy would you use if you had to sit down at a lower stakes game?

5) What is your most certain tell on a lesser-skilled player?

6) How did you start your bankroll and how much fluctuation should you endure before you conclude that you cannot improve/ luck is no the limiting factor?

7) Should a player be looking to build his/ her bankroll more through tournaments or cash games?

8) When you were coaching Jesse Sylvia live, what information did you give him and when? Was it just after every hand that he played post-flop, or maybe every hand that he was involved in with a 3-bet or more? Was it hand ranges & aggression statistics from other players/ his image at the table? Were you coaching based on any physical or betting tells?

9) When you see a flop, what is your process for determining a bet? Do you play the hand all the way down through the river in your head and ask yourself “what will I do if he does this/ bets like this/ raises by this much/ if a certain card falls along the way?” and bet from there, or is there another system you use internally to determine the winning play?

vselbst9 karma

1) volume is most important and if you can't play online, then log lots of live hours. use online forum strategy discussion boards through communities like Deucescracked (and other video sites have similar communities). Make friends at or above your level and discuss strat with them constantly.

3) No specific goals - just play my hands and the other players day 1 and 2, and play my hands, the other players, and stack sizes the rest of the days.

4) Yes, start ABC, and then open your game up slowly.

5) The least skilled players always overbet when they have good hands because they want to protect, and then when they bet smaller you know they are less confident and can be bluffed off their hands.

7) Cash games are the best place to start, hands down. Less variance, and you build the necessary skills to succeed in tournaments down the line.

8) I was mostly trying to pump him up, and usually telling him that he needed to start bluffing more. I think he thought his image was super aggro (which it HAD been, 3 months earlier), so I was trying to get him to understand just how tight it had appeared that he had been playing.

9) Yes, I almost always have a plan for the hand from square 1, but the plan can change if unexpected things happen or if something physical changes my read. Once you play so many hands, there are few situations that you aren't prepared for, for the most part. That is what makes tournaments so fun though - the changing stack sizes and tournament stages make for many more situations - it just makes sense that the more variables you add (tournament stage and stack size being varianbles), the more situations you will be faced with, combinatorically.

anonymous75 karma

Of all the poker pros who did as well as you as quickly as you, how many of them do you think achieved it due to luck triumphing over skill?

(i.e. what percentage of meteoric pros like you do you think have true winrates that are accurately reflected by their results?)

vselbst15 karma

Most poker pros that have had as many results as I have had are genuinely good players. It's hard to win consistently and just be terrible. That being said, none of us have true winrates and we've all run exceptionally well... that's just how variance goes. Personally, I don't think that over time, I've flopped more sets or had my AA hold more than the average person... I've just gotten extremely lucky in terms of running good at the major final tables I've made. And that's the most important skill to have in the world - knowing how to get lucky when playing for 6 or 7 figures.

fractivSammy4 karma

I attended a short poker talk of yours during the WSOP a while back that I thought was extremely insightful. Any plans to write a strategy book in the future?

vselbst14 karma

Great, I'm glad you liked it. I don't have plans to write a book any time in the near future both because I'm extremely busy with tons on my plate, and also because it just isn't that profitable honestly. Mostly though, it just doesn't appeal to me the same way discussing poker through coaching or live seminar or the like does.

Linkiola3 karma

So i'm assuming you have played against Antonius, is there any game you could beat him in in the long run? NLHE, FLHE, SnG, trn, PLO etc?

And if he didn't convince you to go straight I think they can stop saying homosexuality can be cured!

vselbst2 karma

He's a great player but there are definitely games I can beat him in in the long run. Also, I think he is sexy from a conventional standpoint, but I dunno, just not really my type. Even if there were guys in poker that could turn me straight, he wouldn't be one of them :)

herpants2 karma

On WSOP broadcasts in recent years, you are seen yelling at players who you think made the wrong play against you. Norman Chad is not a fan of this. Why do you yell at people? My goal is just to get you to talk about your thought process here. I'm going to list a bunch of questions I don't necessarily want specific answers to. It's just to give you an idea of where I'm interested in your answer going.

Is it just a way to let off steam? Is it an intimidation thing? Do you hope to accomplish anything by telling someone they played poorly? Do you consider it part of the game or poor sportsmanship? Do you get this upset at people outside of poker? I in an interview you were talking about a cop breaking up a law school party and you all getting fairly upset at the cop. Were your actions fairly similar in this situation?

vselbst2 karma

I'm not sure which broadcasts you mention where I'm "yelling" at people. The EPT Berlin hand against Kevin MacPhee had a lot to do with my own personal problems with him in our friendship that unfortunately manifested on camera. The hand from 2007 against Nancy Todd Tyner, I was young and immature and shouldn't have trash talked (though she trash talked too a LOT and they edited it all out). Robert Varkonyi from 2010 was just a very tense moment in a huge pot, and I shouldn't have said anything but it was one moment when they were filming me for like 7 straight days. Other than those three examples, I'm really not sure what you're referring to, or what anyone is when they frequently ask this question, to be honest. If you can cite more specific examples, I can explain what happened, but other than that all I can say is you'd be surprised that what you see isn't usually what you get.

Swag_Attack2 karma

Hows the culture between pro's amongst each other? Are there alot of friendly relationships or do most people just go about there business? Is there alot of discussing on hands, anything like that?

vselbst2 karma

Yeah I mean just like any subculture, some people love each other, some people hate each other, etc etc. I think there is a great deal of camaraderie that results just from shared experiences, and also the fact is that a lot of us are very similar in personality and temperament. It can definitely get difficult sometimes just because when you're on the road with people you're seeing them so often, it can become almost sibling-like in some ways. The competitive nature of it can also be difficult because when you're ultimately competing against these people, it's hard to believe that anyone truly supports you or has your best interest at heart 100% of the time. I think it's rare to be able to have those sorts of relationships. Still though, I like almost everyone I've met on some level or another.

There is this cool thing that happens that is unique to poker though which is that there will be people I've never really hung out with before or even met, but if they are in a group of people I am hanging out with, we can just strike up a conversation as if we're old friends. Usually you know who everyone is and some mutual friends have talked about that person to you before, so it's like you've known them forever yourself. That's a cool aspect of it - the idea you can just hang out with anyone and you know something about each other - and can make otherwise lonely places feel less lonely sometimes.

CakesAway2 karma

Hi Vanessa, As a strong supporter of civil rights myself, I am curious about the financial and ethical implications that come with playing games for profit. Having never been on the business side, only a casual spectator, I cannot personally see how a career like this is accessible to any but a fortunate few. What sort of equal righst opportunities exist in poker? Is there really more to this game than just a lucky few dozen making millions, or does this actually provide an economic stimulus that is not obvious?

vselbst5 karma

I don't know - honestly, I try not to think about all that too much... I have a ton of fun playing the game and am happy to make a lot of money doing that. I use a decent chunk of that money to support the issues that I care about, and that ethically justifies the rest of it for me.

That being said, there are thousands of people making a living from this game. It isn't the same living that I am making, but it's enough to support themselves in a way that they find to be the most fun and rewarding for them. Most of them, like me, built up a bankroll from nothing.

Nutzillaa2 karma

Hi Vanessa,

I started playing poker about a year ago and have been attempting to grind my way out of the micros for some time now. My question is this: how does a player stay motivated and focused when the payoff is so minimal at the present moment. It's really frustrating to grind for hours on end, get behind in school and only to make $15 or $20.

Thanks for doing this!

vselbst9 karma

Hey. Great question. If you love the game, then keep playing and persisting... it shouldn't be about the money. If it's about the money, and you can't break through, then poker ain't for you, IMO!

OccupiedMind0 karma

Fuck one, marry one, kill one. The PokerNews Girls. Go.

vselbst3 karma

Ha. You ready for a copout? They are all AWESOME PEOPLE. But seriously, they are all awesome people. Sorry.