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Vanessa Selbst

Vanessa Selbst is one of the most interesting poker players in the world, although she’s no longer a pro. In 2019, she announced her retirement from the game. But like many players who “retire,” she still occasionally pops up at a random tournament or in a cash game at the casino. Many of her peers consider her to be the best female poker player of all-time, and it’s hard to disagree.

Who is Vanessa Selbst?

Vanessa K. Selbst was born July 9, 1984 in New York and attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) for a year before transferring to Yale University, an Ivy League school. She received a degree in political science before later returning to Yale and earned a J.D. degree.

Although her sights were initially set on becoming a lawyer, she took up poker in her 20s and discovered she was extremely skilled at the card game. The Brooklyn native decided the legal field wasn’t for her as much as the game of poker. So, she ditched her original occupation in favor of playing poker for a living.

Vanessa Selbst biography

Selbst is one of the most intelligent poker players around, and she’s quite outspoken, especially politically. She is as much known for her activism as she is for her skills on the felt. The legendary female poker pro is a proud Liberal whose strong political comments often rub the Conservative poker players the wrong way.

She often uses social media to express her views and considers herself to be a feminist. Selbst is an openly gay woman and is married with a young child.

As a poker player, she is known as an aggressive player who isn’t afraid to pull off a sick bluff. But when you have a reputation as someone who fires away big bluffs frequently, you end up getting called by marginal hands more often than you’d like. Selbst has certainly had her moments when she’s bluffed off a massive stack. Doug Polk even joked about it on his YouTube channel in a 2016 video.

Despite running numerous failed bluffs on televised poker shows, the poker pro has made a killing playing this game. But in 2019, she resigned as an ambassador for PokerStars, right around the time when she retired from poker altogether. Instead of going back into the legal field, she took on a new occupation as a hedge fund manager at the Bridgewater Associates investment firm.

The hand she’d like to forget

Poker can be a cruel game sometimes. Vanessa Selbst already knew that before the 2017 WSOP Main Event, But if she had forgotten, she was reminded of this truth on Day one of poker’s most prestigious annual event.

Early on in the tournament, she picked up pocket aces and raised to 400 chips. Gaelle Baumann, another talented female poker pro, made the call with pocket 7’s. The hand was initially cruel to Baumann when the flop came out A-7-5, giving both players a flopped set.

“Oh my, set over set, this is pretty hard to do,” PokerGO commentator Antonio Esfandiari said. “Fortunately, for Baumann, there’s three clubs out there, otherwise this could be an outrageously large pot.”

Despite the monotone flop, Selbst seemed poised to win at least a marginally big hand. She bet out 700 chips, and her opponent made the call. That’s when the hand went from Baumann being coolered to Selbst being put in a position poker players have nightmares about.

The turn was a 7, giving Baumann quads and Selbst aces-full, a hand so strong that it’s virtually impossible to get away from. 

“Bye bye, Vanessa,” Esfandiari uttered after seeing the turn card.

Esfandiari was right. Selbst checked the turn and Baumann bet 1,700. Her opponent raised it up to 5,800 and got a call. The river was a 4, which changed nothing. Selbst this time bet out big — 16,200. Baumann then put her all-in.

Most players would snap-call in this situation and then find out the bad news. But not someone as talented as Selbst, who actually tanked for a couple of minutes before eventually deciding that you can’t fold aces-full when only one hand beats you. No one wants to bust on Day 1 of the Main Event. It’s even worse when you go out early because of a sick cooler.

Vanessa Selbst poker accomplishments

Vanessa Selbst is a legendary poker player, and not only because she’s the all-time winningest live tournament pro. She has $12 million in tournament cashes and is the only woman ever to win three WSOP bracelets in non-ladies events. In fact, all three of her bracelets came in open events. She won all three of her World Series of Poker titles from 2008 to 2014, with her most recent in a $25,000 no-limit hold’em event for $871,148. 

But her biggest career score came in 2010 at the Partouche Poker Tour Main Event, an $8,500 buy-in tournament she won for $1,823,430. She won another big one in 2013 at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure ($25,000 High Roller for $1,424,420). Selbst was never a regular in World Poker Tour events, but she does have a pair of WPT final tables, including a runner-up finish in the 2013 Borgata Poker Open in Atlantic City.