Vanessa Selbst has the perfect background for poker: extremely smart, analytical, and a fierce competitiveness honed in athletics. Her aggressions makes her a lightening rod at any table.
Vanessa started playing poker at MIT. She was on the school's varsity tennis and hockey teams. "Poker took the competitive void that tennis filled for me earlier," she said. It was at Yale as a Fulbright Scholar where her game was transformed. "In our home game, we had several great players. Alex Jacob, Ariel Schneller, Nate Mavis."
Jacob has had a few decent results in tournaments: runner-up at the 2006 WPT Foxwoods ($655k), four 2006 WSOP cashes including two final tables, winning the 2006 US Poker Championships in Atlantic City ($878k), plus another final table in this year's WSOP $1.5k (282k). Hallie Haglund, a classmate at Yale, described Vanessa in those home games. "She's really hard-core into it. No boy was as hard-core as Vanessa."After last year's World Series, Vanessa worked six months at McKinsey as an analyst before leaving. She spends most of her time now interning at Make the Road by Walking (www.maketheroad.org). This Brooklyn non-profit is an outreach program which "...catalyzes change for low-income New Yorkers by working in five impact areas:
• Expanding civil rights and civic engagement
• Promoting health for all New Yorkers
• Improving housing and fostering environmental justice
• Winning justice in the workplace
• Promoting access, excellence, and opportunity in education.
". I used to play at Foxwoods a lot, but I don't play much poker anymore. I work 25-30 hours a week as a legal intern at Make the Road by Walking. They can't pay me, so my goal is to earn enough this summer so I can work there. It's really what I want to do with my life."
Vanessa became known to the public from her ESPN televised 2006 WSOP $2k event, where she finished 7th ($101,285). Juan Carlos Mortensen was also at that table, which Mark Vos won. She studied in Madrid as a Fulbright Scholar, so it was especially nice to both meet the Spanish legend as well as to take him out. "I introduced myself to him, as everyone knows him as a legend in Madrid," she said. She made a mathematical call to knock him out. "I had A-9s, and I raised to $60k. Juan Carlos went all-in for another $199k. He had pocket 7's, but I think it was the right call given his range."
Her bustout hand gave a glimpse into her mindset at the table. She raised to 66k with the blinds at 12k/24k with a 2k ante and Williard Chang called. Kevin Petersen then made it 200k, and Vanessa moved over-the-top for a total of $654k. Her cards: . Peteresen called after Chang folded, and his pocket aces caught two more for quads to knock her out.
That level of fearlessness borders on recklessness, and it results in a few things. She plays what most would agree would be a wide range of hands, as wide a range as anyone in poker, in any position. She sucks out more often as she is involved in such a wide range of possibilities. She absolutely calls down players when she has chips. And her table image leads to some nasty confrontations.
In the Ladies Event, she received a penalty after a wild hand. In the middle of Day 1, she was the chip leader and involved in a pot with the player one to her left. She bet 7k into a board of . As the player pondered what to do, she flashed her to the player, and the 3s called for the floor. After the floor gave a one round penalty that would start after the hand, the 3s called. came on the river, and the 3s moved all-in for another 16k. Vanessa said, "I'm getting 3:1 on my money, so I have to call." The 3s turned over for the rivered full house, and Vanessa threw the cards into the dealer, . She apologized, then took her yellow Post-It note with the penalty and headed to the rail.
She attacked the table relentlessly, every table she sat at. Late in Day 2, a telling hand occurred that provides further insight into Vanessa mindset at the table. Cydnie Joy raised, and Vanessa re-raised on the button. Joy called from middle position with about 150k behind and the pot at 80k. The flop came , and Joy immediately moved all-in. Vanessa just as quickly called, and Joy threw her pocket kings onto the table. Vanessa flipped over for trips, and she dodged the two outs to bust Joy and move into the chip lead at 500k.
"She just called," said Vanessa to the railbirds. "She should have moved all-in pre-flop." As Katja Thater sat to her left thirty minutes later, Vanessa recounted the hand to her. Vanessa continued to raise pre-flop and take on raisers, but Thater showed Vanessa why she is one of the top players in Europe. The Team PokerStars member was the only player to play back at Vanessa, twice rebumping Vanessa's 20k raises with 65k re-raises. She showed pocket queens once, and Vanessa knew there was one player who understood her brand of poker.
Down to ten players, they redrew seats. Vanessa got the 1s, and Thater received the 2s. Vanessa asked if they would redraw when they reached the Final Table, and she was clearly frustrated that the answer was no.
She headed into her second Final Table 4th in chips, and she has a great shot at taking down her first WSOP bracelet. You can be confident in one thing: she most definitely will not be blinded out if she falls short of the title. If she can get heads-up with Katja Thater, it could be one of the epic heads-up battles in recent WSOP history.
Vanessa will be by far the most aggressive player at today's Final Table, and as the event stars, she is taking blinds at will. A maniac that is experienced, catches cards, and surrounded by lambs? It will be something to watch.
Indeed, it was Katja Thater who took Vanessa out in 8th ($20,480).
"I didn't get alot of cards, and Katja kept three-betting me everytime I would raise. Maybe if I had been in better position, things might have been different." A tough pill to swallow, and Katja Thater will indeed be tough to take out today.