Vanessa Selbst doesn't get distracted by much of anything when it comes to poker. Even her latest achievement, becoming the highest earning woman in poker of all time, doesn't seem to faze her.
When I asked her recently if she thought this achievement would affect her game in any way, she replied simply, "No, I don't think this change will have any effect on my game." Her answer wasn't surprising to me at all, because her laser focus is one of the foundations of her game. For many of us, carrying that banner for women and being a role model for so many might bring a lot of pressure, but for Vanessa it's just another achievement in a long list of them.
Her most recent success was her first place finish at this year's PokerStars Caribbean Adventure in the $25K High Roller event and her cash for over a million dollars. In October, she finished first in the $5K Festa al Lago in Las Vegas for $90,693. She won a World Series of Poker bracelet in June in the 10-Game event and a championship in February at the L.A. Poker Classic. And that list is only her most recent first place finishes. There are so many more; it's impossible to list them all here.
Vanessa says that being competitive has always been part of her nature, even as a child. "I've always been competitive . . . prior to poker, in academics and sports. I have definitely tried to achieve as much as possible." From her long list of achievements in poker (see the complete list here) and her success in obtaining her law degree from Yale, it seems that "as much as possible" is putting it mildly.
Becoming famous and recognizable is a burden for some players, especially when they have their every move scrutinized and photographed, and as one of the most famous faces in poker today, Vanessa has received a tremendous amount of attention on that front. I asked her if she ever missed the days when she could go into a tournament without all the media attention and autograph seekers. "I definitely miss the days where I could run sick bluff after sick bluff and get folds every single time," she replied. "But in terms of the fame--I can't complain about it at all. I'm just very thankful to have come as far as I have in my career, owing partly to hard work, but also partly to well-timed run-good."
When I asked her about what it was like for her growing up, she let us in on the fact that she has been a rule breaker from way back. "I was a precocious kid and would often get into trouble. I have this habit of following rules only if I believe they make sense and are justified. Since a lot of rules don't follow that description, you can imagine that I frequently found myself in sticky situations with authority figures! Actually I think the first time I ever got in trouble was for skipping school with my friend in first grade, but that time it was his idea, I swear!" Skipping school and breaking the rules as far back as first grade--well, that explains a lot about how she's able to do some of the outrageously brave things she does at the poker table and get away with it.
Breaking rules even factors into her career choices it seems. It may come as a surprise to some readers that even though she's one of the most famous and feared poker players on the planet, she sees herself ending up in another professional endeavor eventually. When asked about her thoughts on what she wanted to be as a child, she didn't mention poker player. "I always thought I'd be a lawyer when I grew up. I still believe that, actually." With the recent completion of her law degree at Yale and her high-profile pro bono work, she certainly has lots of options in that area when she decides to go back to work in law.
We couldn't let Vanessa go without asking her a couple of questions about her day-to-day life away from the tournament circle. So in answer to that burning question we all want to know--"What is something about you that people might be surprised to know?"--she had this to say: "I don't know how surprising it is, but my favorite 'hobby' right now would be taking my dog for walks. I'm a huge animal lover. I guess most people don't know that. I melt when I see pictures of OTHER people's dogs; that's how bad it is." Melting dog lover is definitely another side of Vanessa we don't usually hear about, and one that people can really relate to. (I see a lot of Fido pictures in your near future, Vanessa, so best get ready for that. If your heads-up opponent flashes a picture of his or her canine best friend, just look away as fast as you can!)
Vanessa's favorite television show at the moment is Game of Thrones, but she says that changes all the time. She loves it because, as she puts it, ". . . it's awesome, and the writer isn't scared to kill off any character at any time, regardless of how central the character is."
Vanessa has achieved so much in such a short time that I hesitated to ask her about future goals. "Wouldn't it be enough to rest for a bit?" I asked myself. But then I'm not a famous poker pro like Vanessa, and that is part of the reason why. She definitely has goals, and they are, not surprisingly, very ambitious. "I'd really like to take down an EPT title and maybe a WPT as well. I have joked that most of my victories have come in now-defunct poker tours so it would be nice to take down an event that still exists! But in all seriousness, both of those tours have great reputations and titles are very prestigious, so that is definitely my current goal at the moment."
We will be hearing much more about Vanessa in the near future, and I'm sure we won't be surprised if she adds the titles mentioned above to her list this year. We look forward to writing all about it and following her success in the months and years to come for PokerStars Women.