Vanessa Selbst put on a masterful performance to win the $1,500 pot-limit hold'em event at the 2008 World Series of Poker last night. She gambled when she needed to and applied contstant pressure on her opponents with a large stack. Her toughest test was saved for last in the tournament. When it got down to heads-up play, Selbst had Jamie Pickering standing between her and victory. There was a catch, though, Pickering had taken to raising the pot without even looking at his holecards. Selbst was able to muster enough gamble to pull out the win, and for her victorious efforts, she was awarded her first gold bracelet and $227,965 in prize money. She also became the first woman to win a bracelet in an open buy-in event at this year's WSOP.
Card Player caught up with Selbst after her big win, amongst a party atmosphere that surrounded the post final-table press conference.
Question: Can you tell us about how you came to find poker at Yale?
Vanessa Selbst: I graduated from Yale in ’05, and I’m actually going to law school there starting next year. I actually learned poker at Yale; I had a home game with a lot of really good players, and we all learned together. So, yeah, I sort of got my poker education while I was still in college.
Q: Does this change anything for you?
VS: No. I’ve known I’ve had the potential to do this for a while. I’ve come close three different times, and I haven’t made it. It’s another tournament, and I won, and it’s awesome to have a bracelet, but I’ve always known I’m good at poker. This doesn’t change the fact that I’m going back to law school. This might or might not be my last WSOP; I’m not sure what I’ll be doing next summer, but I’m happy to actually have won one. If it is my last WSOP, then it feels great to actually have won one, for sure.
Q: I’m interested to hear about your thoughts concerning the huge hand where you knocked out Anthony Phillips last night on the final-table bubble.
VS: I reraised preflop with a connected double-suited hand, which is more of a cash-game play, but I had a ton of chips, and I was playing it more like a cash game because I was applying pressure to the shorter stacks at the table who didn’t necessarily want to gamble. And the bubble was so tight, it was 10 people, and no one wanted to be the last one out before the final table. So, I reraised, knowing that the guy that raised the pot had raised a lot of hands, and then I get re-re-potted from Tony, and I know that he’s got aces at that point. You know, I thought about it for a while. In a cash game, it’s 100 percent standard to call; you call and you get 2-1 immediate on the pot odds, and I get 3-1 on his shove all in. It’s an immediate call in a cash game, the only question was do I want to gamble in the tournament when I’ve got a ton of chips. I think it came down to the fact that if I folded, Tony would have had more chips than me, and he’s a very aggressive, very skilled player who was going to have position on me at the final table.
I said, you know what, I’m playing for the bracelet. I’d rather gamble it up here, get a chance to knock out Tony, who was going to have more chips than me and be outplaying me, and giving me a lot of trouble the next day. I’d rather take it right here and cruise through the final table. And, you know, if I don’t, I still have 160,000, I’m still going to make the final table, because there are some very short stacks. So, I figured gamble it up, go for the bracelet, and that’s what I did.
Q: So, how do you play against a heads-up opponent that just has a blatant disregard for his tournament life?
VS: That was awesome. I don’t know, I mean, it was pretty scary. At one point I called the pot bet, and then I check-raised all in with a very, very bad hand in Omaha. At that point, you know, I thought it was great. At that point I can’t be upset if I don’t win; I wasn’t going to be upset at all. I said, you know what, you’re gambling; I was up against a random hand with good pot odds, so at that point you’ve got to have a little gamble in you. You can’t play tight the whole time, and, you know, I think he’s awesome. He’s a really fun guy; I couldn’t have imagined that’s how I‘d win the bracelet.
Q: Your demeanor really changed when you won the bracelet. Are you really happy right now? Did you get swept up in the party atmosphere that is surrounding this final table?
VS: Yeah, this is unreal. It’s hard to believe. You come really close time and time again to the final table. I keep getting so close, and the money, not just the bracelets, the money is so different between first, second, and third. And I’ve never made it past third, you know, it’s like you think you’re going to cash huge, and then you bust out. So, the fact that I finally won it is just huge, I couldn’t believe it.