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The Scoop -- Vanessa Selbst

by The Scoop |  Published: Aug 20, 2010

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Vanessa SelbstVanessa Selbst has accumulated $1.7 million in tournament winnings in a very short span of time, despite being a full-time law student for the past two years. Selbst stopped by The Scoop studio to discuss her success on the felt while still pursuing her legal interests outside the poker world.

Diego Cordovez: Let’s set all modesty aside; pound for pound, in the metaphorical sense, you may be the most successful tournament player going, just because you don’t play very many tournaments and you win every three months or so.

Vanessa Selbst: Yeah, I’ve played about 25 tournaments in the past two years, including the 2008 World Series of Poker, and I have four wins, two third-place finishes, and a couple other cashes.

DC: What people sometimes don’t realize is that there are a lot of players who legitimately have been successful, but are playing constantly. You are a full-time law student at Yale, maybe the best law school in the country, so you of course play in only the really big tournaments or the ones that are convenient for you. You won a WSOP bracelet in pot-limit Omaha, made back-to-back semifinals of the heads-up no-limit hold’em event at the World Series, and won a huge North American Poker Tour tournament.

Adam Schoenfeld: For just three-quarters of a million.

DC: I read that at some point, you decided to play only local tournaments, so you won two tournaments at Foxwoods and the NAPT event at Mohegan Sun.

VS: Right. I mean, I am obviously running way above expectation. But it’s been great, because I have been able to play only the tournaments at Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun, and I joke that my law school friends must think that they expect me to win tournaments. They don’t really know that it is kind of hard to win a poker tournament, because I just go out there, and come back, and am like, “Oh yeah, I won it.”

DC: You are setting up some very tough expectations; every break, win a tournament.

AS: I think we can say that for everyone, the mode result for a tournament is zero, except for you. If you ever show up back in New Haven without a win, they are going to run you right out of there.

VS: That’s why I’m kind of scared about this PokerStars sponsorship thing, because I am going to be playing a lot of tournaments, and I’m worried that if I don’t win one out of every three, I won’t live up to expectations.

DC: No, no; obviously, you will continue to have success. But it’s remarkable, because at some point, you pulled back to where you were playing very little poker.

VS: Over the past two years, I have played only the Foxwoods prelims once a year, I went to Australia with Deuces Cracked (an online training site), and then played the Mohegan Sun NAPT event, and that was it.

DC: Was that out of a desire to focus on more important things?

VS: Apparently, law school is hard. I went back to school because I really want to do civil rights law; I have some interests that I think are really important, and I wasn’t focusing on them. I felt like that was something that was important to me, and that I wouldn’t be able to do it if I didn’t fully commit to it. So, the first two years, I really have focused primarily on law school, because you really have to, as the first and second years are the hardest, and apparently Yale is no joke, because they actually make you do some work. It has been a really great experience, but I definitely miss poker now, so I am going to go back and forth a bit more.

AS: How much overlap is there in the part of your brain that you use for legal endeavors and the part that you use for poker endeavors? I mean, if you drew a Venn diagram, there is a big math part in poker that might not necessarily apply to law …

VS: I think there are two Venn diagrams; one is the subconscious and one is the conscious. In terms of what I am consciously thinking about when I am litigating human rights issues, I am obviously not thinking about expected value and odds, although in litigation, that does come up sometimes, but not in what I’m doing. However, in terms of the subconscious, the kind of thinking that you are doing and the logical thought processes when putting together a legal argument are exactly the same. Spade Suit