Annette Obrestad is about to turn 21 and she’s very excited. Jesse May explains why: “It was, quite simply, the place to make your bones as a poker player”

Turning 21 was no big deal for seasoned Vegas gambler Jesse May, but young mavericks like Annette Obrestad are literally counting the days…

I can remember the day I turned 21 clearly. I was playing Spades in the back room of the Sport Palace bar and pool hall in New Orleans with One Barrel Carl, Dave the Fisherman and Milton the Whale. The proprietor was a fast-talking 118-pound beanpole bookie called Buffalo, named after his home town in upstate New York, who was in and out of ownership of the bar like he was the large wedges of money he carried around in his front pockets. At precisely midnight Buffalo came on the intercom that carried throughout front and back rooms and said briefly in his New York drawl, ‘Kid Jesse just turned 21.’ That was it. That was my coming of age.

To be honest, it didn’t mean that much to me. I knew I was going to Vegas to play poker, but I had been going there since I had been 16. I had spent summers there at ages 18 and 19, and aside from a few rare moments where a surly pit boss would ask me for ID, I had never had a problem playing poker. I had once won $2,400 in a cash poker game outside of New Orleans, and it had seemed like all the money in the world. And the only thing I wanted to do with that money was take it to Las Vegas. It was, quite simply, the place to make your bones as a poker player.

Young Money

I had the pleasure of commentating with the Norwegian poker phenom Annette Obrestad for three straight days this past week. And it was a pleasure, because even though I have spent two years admiring Annette’s game and ogling at her accomplishments, after three days of non-stop talk with her about poker I was blown away by the depth of her knowledge. As you may know, she is not yet 21 and cannot play poker legally in Las Vegas.

Annette has already played more hands of poker than I will ever get to play in my life, and she knows more about the game then I can ever imagine. She has won nearly $3m in live tournaments, including a WSOPE Main Event bracelet and an EPT second place, and that doesn’t even begin to describe what she has done online. She is a poker dynamo, and even though the poker world is so broad these days that you could happily never step foot in Nevada, Las Vegas is still Las Vegas. And it’s the only place Annette wants to play.

She speaks of the WSOP in hushed tones, and has made 30 different plans for her 21st birthday, all of which involve being in Vegas. She speaks of bracelets in bunches and tournaments in terms of playing every one. She’s even going to the WSOP this summer just to watch, even though she knows she can only look into the rose garden and not touch the flowers. Las Vegas is stricter these days, and Annette knows her profile is too big to even attempt to sit down at a table. But that’s not going to stop her from being there as a fan, just looking in and dreaming about next year. I still have passion for the game, but Annette wants to play and play and never have to stop. She has an unbridled enthusiasm for poker that’s very refreshing.

Lock Up Your Bracelets

From a poker point of view, I had always had the idea that Annette was just a shove-fest merchant, a student of maths with more aggression than she knew what to do with and the poker table an outlet to let that all out. I learned more in three days of listening to her talk about strategy than I have in years. Aggression has much more to do with logic than it does with maths, and Annette is funnily enough so maths-averse that she struggles with sums. Still, she plans to win so many bracelets as to leave Hellmuth in the dust.

Things change as you get older, and pitfalls you never dreamed about can always crop up to impede talent and a bright future. But as long as Annette Obrestad maintains her carefree passion for the game and wants nothing more than to play and to win, she will continue to be a force in the game. When she turns 21 later this year I’m slightly more scared for Las Vegas than I am for her.

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