Annette Obrestad talks exclusively about her incredibly successful transition from online to live poker: “At the beginning I was so bored and just wanted a magazine so I had something to read”

World Series of Poker Europe champion Annette Obrestad explains how she transferred her online success to the live arena

Annette Obrestad is telling the story of her £1 million win at the WSOP Europe main event, but can’t help dissolving into giggles. ‘People were scared to play with me in London, it was so funny,’ she says with an ingenuous laugh that makes her sound every bit her 19 years.

In person, the pint-sized Norwegian is so unassuming it’s easy to forget this is a woman with the poker world at her feet.

Obrestad is something special. Despite never depositing a cent into an online account, by the time she was just 18 she was dominating the online tournament scene and looking for new worlds to conquer. She found them in the live circuit, where just a year after she made her debut she became the youngest WSOP bracelet winner in history.

Obrestad is the poster girl for the online game. She started in play-money games at the age of 15, before moving on to freerolls, where she won her first $9 and never looked back. ‘I started playing $1 sit&gos and played those until I had $100, then moved to $5 sit&gos,’ Obrestad says. ‘I grinded my way up slowly. I never had a big win that allowed me to play the bigger tournaments.’

Although when she says slowly, we are talking months rather than years. Obrestad played a phenomenal amount of poker in a very short space of time. She would regularly play ten hours a day, every day. ‘I have played so many hands online, I would say I probably have more experience of some situations than Doyle Brunson,’ she says with a laugh.

But that doesn’t mean she was instantly comfortable when she hit the live circuit in September 2006. She played her first big tournament at the Aruba Poker Classic and admits nerves affected her natural game. ‘I didn’t bluff as much as I used to because I thought I had more tells than I probably did. I still got 37th and cashed in it, but I’m sure I could have done a lot better.’


By the next time she sat down in the live arena, Annette had a new game plan. ‘I just tried to not to give away anything physically. You bet the same way and sit still after you bet and don’t talk to anyone.’ With that sorted, the hardest thing for her to cope with was the boredom factor.

‘At the beginning I was so bored and just wanted a magazine so I had something to read. But I gradually got used to it. It can get boring at times, but it’s so much more exciting live when you go deep in a tournament.’

Her first final table was at a side event at the EPT Grand Final, and slowly she began to find her game in live events. So by the time she found herself at the WSOPE, surrounded by the biggest names in the poker world, she was totally in control.

‘I didn’t mind playing against any of the big name players; I don’t care who is at my table. I’m not going to let people re-raise me – I like to have control of the table.’

In fact, most of the big-name pros left Obrestad thoroughly unimpressed. ‘The tournaments online are a lot tougher and you need to be a lot better to beat them. I sat with Erick Lindgren for a whole day and he played really badly.

I’m not saying he is a bad player, but he played badly. Ted Forrest was at my table on the first day and he was just horrible. He was limp- calling every pot for three hours.’

Calling is pretty much a cardinal sin as far as Obrestad is concerned. ‘If you call with A-10 and the flop comes 10-3-2, you have no idea where you are,’ she says. Instead she prefers to constantly ask questions of her opponents. The cards are sometimes irrelevant, as illustrated by a 180-man tournament she won while only looking at her cards once.

It’s the kind of poker that can look reckless to a standard tight-aggressive player. One hand from the WSOPE final table saw her re-raise John Tabatabai all-in with Q-J only for him to call with pocket Jacks. On that occasion a Queen on the river kept her alive, but to look just at that one hand misses the point.

She knew Tabatabai was raising with a large number of hands there – most of which he would lay down to an all-in re-raise. And it’s this relentless pressure that confuses and frustrates opponents.

One player who felt the full force of the Norwegian’s play was Annie Duke. Duke was knocked out of the WSOPE when Obrestad raised with Q-7 under the gun and flopped the nut flush. Duke had hit top pair, and check-raised all-in. But far from criticising Obrestad, in her blog she was effusive with praise.

‘I don’t think I have ever seen someone that young with so much talent and feel,’ says Duke. ‘She never loses her composure and has amazing instincts. Combine that with the fact that I don’t think the other players knew what to do with her and she was scary to watch.’


For a player who thrives on aggression at the table, it’s not surprising Obrestad gets a rush from seeing the results of her relentless pressure when playing live. ‘When you make a move and you get to see people who really don’t want to call think for five minutes and then fold – it’s just so satisfying!’

It’s part of the reason why her focus has now shifted from the online game to the live arena. She’s been signed up by Betfair, and her life is now one of a travelling circuit pro. And this means, to a certain extent, leaving behind the online world that made it all possible.

‘I used to play eight-to-ten hours a day, but now I rarely play a tournament. I miss it – I’ve been playing online for three years so it’s kind of weird. I’ve played maybe 30-40 hours in the last month.’

But as Obrestad’s obsession shifts to the live poker scene, it’s not hard to see her dominating that world the way she did online.

Despite her record win, she is adamant this is only the beginning of her live career – and a second-place finish at the recent Dublin EPT is proof of her growing reputation in the live arena. Obrestad wants to be the best tournament player in the world – the money is always going to be a distant second in her priorities.

The lucrative world of cash games, for example, holds little interest for her. ‘Cash games bore me,’ she says. ‘It’s the same game all the time. I don’t play poker for the money – I play poker to win and for enjoyment.

‘When I win a tournament online now, it just feels like a small win, but I still love it. I just love playing poker – I love the game.’

PokerPlayer magazine is a great source of quality interviews with today’s stars. Read it here

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