Vanessa Selbst: ‘I play a very different style but I’m happy with how it’s been working out’

Vanessa Selbst won her third bracelet at the start of the 2014 WSOP in one of the biggest events of the summer

The first open event of the 2014 WSOP was a whopper. The $25k Mixed Max was the third biggest buy-in of the summer and the unique format (separate days of nine-handed, six-max, four-handed and heads-up action) attracted 131 of the best players in the world. By the end of Day 3 just two players remained – Vanessa Selbst and pro Jason Mo. Mo made himself the villain of the piece when he slated Selbst on Twitter (‘Lol, Vanessa is so bad’) but she had the last laugh when she came back from a big chip deficit to secure the first open bracelet of the Series. Mo’s response? ‘Haters gonna hate, 500k richer and we all know only one of us will play 300k husngs vs each other.’ Keep it classy Mo. We spoke to Vanessa after her huge win.

How did you find the Mixed Max format at the WSOP? Was it an event you were looking forward to?

There have been a few Mixed Max events over the past couple of years but this is the first I’ve gone deep in. It was really fun, it tests your abilities in many different disciplines of poker. I have had experience in all formats and it was really cool to play them all inside one tournament.

Do you think players had difficulty adapting to the changing formats?

Absolutely. The classic example was when I played the one amateur [Alfred Decarolis] heads-up – he clearly knew what he was doing when we played nine and six-handed, he was being really aggressive and it was working for him. But when we got to heads-up he knew I was going to call him down really light so he was scared to bluff.  This made it easy for me because in a lot of heads-up spots nobody has anything, so the person who is aggressive first will win the pot. A more experienced player wouldn’t have let me win as many pots as I did.

Jason Mo tweeted that you are ‘so bad’ before the heads-up match. Were you offended?

I’m not offended even a little bit. It’s pretty childish but it’s his own opinion. I play a very different style from most people but I’m happy with how it’s been working out for me. If people think I’m really bad then often that arrogance can really cost them. I used that to my advantage versus Jason – I knew there were spots where he wouldn’t re-bluff me because he thought I would be a loose cannon. I was able to win some key pots preflop whereas against other people I would have been more gun shy to three-bet as many junky hands.

Did it make it extra sweet to defeat him?

Definitely, anytime somebody is really cocky like that it feels pretty good to beat them. I was really happy to take down my third bracelet.

You started out as an online player but are now firmly established as a live pro. How did you find that transition?

I’ve always been happier playing live; I’m much more of a social being than a lot of online players. Even when I play tournaments online I like to play in a group with my friends. I prefer live poker; I like talking to people and the different dynamics and reads you get to make.

There’s a pattern in your tournament career that when you cash you almost always go on and make the final table. Is this due to the way you play tournaments?

I think it has to do with my strategy when deep – I play a lot more big pots than other people, so often when we get to the bubble I’m there with a big stack and I’m able to use that to my advantage to make the final table. I have much fewer cashes than other people; often I’ll lose a big pot early and be out whereas if I had won it I would have been in the top five in chips. If I bust out early I get to hit the pool so it’s a win/win for me!

Have you noticed players emulating your style?

I see it in Europe where people are playing more aggressively preflop but I am different – I play bigger pots but more purposefully rather than just throwing chips in, even if it might look like that to some people!

I’ve spent the past years working on this strategy and I started out playing way crazier than I do now. It helped me a lot in working out how to get out of bad situations. It’s a bit like Tom Dwan’s hand on High Stakes Poker when Peter Eastgate had trip Threes and Barry Greenstein had pocket Aces. Dwan knew Eastgate wouldn’t call off $500k with a weak Deuce, so he put himself into a terrible spot but somehow got away with it and made himself look like a genius. The more you put yourself into spots like that, the easier it becomes at finding your way out of them.

Do you get wrapped up in the headlines surrounding your achievements or are you concentrated on the money and competition?

When I quit poker [to study law] for two years it was just when I was achieving success and people started to know who I was. People were confused but for me it’s always about, am I happy person? I’ve managed to create a career where I only play if I’m happy to play. The other stuff is nice but, though it’s a cliché, I love poker and can’t see myself doing anything else.

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