Though she was inducted into the Women in Poker Hall of Fame in December 2022, it has been several years since Vanessa Selbst was last under the poker spotlight. The former PokerStars ambassador and three-time World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet winner, arguably the best female poker player in history, left the game in 2018 to pursue a corporate job and start a family.
She now has a successful trading career, a wife, and two young children. But poker isn’t completely in the rear-view mirror for the 39-year-old.
“You can leave poker, but I don’t think poker really ever leaves you,” Selbst said. “It was all I really thought about for a really long time. And so it would be weird if we didn’t still feel that urge sometimes, I think.”
A half-decade removed from professional poker, Selbst recently teamed up with the WSOP as a member of the WSOP Thrill Team, a group of poker ambassadors that includes Finnish poker legend Patrik Antonius and reigning Main Event champion Espen Jorstad, as well as contemporary stars Adam Hendrix, Ethan “Rampage” Yau, Samantha Abernathy and Landon Tice.
As part of the Thrill Team, Selbst will be active on the WSOP’s free-to-play app as poker players around the world get an opportunity to play with the poker icon. Additionally, Selbst will make her return to the WSOP this summer as she plays the Main Event and other tournaments, as she told PokerNews’ Chad Holloway in an interview on this week’s PokerNews Podcast.
“Honestly, I was just looking for an excuse to get back (to poker),” she said. “I’ve been looking for an excuse to get back for a while. I’ve missed it.”
Listen to Vanessa Selbst on the PokerNews Podcast!
A New Vanessa
It would be hard for Selbst to forget about her last World Series. “I think my last World Series of Poker hand that I played was the one (in 2017) that I busted with aces full against quads where I almost folded and I didn’t. And so that was six years ago.”
In the years since the Main Event cooler, Selbst said she has played four live tournaments and gotten to the final three tables in all of them. She finished 14th in the 2019 WPT Borgata Poker Open Championship for $39,950 and 22nd in the 2020 WPT Fallsview Main Event for $14,915.
Despite making deep runs, Selbst couldn’t help but notice she was off her game.
“I know I’m going to play this summer and I can’t have the same expectations for myself that I used to. But obviously, I want to win and I’m really competitive, so I guess we’ll see what happens.”
“Prior me, when I was playing pro, was like I either had all the chips or I busted Day 1,” she said. “And the idea of finishing final two or three tables was like, ‘Oh my god, I am so rusty, I am so off my game.’ That used to be where I had my biggest edge; knowing what everyone was going to do, what mistakes they were going to make, and exploiting them. And I just felt so a little bit out of my comfort zone a bit, with respect to where I used to be … I used to feel so comfortable at that stage of the tournament, like I had such a good chance to win. And in those tournaments, I didn’t feel that, and that’s something I’ve had to come to peace with.”
Selbst was going to start playing a serious live schedule again, but that was before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down poker rooms everywhere. “I was so excited to play, and then I couldn’t.”
But Selbst said being separated from the game has “kept me thirsty” and she is excited to play a light schedule at the 2023 WSOP, noting that “it’s hard to get away (from work and family) during the summer.”
She has also had to come to terms with the fact that the Vanessa who plays the $10,000 Main Event this summer won’t be the same fearless player who would six-bet jam with pocket fours or three-bluff the river with five-high.
“I know I’m going to play this summer and I can’t have the same expectations for myself that I used to,” Selbst said. “But obviously I want to win and I’m really competitive, so I guess we’ll see what happens.”
Joining the Thrill Team
The WSOP Thrill Team was formed to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the WSOP app, allowing players around the world to play with well-known pros. Selbst called the WSOP app “a great learning tool for beginners,” as well as a way for grinders to get their fix in states without legal and regulated poker.
“Obviously a lot of us waited a long time for regulation to come in the states, it didn’t, and so we’re still waiting, we’re still waiting,” she said. “So we’re looking for our outlets to play.”
Speaking of poker outlets, this summer will mark Selbst’s first WSOP since the series moved from the longtime Rio venue to the Horseshoe Casino on the Strip in 2022. Selbst said she was excited to check out the new venue, noting that “there’s no love lost between me and the Rio.”
“It should be interesting,” she said. “It’s kind of weird. You go so many years, you develop this love-hate relationship with the Rio — it’s mostly hate, but there’s some nostalgia and stuff.”
“I Feel Like It Was My Old Life”
Despite not being involved in the high-stakes poker world for more than a half-decade, Selbst said she “definitely keep(s) an eye on the poker scene.”
“It’s like one of my things that I do for recreation, which there are unfortunately not very many of those things these days,” Selbst laughed. “But I love to watch poker, it’s a lot of fun. The production has gotten so good, the players have gotten good, there’s always some kind of high stakes going on.”
But Selbst added that she’s “not in the thick of it or anything like that” and has for the most part put poker behind her. Her three bracelets are packed away in a box and she said she frequently meets people who don’t even know she had a poker career.
“I feel like it was my old life, like my past life,” she said. “I meet a lot of people now that have no idea about it. And it’s cool … I feel like when I was in poker everybody knew who I was or if they hadn’t met me they had some preconceived notion about me or something like that, whether it was good or bad or whatever … It’s in some ways pretty cool to kind of have this fresh start in some ways.”
Still, Selbst remains connected to the poker world in many respects. A few months ago, she was inducted into the Women in Poker Hall of Fame alongside Angelica Hael, Jennifer Tilly and Terry King.
“That was awesome, it was really cool,” Selbst reflected. “There are some really amazing and talented women, both players and industry people in the game that have helped the game grow who are represented there. So it just felt special to be included in that, and a nice reminder of what I had done in poker and that life I had.”
“I meet a lot of people now that have no idea about it. And it’s cool … I feel like when I was in poker everybody knew who I was or if they hadn’t met me they had some preconceived notion about me or something like that.”
And who knows, a good run at the WSOP could lead to Selbst playing bigger events.
“I don’t plan on jumping into those same fields or anything like that, but you never know,” she said. “Maybe I bink my first tournament and I feel like taking a shot at some of the Super High Rollers or something like that.”
To find out more about what Selbst has been up to since retiring from poker, check her out on Twitter at @VanessaSelbst. Download the WSOP app if you want to jump straight into the action with the WSOP Thrill Team.
Hear more from Selbst on the latest episode of the PokerNews Podcast:
Executive Editor US, PokerNews Podcast co-host & 2013 WSOP Bracelet Winner.