Vanessa Selbst: The Cut-Up Artist
by Sue Carswell
Sizzzzzling. It seems you can't get more on fire at the tables these days than Vanessa Selbst, one of the newest members of PokerStars Team Pro. At the tender age of twenty six, Selbst has won close to two million dollars in poker bounty.
I caught up with her in Las Vegas, on her way to a tournament. But the first thing we talked about was not poker, but comedy. Selbst says her other passion at the moment is improv, or "sketch comedy." I ask her to tell me a joke and she says, "I can't right now. It's not like that. It's more situational comedy. Say if you do something at a table, I'd bust you in a funny way." Well, my amateur playing style is purely up for grabs in the humor department, so I'm definitely fair game!
What isn't funny but rather quite telling is that in a short amount of time Selbst has found her way to five major final tables. Just this past April, she won the main event at the PokerStars North American Poker Tour tournament at the Mohegan Sun, where she cashed in the amount of $750,000. She has even won a 2008 World Series of Poker bracelet which, as she describes it, is funny. "It's definitely an ugly thing," she says as she hustles to the tournament. "I lost it for a while." Then without missing a beat she adds, "I'd have to gain three hundred pounds for it to fit my wrist."
Dreaming of manly-style bracelets was not in the cards for the tomboyish Selbst who grew up in Brooklyn, New York with her brother. She started playing cards there with friends in high school before eventually turning to online play. She even found time to play when she went off to Yale University, where she eventually attended law school. She recently decided to take, what she calls, "a year off to play poker." Selbst politely eschewed the advice of third year University of Miami law student, PokerStars Pro Vanessa Rousso who told her comrade, "Don't do it. You might never go back!" At her current pace, you do wonder whether Selbst really will go back. I'm taking bets now, but I place her back there in her eighties, after she has amassed fortunes in the poker world.
Over the summer, Selbst interned at the law firm Neufeld, Scheck & Brustin, where she concentrated on those wrongfully incarcerated for fifteen years or more in prison. She found the work exhausting but rewarding and highly purposeful. It's almost as if you can see her weighing the scales of which way she was going to go. But ultimately she has now decided to concentrate full time on poker, keeping up with her studies while watching Law & Order repeats at airports on the way to tournaments.
At the tables you won't find Selbst hidden behind glasses or Dr. Dre headsets. As she says, "I like poker because I think people say interesting things. I also think you get better as a player with the more information you get, instead of tuning everybody out. As for sunglasses, I think it's sometimes really hard to see what the cards are, and that can really mess your game up."
Always open about being gay, Selbst doesn't see it as a problem on the circuit. "It's 2010. Nobody cares. I get s*!# about other things." Acknowledging that dating on the tournament tour would prove difficult, she went on a dating web site and ten months ago met a dream gal, an English teacher in upstate New York. Hey, Selbst has plenty of mileage points!
Her nickname is the impossible to pronounce "fslexcduck" which she blogs under, updating her fans on her travels and her hands at tournaments. It was her old AOL screen name fifteen years ago, back when AOL was hot and you couldn't use your real name, as someone almost always had it before you. Selbst finds it funny that I'm still AOLing along.
When not being witty, Selbst says she loves sports, namely basketball and tennis. She says, "I like Vegas because you can always find someone to go play tennis with you." Keeping it healthy, Selbst eats a lot of salads and tries to get to the gym whenever possible. "It's hard though in tournaments," she admits. "Especially when you're in deep. I haven't got the balance down yet for playing and hitting the gym." Still she says, "You can't go out for an eleven course tasting menu."
Funny. Yep. I can't wait to get busted by her wit at the table one day. But I'll more than likely be busted the other way!