Reddit AMA gets real with Vanessa Selbst

Team PokerStars Pro Vanessa Selbst did a recent online Q & A via reddit that delivered some fascinating comments and details about her life as a pro player. Some questions asked by people she knew in high school even gave us a glimpse of what she was like during those crazy teenage years. Turns out she was just as honest, driven, and outspoken then as she is now.

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In this overview of her comments (called an AMA on reddit for Ask Me Anything), she also gives some excellent commentary on how she played significant hands in recent tournaments and lots of useful poker advice.

For the complete history of the AMA and verbatim transcripts, see this link. In this article, we focused on a few questions we thought might be of particular interest to PokerStars Women readers.

The questions below are provided with the original language and with punctuation intact, but with some social chat eliminated. The relevant parts of Vanessa's answers are included verbatim, again with social chat eliminated.


The first question that Vanessa answered pertaining to her gender came early on and was answered with Vanessa's trademark honesty and candor.

(kissmyallison): What is the biggest challenge of being a queer woman in the professional poker world? Have you experienced outright homophobia from your peers/fans of poker?

(VSelbst): Um, being queer is awesome because it means I get to be in an amazing relationship with a woman, and it also means I get an extra community of really f-ing cool people. It also caused me to take all of these classes about race, gender, class, etc., which just made me so much more of an empathetic person generally.
If all that means that I have to block a few more trolls on twitter every week than I otherwise would have to, then so be it, I'll take it any day of the week. No one that is actually intelligent has ever given me any sort of trouble, so it's mostly no problem.
Digging a little deeper to answer your question, I would say my biggest challenge lies in perception. I think as a masculine lesbian, there is a tendency for people to expect me to be mean and aggressive. When I live up to that stereotype (which I do, sometimes, though not nearly all the time), the media wants me to play that character, so that's what gets shown. So honestly, I think a lot of what people see and characterize as me being "angry" results from selection bias of which moments the media is going to show from me, and I think some of that results from me being typecast based on my gender presentation. And that, I would say, is by far the toughest challenge.


Another question that would be of interest to many players (both men and women) pertains to the recurring question of how to go pro. Vanessa answers those inquiries with some very thoughtful and useful caveats.

(MSkog): If someone had well-tuned poker skills (obviously a sizable assumption), how would that person begin the path towards playing poker professionally? What kind of a bankroll do you need, where do you go, what games do you start at?
(VSelbst): I think the most important thing is to play online. Putting in ridiculous amounts of volume while studying the game through discussions, videos, and what not is the best way to go about it. I think if you're really serious about wanting to take the plunge, take a few months and go live in Canada, Mexico, Europe, wherever. Play cash games, always making sure that you have 100x the buyin for the stakes you want to play (this is very conservative bankroll management but might be right in the state of today's games). Putting in that kind of volume is by far the best way to prove you can do it while building your bankroll and improving all at the same time.
(PeaceOfTheJourney): Do you get pissed with people calling you 'probably the best female poker player in the world,' rather than it should be as given your results, 'one of the best poker players in the world'?

(VSelbst): As far as the female poker player comment - I don't get pissed, per se. I wish those distinctions didn't have to exist, but I understand that people want to make them, given how relatively little success women have had in poker thus far. As women get better and better and a few of the up and coming players become really elite (which WILL happen), hopefully that distinction will be made less often.

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(Lokaji): Do you like the way that the WSOP is getting around excluding men from the Ladies event?
(VSelbst): As far as the WSOP - I don't like the idea that they have to use semantics to get around the laws since the laws should just allow for protected classes to have exclusionary events. (And women should be a protected class). Given that it is what it is, I like the fact that the WSOP is committed to doing everything in its power to keep the women's event women-only, so yes I do support their efforts.
(Lokaji): Do you think a women only poker league would help more women get involved with poker?

(VSelbst): I think any time you create a more inviting space for women who don't have to deal with annoying misogynist BS from guys that they often have to deal with, it's going to get more women involved with poker.

(fyrite): How many nights a year do you sleep in a bed that you own?

(VSelbst): Well probably around 180, but only because my primary residence is actually Las Vegas so I'm there for the WSOP and all the Bellagio tournaments. If you don't include Las Vegas, then maybe like 70-80?


We are running out of space so will have to wrap this up with a final question that sums up Vanessa in a nutshell.

(ninxdo): When in a downswing or losing streak, how do you go about keeping motivation levels up, confidence up, and head level?

(VSelbst): What's a downswing?


And there you have it, or at least parts of it. Don't forget to see the entire AMA at the reddit link provided above for so many more interesting questions and, best of all, Vanessa's thoughtful and articulate answers.

For more on women in poker and interviews with the female Team PokerStars Pros, see the PokerStars Women page.

Rebekah Mercer
@PokerStars in PS Women