PCA 2014: Vanessa Selbst talks Super High Rollers and overblown egos
Vanessa Selbst yesterday finished third in the $100,000 Super High Roller to collect $760,640. It's her third largest tournament score and the 19th time that she's won a six-figure plus score. Her career live winnings now stand at $9,005,487 pushing her up into the top 30 of the all-time money list above WSOP Main Event winners Jerry Yang, Johnny Chan, Chris Ferguson, Ryan Reiss and Pius Heinz. She's currently ranked 8th in the world by the Global Poker Index and is the winningest female player, almost $3.1m ahead of her closest rival, Kathy Liebert. Since touching down in the Bahamas last year she has won $3,425,871. She is undoubtedly among the best players in the world. She quite literally plays like a woman possessed. More on that later.
This morning, around 16 hours after she left centre stage with a chit for three-quarters of a million dollars, Selbst was sat on a different, somewhat smaller stage, this time three-handed with Ike Haxton and David Williams who were waxing lyrical about staking, selling and swapping in the PCA Players' lounge. PokerStars Blog caught up with Selbst after the pastries were eaten and the coffee had gone cold. A PokerStars sponsored player's work is never done.
"I thought that I played pretty well," said Selbst, describing her Super High Roller performance. "There were a couple of decisions when we were three-handed that I regret, just little ones. There was a stupid fold I made on the flop to Dan Shak which made no sense, but I convinced myself that I had a read then immediately regretted the fold. And there was another fold that perhaps I should have made on the turn, which turned into a cooler on the river. Those two mistakes are perhaps little mistakes that other people wouldn't consider mistakes and would consider them standard, but I should have done something different. Other than those hands, I think that I played very well.
"I didn't run very well three-handed to say the least. I actually ran really, really poorly, but, you know, that's poker. I ran very well to get to three-handed. I felt that every decision I wasn't in a good spot. Fabian kept shoving on me and I kept not having it. The first time that I shoved I run into an ace. Fabian and Dan both played extremely well, so I feel it was totally deserved. Obviously I would have preferred it if Fabian had bust with king-jack against aces. That would have made my life a lot easier and I would have locked up second and got heads-up with Dan, but that's poker sometimes."
When Fabian Quoss cracked Dan Shak's aces with a rivered straight it cost Selbst a whole bunch of ICM money, hundreds of thousands of dollars: the top two spots weighed in for a combined $2.7m. That is poker indeed. The aforementioned hand against Shak played out as follows. Selbst raised to 350,000 from the small blind with 9♠9♣. Shak defended with J♦9♥ and led 400,000 into the 6♦K♥6♥ flop. Selbst passed. She's still confused about it now.
"I folded nines on a king six six board to one single bet which I would like never do in the history of poker. I knew immediately after doing it that it was the worst thing ever. I can't even tell you what possessed me to do it. It was like some demon thought in my head that was convinced... I don't even know. I have a lot of history with Dan. I know a specific thing about the way he plays that led me to believe that I was going to have to make a very big call in this spot. My specific history with him led me to think that this kind of board he's going to bet a lot very often on. I didn't want to put myself in that position in that particular spot. I thought I'd wait for a better one. In retrospect I should have been better than that and called and played the hand out."
Sometimes you've just got to go with your gut. If you don't have confidence in your reads then you open yourself up to self-doubt, dithering and calamity. Selbst is a player who's proved many times that she's prepared to make big calls, folds and moves based on her reads. It usually works out pretty well for her.
"For me that's a really important thing. A lot more players play based on math or game theory and I actually made a call yesterday to Fabian's river check-raise that I had such near the top of my range that I can't really fold it even though I know that I'm beat. It's kind of one of those game theory things that I don't usually do and I'm usually like, 'I'm beat. I have to fold,' but against the toughest players I know that sometimes you have to suck it up and call those spots because basically you can't make yourself bluffable. If I fold the top of my range there it becomes the easiest river bluff spot in history for him. They're the kinds of things that you do that are not based on reads. For me, I do a lot of things that are based on reads so I just try to be confident in what I'm doing and try to make the best play possible. Usually it works out, but sometimes I have an evil demon take over my mind and it doesn't."
Demonic possession is a problem that's not typically discussed in strategy books. If there is a devil whispering in Selbst's ear then it's the only other voice she does actually listen to.
The Super High Roller final table was webcast cards up with a one-hour delay. It's a level playing field given that all the players are able to get updated on the break with what their opponent held in an early skirmish. Most players have a trusted grinder to analyse the action for them, or at least pick out some key tendencies that could be exploited. Not so, Selbst.
"I pretty much do my thinking on my own. I think that I have a really specific game plan that's really different from other top pros. I play a really weird style. Fabian kind of joked with me yesterday. He smirked and said, 'You are... creative.' Yeah, that is the word. I play different so I don't things that much when I'm at the final table. I just like to take in the information and think about it and process it myself."
Creative? That's usually a pretty transparent euphemism for accusing someone of being a fish.
"It's possible. I don't know. I have no idea. There are definitely some pros that are very confused. They see me make some plays that they consider very bad but they fit into my game plan. I'm happy with it," she said.
I must declare that listening back to the interview I think that Selbst was calling Fabian 'Fabby' throughout, but have reverted to the full name in case it was a case of selective hearing. I certainly don't want to be accused of misreporting Selbst, which is something that has been an issue of late. In fact, it led to a small spat between herself and Dan Shak.
"It was completely manufactured and blown up, absolutely. There was a comment made, not even by me, at a table which was a pretty harmless comment to begin with and a blogger decided to write a blog post about it, misquoted me, but also even if it had been recorded 100% correctly it really wouldn't have been a big deal. Dan was upset about something and decided to make a big deal about it on Twitter. He's since apologised to me and said it wasn't a big deal. We've got over it so all is good."
Both Shak and Selbst did pretty well yesterday, finishing second and third respectively. Shak now holds $6,897,611 in live tournament cashes. It's an impressive amount for someone who's a commodities trader first and poker player second. Shak's can often be seen multi-devicing at the table, probably for deals significantly more than most buy-ins. When an 'amateur' player has notched up $7m at the table then maybe the conception of businessmen providing the value in big buy-in events isn't quite so clear cut. Talal Shakerchi is another prime example. He's won two High Roller events, including a £436,330 win at EPT9 London. So, who should be playing a Super High Roller? How good do you actually need to be to front $100,000?
"It's hard to say a base level of skill. There's a lot of value to be had because there's quite a few recreational players but at the same time there are some pros that I are playing who probably think that there is enough value from the amateurs, but maybe there isn't because they underestimate the skill differential between the best pros and themselves. It's so hard to tell in these things. You really don't know. And some of the amateurs, like Dan Shak, people underestimate. Look at his results. It's insane. He obviously knows what he's doing and how to beat these 100k's. Some of the pros think there's more value to be had than there really is and maybe that's getting lost on them. It's so hard to know who's a winning player and who's not. The sample size is so ridiculously small. It's all speculation."
You can speculate about many things, but the fact that Selbst was a large chip leader in the latter stages of the $100,000 for the last two years seems to indicate that she can find that value in these big buy-in events (she also won the $25,000 High Roller last year). Others who enter might, just maybe, be playing for ego.
"That's definitely a thing for some people and not necessarily just in these tournaments. Personally I don't get some of these sit-and-gos for tonnes and tonnes of money that are mostly pros. I just feel that there's not much value most of the time. When you have a really tough line-up I think a lot of it is about ego. I don't think that the people playing it think that. They think they're doing it because they're the best and capturing value, but that in of itself is a bit ego driven, not even in a bad way though. It's confidence driven. That (they think) they're substantially better than the other people. Of course, in poker everyone thinks that they're the best. That's kind of how the poker industry thrives so it's no surprise that people want to play the highest stakes imaginable."
Selbst loosely gives herself the goal of making three major final tables a year and can now tick one off her 2014 missions list.
"As long as I'm consistently putting myself in contention to win then I'm happy and so far I've been doing that," she said.
Selbst has already doubled up in the PCA Main Event. Come the end of the PCA she may well get to strike a second major final table off.
Rick Dacey is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.