Vanessa Selbst is stepping away from the poker grind. Selbst earned the majority of her $11.8 million in tournament winnings in a key span from 2008 to 2015. On the last day on 2017, the former sponsored pro at PokerStars posted a brief explanation of her impending retirement on her Facebook account. Selbst indicated that she had been working at a hedge fund the last few months, which is where she will be focusing her time and energy in the future. Yup, the poker world lost another smart one to the world of finance.
During the peak of her powers, Vanessa Selbst was one of the top American pros in both the online and live realm. In 2010, Selbst won nearly $3 million including her second bracelet and a big win on the Partouche Poker Tour in France. Selbst's auspicious rise at the end of the glorious poker boom was another classic story about Ivy Leaguers who took a shot at the poker world. In Selbst case, she earned a reputation at the virtual tables while she was still in law school at Yale University.
Selbst first etched her name in the history books at the 2008 World Series of Poker, when she took down a PLO donkament for a $227K score. That victory marked the first of three overall WSOP bracelets she'd win between 2008 and 2014. All three of her bracelets were in open events. After locking up her first bling in PLO, Selbst won her second bracelet in 2010 in mixed games ($2,500 10-Game 6-Max). In 2014, Selbst won her third WSOP bracelet in the $25K buy-in Mixed-Max NL event, where she faded a tough field of 131 players to bank $871K.
Selbst's largest win to date occurred in France in November 2010. Remember the scandal-ridden 2010 Partouche Poker Tour? Selbst came out on top in the Main Event by winning $1.8M or approximately €1.3M.
In a post on Facebook, Selbst suggested that there was no specific or primary reason for her decision to step away from the poker grind and ending her sponsorship deal with PokerStars. Rather, it was a series of different things, but you can't escape the cloud of Black Friday, which still looms overhead between the arduous travel schedule and the fact that American pros had to become online exiles to continue their careers.
Many people will ask why I'm leaving – there's no one specific reason, but just a number of factors, big and small, that contributed to a general feeling I've had for a while that it was the right time. The most obvious reason is that Black Friday has meant that in order to do this job professionally, you either had to move out of the country or travel 90% of the time. That was really fun for a period of time in my life, but as my late 20s turned into my early 30s and my priorities changed toward building a stable home and community and starting a family, the constant travel is no longer tenable.
Selbst explained: “The most obvious reason is that Black Friday has meant that in order to do this job professionally, you either had to move out of the country or travel 90% of the time. That was really fun for a period of time in my life, but as my late 20s turned into my early 30s and my priorities changed toward building a stable home and community and starting a family, the constant travel is no longer tenable.”
Selbst has been in the poker biz for over a decade and anyone in poker knows that the “seven-year itch” is a legit phenomenon. The actual time frame might be less/more, but you look at poker through a different lens than when you first arrived. It's at that existentialist juncture when poker people double down on their ambition and devote more focus into the game, or they start to seek an exit strategy and begin to explore other ventures outside of poker.
In addition, Selbst cited the difficulty of making a living as a professional suggesting… “I can't tell amateurs they should come play online and it's beatable for them when I don't feel like it's true.”
Selbst also explained that poker became a legit job. “Whether because poker got more competitive or because we got older (or likely some combination of the two), poker recently turned into a real job, requiring hard work and discipline to succeed. I had never treated the game that way–I always kept a very light poker schedule–I showed up and played for fun and did other projects back home as my "real work." The shift in the nature of poker and what it requires put me at a crossroads and asked the question of me whether I would rather change my relationship to the game or move on.”
Yeah…. Selbst essentially cited the old adage: It's a hard way to make an easy living. I've heard that (catch-all) saying a lot ever since I stepped into the poker world. But there's a lot of truth to it. It's become harder and harder to be a pro in America in the wake of Black Friday. The state-by-state process of legalizing poker in the USA is too slow, so any serious online player must go overseas to earn a living (and incur more expenses in the process).
Like many other cardslingers, I got into poker because I wanted to be my own boss and have fun doing something I enjoyed, while shrugging off the rigid responsibilities of work life. After a while, poker became less and less fun and more and more work. It's a familiar scenario that many of us faced at different times in our poker lives. I took an extended break in 2012 and never looked back. My favorite line from The Highlander film was said by the Kurgan, “It's better to burn out than to fade away!” It's also a popular lyric from Neil Young, but it appropriate sums up how engaged experiences and being completely in the moment are more important than longevity.
Selbst closed the door on her “professional” poker career, yet she starts a new chapter in her life working in a hedge fund. Selbst's mother was a former options trader, so finance is in the family business. Selbst said that she was delving into the research and strategy end of finance, which she found both difficult and challenging. “The environment feels a lot like poker did back in the day – a bunch of nerdy kids collaborating to try to beat our opponents at a game. It's also really freaking difficult… there's so much to learn and figure out in a world that's completely new to me and every day I think I'm getting the hang of it, the next day I fail at the next challenge. It's exhausting, exciting, and completely humbling every single day.”
Read the entire post by Vanessa Selbst here.