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The most successful female tournament poker player in history
January 11, 2013 12:17 PM   Subscribe

What It's Like to Be a Woman Who Plays Professional Poker is an Atlantic piece profiling Vanessa Selbst, an amazing poker player who just got engaged last weekend, as well as an examination of the challenges of being a professional poker player in an often hostile and sexist community.
posted by Lame_username (21 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
What it's like must include the fact that her recent engagement is somehow important enough to be worth 6 of the 49 words in the FPP.
posted by Etrigan at 12:25 PM on January 11, 2013 [12 favorites]


Every woman I know who plays poker has at least one horror story of boorish behavior at the tables and most of them have developed strategies to counter the conventional "wisdom" from male poker players about the supposed systematic flaws of the way that their gender plays. It is interesting to note that the most common stereotype of female players is that they don't have enough aggression and don't know when and how to bluff in the context of a story about Vanessa who is probably the most fearless and aggressive poker player I have ever played. After a long afternoon playing against her last year where she absolutely ran me over, I finally fought back and ended up all-in against her as a small favorite, only to have her outdraw me and eliminate me from the event. But the truth was that even had my hand held up and I managed to double through her, she still would have hugely had the better of me on the day. I once heard it said of a particularly good player that he would beat you with his cards or if you went back in time and switched seats, he would beat you with your cards. Vanessa is one of those folks who can crush you with your cards and her cards.
posted by Lame_username at 12:26 PM on January 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


What it's like must include the fact that her recent engagement is somehow important enough to be worth 6 of the 49 words in the FPP.

And yet the fact that none of those words were "gay" or "lesbian" or "her girlfriend" is pretty damn cool, and makes me feel like we don't always have to note it anymore.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:41 PM on January 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


And yet the fact that none of those words were "gay" or "lesbian" or "her girlfriend" is pretty damn cool, and makes me feel like we don't always have to note it anymore.

I don't know Selbst but assumed when seeing the picture in the article that her sexuality would play a roll in the piece, nice that it didn't.

I do think it's interesting though how a gay woman, a group stereotypically more "male" in behaviour, is the most gifted female poker player ever, in a field created by and for, men.

At first glance (for me at least) it seems that the idea that a higher number of female overachievers seem to be gay compared to gay women in society in general may in fact exist. Or perhaps gay women are more comfortable with achieving those levels of acomplishment than heterosexual women, less fear of alienating men?

Is that was Jen Harmon was referring to maybe?
posted by Cosine at 12:56 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]



"A lot of women feel that it's still an intimidating and unfriendly environment at the [live] poker table, and I can't say that I don't agree in a lot of circumstances."

One thing I found interesting about playing online poker was the assumption I was a dude (which admittedly I helped by having a cartoon hipster as my FullTilt avatar). It was nice that no one treated me as "the girl at the table".

Vanessa is my poker hero; it is geat to watch her play.
posted by pointystick at 1:04 PM on January 11, 2013


I experienced that in online poker as well. I even experienced it playing in Tahoe casinos during the height of poker-on-TV era. Being the only girl at the table, and looking young to boot, most guys would never, ever fold to me, regardless of my hand (and despite the fact that if they were paying attention, they would have noticed that I'm a cautious and careful player).
posted by mudpuppie at 1:15 PM on January 11, 2013


I <3 duck
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:25 PM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I did a double-take at the line "Selbst's success at poker may be genetic." Man, I hate the use of the term "genetic" to mean she was raised by people who were competitive skilled poker players.
posted by Peach at 2:00 PM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I do think it's interesting though how a gay woman, a group stereotypically more "male" in behaviour, is the most gifted female poker player ever, in a field created by and for, men.
I tried to carefully limit my description to "most successful female tournament player" because words like "most gifted" or "best" are very difficult to find agreement on. Other women who must be mentioned in the conversation are the very underrated Kathy Liebert, Vanessa Rousso, Annette Obrestad and Jennifer Harman Traniello. I'm reasonably sure all four of those ladies are straight (I've met boyfriends or husbands of three of them, at least), so I don't think Vanessa's sexual preference is likely relevant in any way. Kathy, Vanessa Rousso and Jen all play a more "traditional" style and are less aggressive than Vanessa, but Annette is, from all accounts, equally as aggressive as Vanessa Selbst (I've never personally played with her, but those who have report that she plays a similar style to Vanessa). The difference in styles really stems more from formative poker experiences in online poker instead of casino poker, I think. It is a different game these days.
posted by Lame_username at 2:01 PM on January 11, 2013


I experienced that in online poker as well. I even experienced it playing in Tahoe casinos during the height of poker-on-TV era. Being the only girl at the table, and looking young to boot, most guys would never, ever fold to me, regardless of my hand (and despite the fact that if they were paying attention, they would have noticed that I'm a cautious and careful player).
I will sometimes sit with my wife at relatively low stakes casino poker tables to drink and relax and chat and that effect always astonishes me. She will fold hand after hand for hours and finally make a big raise that might as well be a neon sign that says "I have a huge hand" and yet she still gets called down by men who refuse to be bluffed by a woman. It cracks me up every time. She'll table Aces and the other guy will say something like "I thought so" as he pushes his chips to her.
posted by Lame_username at 2:05 PM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't think Vanessa's sexual preference is likely relevant in any way


Nor do I, I was trying to propose that perhaps, in the same way that both straight women AND gay men outperform straight men on language tests, her road to excellence has been aided in some, perhaps small, ways by being more similar to those who traditionally excel at poker, straight men.
posted by Cosine at 2:07 PM on January 11, 2013


FWIW, I find that there are a fair number of lesbians in poker. At the casino I frequent most, roughly a third or more of the women players that I know are lesbians.
posted by mikeand1 at 2:55 PM on January 11, 2013


Other women who must be mentioned in the conversation are the very underrated Kathy Liebert, Vanessa Rousso, Annette Obrestad and Jennifer Harman Traniello.

Don't forget poker star/Playboy model Jennifer "Jennicide" Leigh, who used to hang out on certain disreputable IRC channels back in the day.
posted by scalefree at 3:13 PM on January 11, 2013


Vanessa on tilt.
posted by phaedon at 3:34 PM on January 11, 2013


Wow those are some misogynist comments on that site, phaedon. Ew. I wonder if she has to deal with that in person, too.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:46 PM on January 11, 2013


I will sometimes sit with my wife at relatively low stakes casino poker tables to drink and relax and chat and that effect always astonishes me. She will fold hand after hand for hours and finally make a big raise that might as well be a neon sign that says "I have a huge hand" and yet she still gets called down by men who refuse to be bluffed by a woman. It cracks me up every time. She'll table Aces and the other guy will say something like "I thought so" as he pushes his chips to her.

I've never played at a casino table but had a similar thing happen during a 5 day conference where a lot of poker was played during off hours. I had played poker before but for the first while I was a stereotypical 'er this hand beats this one right??" player while it came back to me.

We were playing for real money and I expect I was gladly welcomed into the games like a few other as beginner nubs who will provide us with some more money players...oh yeah plus I was a girl so yeah...

It became pretty hilarious when very soon learn about the guys who really didn't like being beaten by a less experienced person and especially a women. I ended up playing that part up. I wouldn't purposely do things that were silly beginner mistakes and sometimes act a bit clueless to keep things off balance. This sort of strategy surprising worked for a very long time. I couldn't believe these supposedly experience guys weren't seeing right through it. Near the end a few started figuring out that heck maybe I did know what I was doing more then they thought. So I changed my strategy again to one where they thought they were reading my previous strategy but 'nelson ha ha' gotcha again.

I made a heck of lot of money that weekend with what several in the game called my 'beginners' luck. Yeah right, suckers. lol Boy was that a lot of fun. I've never had such a great time taking advantage of the sexism being thrown my way.
posted by Jalliah at 3:55 PM on January 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


...that...and having to hear, "Liquor in the front, poker in the rear," a thousand times a year.
posted by Chuffy at 4:52 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


"A lot of women feel that it's still an intimidating and unfriendly environment at the [live] poker table, and I can't say that I don't agree in a lot of circumstances."

Well, here's my local Startup Poker, which apparently puts startups and investors in the same room. Scroll down and look at the pictures. Which of those things is exactly the same as all the others?

It's a total boys club. I am pretty much the ballsiest woman I know and I am not walking in there because you don't want to be the only woman and be utterly mediocre, which I am. But my business partner, who happens to be a poker shark, isn't walking in their either.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:35 PM on January 11, 2013


Don't forget poker star/Playboy model Jennifer "Jennicide" Leigh, who used to hang out on certain disreputable IRC channels back in the day.
Actually, I'd argue that the relative fame of Jennicide with perhaps 70k of live earnings and 13k on Stars (according to Shark Scope) is due almost entirely to her modelling work in Playboy and elsewhere and rather neatly illustrates the problem. I'd probably be able to name 100 or more women more accomplished in poker than her.

If you Google "best female poker player" or "best women poker players" top results will include at least two "sexiest player lists" featuring cheesecake photos of whatever attractive players they can find. Women in poker have to choose between posing for these kinds of shoots or passing up the publicity and potential endorsement deals that ensue. For a game that is primary a mental pursuit, its ironic/disturbing/fill_in_your_own_adjective
posted by Lame_username at 5:54 PM on January 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


If Vanessa Selbst were engaged to a man, do you scoffers really believe the interviewer wouldn't ask about him? Maybe it's because I'm much older than most MeFiers, but I'm delighted Selbst's lesbian sexuality was made clear.
posted by Carol Anne at 6:52 AM on January 12, 2013


I suppose I need to mention that Vanessa just won the PCA $25,000 High Roller event for a payday of $1.4 million to become the highest grossing female poker player of all time by more than a million dollars in the last few hours, while I was winning nothing. Vladimir Troyanovoski is undoubtedly bemoaning the Ace on the river when he was a 95% favorite, but that is the way Vanessa plays -- relentless pressure accompanied by the occasional bad beat. She's had quite a week.
posted by Lame_username at 5:52 PM on January 14, 2013


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