Top Earning Female Vanessa Selbst Says Goodbye To Pro Poker

Martin Derbyshire January 3, 2018 1050 Reads
Vanessa Selbst Retires

The top-earning female player in tournament poker history is leaving professional poker behind for a job in the world of high finance.

Vanessa Selbst, 33, wrote in a New Year’s Eve Facebook post that she is parting ways with sponsor PokerStars and moving on from her career as a professional poker player.

Poker’s top ranking female player

The Brooklyn, New York native is currently ranked 41st on tournament poker’s all-time money list with $11,851,384 in career tournament earnings. Selbst is the top ranking female player on the list. She overtook veteran pro-Kathy Liebert to become the top-earning female player in tournament poker when she won the 2013 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure $25,000 High Roller for $1,424,420.

Selbst has also won three World Series of Poker bracelets.

In saying goodbye, Selbst thanked poker and the poker community for all the game and its people have given her.

“Poker has given me so much over the last 12 years. It has been intellectually challenging, exhilarating, fun, and extremely rewarding. It has given me the opportunity to travel to places I might never have experienced, and forge friendships with people from all over the world.”

For Selbst, poker has always been just a part-time profession.

Part-time poker player, full-time Yalie

After a year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Selbst transferred to Yale where she soon got caught up in poker’s boom. She played in an underground club in New York City and honed her skills playing online poker. After two final table appearances at the WSOP in 2006 and 2007, Selbst won her first bracelet in 2008. But even then, poker was just a part-time gig.

Selbst spent a year in Spain on a on a Fulbright scholarship after finishing her undergrad degree at Yale. When she came back to the US she worked for the McKinsey & Company consulting firm.

Instead of following her initial success into a full-time career in poker, Selbst then enrolled in Yale Law School.

Selbst pursued the law degree full time, working with Yale’s LGBT Rights Litigation Clinic, the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Innocence Project, helping wrongfully accused prisoners, during her first two years in Law School. She was only playing poker part-time when she suddenly had a breakout year in 2010.

Selbst booked $2,865,830 in tournament cashes in 2010. She won both the inaugural PokerStars North American Poker Tour Mohegan Sun event for $750,000 and the Partouche Poker Tour Main Event in Cannes, France for €1,300,000.

Post law-school Selbst poker boom

By the time she graduated from law school two years later, she had added close to another $2 million to her take. Poker was a lucrative hobby, but things got even better when she spent more time focused on the game. In the two years after law school, Selbst earned $2,665,231 and $2,369,550 playing poker. She also signed on as a Team PokerStars Pro.

When she wasn’t playing, Selbst was involved in fundraising and working actively on legal and social justice projects as a board member with the Urban Justice Center in New York City.

Selbst said there are a number of reasons she’s now leaving professional poker behind. Many of them surround the idea it has become more difficult to find success without a full-time commitment to the game. In 2017, she cashed for just $8,231 in tournaments.

“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. To me, the opportunity to work hard and learn something totally new and get to keep poker in my arsenal of fun go-to hobbies feels like the right approach.”

On to the world of finance

For most of 2017, Selbst worked part-time at a police misconduct plaintiffs’ law firm. Four months ago she started performing trading research and developing strategy with a hedge fund.

Although Selbst admits she’s unsure if things will work out with the fund, she’s decided to give the project her all for now.