Selbst was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1984 and began playing poker at age 22 – later than some of her fellow professional card players who started in their teens or younger. She is an Ivy League graduate, having studied political science at MIT as an undergraduate before switching to Yale, graduating there and then moving on to Yale Law School, graduating with a Law Degree in 2012. She chose in 2010 to play poker professionally, feeling more of a draw to the tables than to the library.
Arguably the most famous woman in the world of professional gambling, and certainly in the world of poker as the only woman ever to have reached world ranking #1, Selbst has to date won three gold bracelets – the only woman to have won so many, and earnt over $11.5m (US) at 2015. Her playing style is loose-aggressive.
High Roller Celebrity Shoot Out
In summer 2015, she took part in the Super High Roller Celebrity Shootout, a pros vs celebrity tournament. On one table, professionals played off against each other – including giants of poker Phil Hellmuth, Antonio Esfandiari, Doyle Brunson, Daniel Negreanu and, of course, Selbst herself. On the other table were Don Cheadle, Hank Azaria, Norm Macdonald, Brad Garrett and Kevin Pollak. Pollak won for the celebrities, Selbst for the professionals and the two faced off in a three-round game to determine the overall winner. Selbst won the tournament, taking home a $1m pot.
The win not only cemented her status as the most successful woman poker player, it took her winnings to double that of her nearest rival – Kathy Liebert whose winnings sit at just under $6m. Her success shows no sign of abating and she is still the only woman to have won back-to-back titles at WSOP.
During her time at Yale, Vanessa Selbst was head of the Queer-Straight Alliance; she is herself a lesbian and married her long-term partner Miranda Foster in 2013.
Selbst donated part of her $1m winnings from the High Roller Celebrity Shootout to her own charity Venture Justice that provides money to a variety of causes. In September 2015, she hosted the Blinds & Justice 2015 one-night poker tournament to fund Urban Justice Center. It was the first event of its kind for a charity that provides funds to help the vulnerable in New York with legal aid, amongst other things.