Vanessa Selbst is one of the most influential poker players in the industry. With over $10m in lifetime earnings, a trophy cabinet full to the brim, intelligence that stands up against anyone, and a passion to help those who face more battles than most, makes her an indispensable member of PokerStars.
Who is the next sponsored pro to be shown the front door?
This question has risen to the forefront of many people’s minds after a recent spate of contract cessations; but it’s not an easy question to answer without inside knowledge of contract end dates.
The recent form of PokerStars seems to be an indication that they are ready to cut the cloth, and one would assume that any PokerStars Team Pro who is nearing their contract renewal date had better start creating a list of reasons why they deserve another deal.
The problem for sponsored players is the lack of any definable metrics. The subjective nature of what value they bring to a poker room, means your time could be up at any particular moment.
So instead of asking who will be next to leave, I want to take a look at whom I believe is currently indispensable. Topping that list is Daniel Negreanu. The face of PokerStars seems to be one of the only sponsored pros brave enough to say whatever’s on his mind, and has the backing of his online poker room when he does. He is also one of the most talented players in the game, and one of the few who has a brand image that is bigger than poker.
Vanessa Selbst is the next sponsored pro who will have a contract for as long as she wants. This week saw her return to the Global Poker Index (GPI) Top 10 after an 11-week absence. She is one of only seven players to hold the number one ranking, and the only female to ever do so.
She has won over $10.5m in live tournament earnings, holds three World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets, a Partouche Poker Tour (PPT) title, and once won back to back North American Poker Tour (NAPT) Mohegan Sun titles. She is ranked 23 in the all-time live money earners in the history of the game.
When it comes to the quality of Selbst’s game, she ticks the box with a big fat Sharpie. But there are a lot of players who have a resume as impressive, or more so, than Selbst. Her game alone is not what makes her so special.
The fact that she is female, and has the aggressive playing style necessary to batter people in a heavily male dominated market is huge. She is the only female player in the GPI Top 100, and her closest female rival, Samantha Cohen, is ranked #121. Only five more female players make the GPI Top 300 showing the wide gulf between male and female players at the very top end of the game.
Selbst also possesses a BA in Political Science, and graduated Yale Law School in 2012. That shows extreme levels of intelligence, and hard work, and if you are fortunate enough to talk to her you will know she is also very articulate. When you are representing the largest online poker room in the world, those three assets will set you apart from your peers.
She is also gay – having come out as a senior in High School – meaning she is an incredibly influential figure in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. Add into the mix a strong need to help people less fortunate than her, and her passion as a civil rights activist, and you start to see a profile worth promoting.
It’s no accident that Selbst was chosen to face Rafael Nadal in that heads-up match at the European Poker Tour (EPT) Grand Final in Monte Carlo. Selbst, like Negreanu, has become one of the few professional poker players to have a significant profile outside of the industry.
Her recent appearances on Bloomberg TV – where she starred on debates about the male domination of poker and the future of Atlantic City – showed her ability to handle the pressure of live TV debates, and she has recently been included as one of 15 People Living the Dream in Business Insider Australia.
She also has passion.
My one abiding memory of Selbst comes from the PartyPoker Premier League V. It was her final heat of the preliminaries and only a victory would put her through to the final table. She overcame all the odds to reach heads-up versus Daniel ‘Jungleman’ Cates, and got it in with top pair versus the flush draw and over card of Cates.
She was two cards away from a truly remarkable victory, when the over card hit on the turn, to give Cates an insurmountable chip lead. I looked at Selbst. She was swallowing hard. You could tell that she was doing everything in her power to fight back the tears. It was such a pure moment of raw emotion that tears trickled down my cheek.
Passion and emotion are sometimes missing from our game, but that day I got a little glimpse inside the beating heart of one of the most wonderful poker players of our generation.
A future Poker Hall of Famer, and someone who can be the inspiration for millions of people around the world.
Now that’s indispensable in my book.