This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
Vanessa K. Selbst loves everything about games, whether they are card based or 80s arcade cabinet titles – but she is no typical gamer girl.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Vanessa was introduced to card games at an early age as her parents often played bridge as well as logic puzzles. Then, once she reached high school, Vanessa watched Rounders and began to play poker with her friends. This continued when attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a year before transferring over to Yale. Vanessa left Yale with a degree in Political Science and spent a year in Spain studying LGBT rights on a Fulbright Scholarship, but returned to graduate with a second degree from Yale Law School in 2012.
While studying law, Vanessa also gained a huge appreciation for activism and led the Queer-Straight Alliance, a campaign that aimed to decrease police discrimination, as well as volunteering for a number of community organisations. After leaving university, Vanessa went on to found Venture Justice, where she places the majority of her poker winnings so it can be given to non-profits and young entrepreneurs.
Vanessa managed to get to the World Series of Poker final table for the first time ever back in 2006, and came in at 7th place during a $2,000 No Limits Hold’em game for $101,285. A year later, Vanessa had thoroughly improved and came 3rd in the World Series $5,000 Championship Heads-Up event for a total of $128,968. It wasn’t until 2008 that Vanessa won her first bracelet, beating 759 in a $1,500 Pot Limit Omaha, for which she received a whopping $227,993.
Throughout the following years Vanessa competed in a number of poker tournaments including the North American Poker Tour (NAPT) Mohegan Sun Main Event, the EPT London High Roller, the Partouche Poker Tour Main Event and many other games. Vanessa quickly became one of the leading women in poker and to this day is regarded as a fearless, bold and adventurous player by her opponents and casinos alike. In fact, 888Poker even includes her in their Queen of Hearts interactive poker players guide, where they describe her as an “engaged activist” and “terrifyingly smart.”
Eventually in 2013, Vanessa became the highest-earning female poker player in history after winning the $25,000 High Roller during which she won $1,424,420. This win also ensured that Vanessa topped the list of all-time female prize money amounts as she had earned over $7,000,000. By the time the 2014 World Series came around, Vanessa had claimed a total of three bracelets, an undeniably impressive feat.
To this day, Vanessa is the only woman to reach the number one spot in the world Global Poker Index and has won well over $10 million during her career. What may be even more impressive though is that Vanessa now organises Blinds & Justice charity tournaments in association with the Urban Justice Centre. Still, Vanessa remains humble.
“I feel I live such a comfortable life that I feel like a fraud every day,” Vanessa Told FT’s US Investment correspondent Stephen Foley back in 2015. “I don’t feel selfless at all.” Well, we will have to disagree, as Vanessa Selbst is undeniably a icon in both the poker world and in activism.