The Blueprint: Vanessa Selbst

Vanessa Selbst was the center of attention on Friday at the WSOP. (Drew Amato Photo)

Vanessa Selbst was the center of attention on Friday at the WSOP. (Drew Amato Photo)

Vanessa Selbst has always been regarded as one of the best female poker players in the world, but she is quickly entering the discussion as one of the best players in the world, regardless of gender.

Selbst won her third career bracelet by defeating Jason Mo heads-up in the finals of the $25,000 Mixed Max No Limit Hold’em and earned $871,148 in the process, which brings her career tournament earnings to $10,543,606.

Over four days, she topped a field of 131 players and was tested in all forms of no limit hold’em – full ring, six-max, four-max, and heads-up. After reaching the final four players, which were split up into two separate heads-up matches, Selbst topped Al Decarolis in the semi-finals, which set up a showdown with Mo in the finals. In a heads-up match that lasted 72 hands, Selbst came out on top to take home the cash and the hardware.

Selbst sat down with BLUFF to break down some key hands she played during her final match.

Selbst Gets Caught Bluffing

With the blinds at 30,000/60,000 with a 10,000 ante and Mo holding an early chip lead, he raised to 140,000 on the button and Selbst called from the big blind. The flop was Q86 and both players checked. Selbst bet 160,000 when the K fell on the turn and Mo called. The 4 came on the river and Selbst bet 290,000. Mo called and showed Q2. Selbst tabled A9 and Mo scooped the pot and extended his chip lead to better than two-to-one.

Vanessa Selbst: “I think when he checks back the flop, I know he’s more likely than most, especially as a cash player, to check back with a hand that has showdown value. I think that he’s raising so wide (preflop) that I think he can have any eight or any six with a diamond, or pocket nines, or also any queen without a diamond. Sometimes a queen with a diamond, but usually he would just be betting that.”

“When the king comes, I think he knows that I’m going to be betting my kings and my queens with good kickers. I wasn’t defending that many hands, so I think he knows that my defending range is going to be quite a bit stronger than his opening range. When the king comes, there are so many kinds of hands like king-ten, king-jack, queen-jack, maybe even ace-queen, I’m not sure if he would think that I would three-bet that, but all of those hands are hands that I would be value betting both streets. So I thought he would fold the bottom of his range. Once I bet on the turn, I’m just trying to get him off those types of hands on the river. I don’t expect him to be folding a queen.”

Selbst Check-Raises the River with Jack-High

The blinds were still 30,000/60,000 with a 10,000 ante and Mo raised on the button to 140,000. Selbst three-bet to 380,000 and Mo called. Both players checked to the river as the board ran out AQ67T. Selbst checked a third time and Mo bet 425,000. Selbst check-raised to 1,460,000 and Mo folded. It was revealed on the live stream that Selbst had J-9 and Mo had J-8.

VS: “It was a really weird hand and I don’t necessarily want to get into the dynamics, but most of the time when I’m three-betting, I’m going to be betting that flop. I don’t want to get into really specific dynamics, but there are some things about the way that I play differently. I basically didn’t think he would expect me to three-bet a hand like jack-nine and starting with that assumption changes the way the entire hand plays out. I probably should maybe just be betting the turn and that may be a better play, but I don’t know I just didn’t.”

“I think when he bets (the river), he could easily be turning other pairs into bluffs in order to get me off of a hand like nines or eights or whatever. I don’t really like calling with jack-nine high,  so I have a jack blocker, plus he knows that I like to play my big hands really tricky. He might even make some big folds against me. Especially the day before, I hadn’t been showing any big bluffs. That was also the first time I made a big raise at the table. Obviously later, I made a couple other bluffs, but at that time I really thought that he would think that I wouldn’t want to put in a lot of chips without a strong hand. So even though I played the hand really weird, I really thought he could find it in himself to make a big laydown.”

Mo Shoves Six-High, Selbst Calls with Jack-High

Over the next two 30 minute levels, Mo had continued to chip away at Selbst and had grown his stack to over 8 million, while Selbst was sitting with 1.875 million. With the blinds increased to 60,000/120,000 with a 15,000 ante, Selbst limped in on the button and Mo moved all in. Selbst called off her stack and showed JT. She was ahead of Mo’s 63 and took the pot after the board ran out JT848.

VS: “I had 15 bigs and I had just limped the hand before. I actually had ace-jack that time and I was trapping as well. I think I was trapping with both hands although it sounded like I wasn’t. The point is that I think he thought that I was limping a lot more hands than I really was. So with jack-ten suited and like 15 blinds, I could min-raise, but then I just don’t think I’m keeping in the hands that I dominate that often and when he shoves I’m not in great shape. But given that I thought that he thought that I would be limping fairly wide, first of all, if he had total crap, he could just check and we could play a flop with me in position with a really nice hand. But also, I thought I could induce him to shove some hands that I was dominating, which is like what happened. A lot of suited tens and a lot of suited jacks are the kinds of things that he wouldn’t want to take a flop with, but he would think that he could pick up the pot when I’m limping weak.”

“So by limping I thought I induced a lot of dominated hands or worse hands to shove. And plus when he has a hand like ace-seven or ace-eight, jack-ten suited is doing perfectly fine and it ended up working out.”

Selbst Plays Queens Slow to Open Up a Chip Lead of Her Own

With the blinds still at 60,000/120,000, Selbst had closed the gap and was within 1.4 million chips of Mo. Selbst raised to 250,000 on the button and Mo three-bet to 750,000. Selbst called and they saw a flop of JT5. Mo check-called and the turn was the Q. Both players checked and the river was the 2. Mo led out for 1,315,000 and Selbst called. Mo showed AQ, good for top pair, but Selbst tabled QQ, giving her a set and the pot.

VS: “I know a lot of heads-up specialists look at my game and think ‘Oh man, she plays so bad’ or whatever because I don’t really play a standard style. I play very much on game flow, meta game, and dynamics that I perceive. So I didn’t think he would be three-betting me that light given the dynamics, but I also didn’t think he would expect me to four-bet him light at all. I thought if he had a hand like ace-jack or ace-ten, the best play would be to just call because I thought he might make a really good fold preflop and he’s a good player. The other thing is that I like to call three-bets more than most and I know that he knows that. So other people will call a giant three-bet in that spot, they will be put on a strong hand, but with me, he could think that I could have like queen-eight suited and just wanted to see a flop. So when you do call more three-bets, I think sometimes it’s mandatory to be slow-playing your monsters.”

“I think (when he check-calls) he either has a ten or a jack or ace-king or ace-queen almost always. He could be check-calling very easily with like king-queen. I would expect him to c-bet that, but given stacks, it would be pretty easy for him to check-call. I thought if I bet the turn, a lot of the stuff that is going to be check-calling (the flop) is like weak jacks. If he did have a bluff preflop like like jack-six suited or ten-six suited, that will make up a lot of his check-calling range as well. So the queen is a terrible card for his bad hand range and it’s a really bad card for me if he does have the ace-queen or the ace-king. If he did have some slow-played set, I’m obviously losing value, but I thought he would just fold the bad hands and he does have ace-king enough that I don’t want to go broke in this spot.”

“I feel really lucky that he had ace-queen. When he bet the size that he did, I was hating my life. Obviously I can never fold my hand in case he has a set or two-pair or something like that. I just decided that if I shove here, he’s snapping with ace-king and potentially folding everything else and my tourney life is too important. I thought it was a clear just call in that situation.”

That pot gave her a chip lead of almost three-to-one and she finished off Mo in the next level when her KJ held up against his 97.

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