Vanessa Selbst has won NAPT Mohegan Sun. Vanessa Selbst has won NAPT Mohegan Sun. You read it twice because it has happened twice. Really, she has done it again.
This time last year, the Team PokerStars Pro from Brooklyn, New York, bested a field of 716 to win $750,000 and her first NAPT Mohegan Sun title. A year later, here we are again.
This time the field was 387 players and the first prize is $450,000. That means 1,101 players have tried and failed to knock Selbst out of a poker tournament in this room and $1.2 million is the combined reward for this Uncasville immortality. (Let's not forget, in the intervening year she also won close to $1,650,000 in France.)
But let's say it again because it becomes no less remarkable through repetition: Vanessa Selbst is the back-to-back NAPT Mohegan Sun champion. No one can beat her.
"I don't know, I'm speechless," she said when asked if there would be a three-peat next year. Her supporters seem to think so. One of them carried a sign today that read: "Every year the same damn thing."
Tonight Selbst overturned a near three-to-one heads up chip deficit against Dan Shak to win. It was the first time she had ever gone to a heads-up duel without the lead, but it didn't seem to matter one jot. She had had the breaks when necessary, but was extraordinarily focused too.
"I didn't win this in my typical fashion," Selbst said. "I didn't steamroll the table. I had some luck on my side and I played a pretty good heads up game against a formidable opponent."
We started on Saturday with those 387 players, and began today with eight. Steve O'Dwyer and Aaron Overton were two of the shorter stacks coming into the final, and they were the first to fall.
O'Dwyer never really recovered from a massive skirmish with Selbst on the third hand of the day, while Overton, who had led at the end of day two, couldn't outdraw Selbst's A♥2♥ with his K♥Q♦. Those two were out in eighth and seventh respectively.
One intriguing sub-plot in this story of Selbst was the tale of Joe Tehan, the NAPT Los Angeles champion. Tehan had also made the last eight of this week's tournament, only a matter of four months since he was in the winner's enclosure himself.
According to many commentators, if anyone was going to stop Selbst, it would be Tehan. But he couldn't bring the Californian fortune to the east coast. A couple of missteps, then an unfortunate chop of a pot that should have been his, put Tehan on the short stack. When he got it in with K♦6♠ he couldn't outdraw Thomas Hoglund's 8♣8♦. Tehan went to the rail in sixth.
It was around this time that Shak really came to prominence. He won a massive pot from Selbst when he managed to spike an ace with his A♦6♥ to beat 7♦7♠ and he was then able to sit back and watch as his table-mates devoured one another.
Selbst took a huge chunk from Vincent Rubianes, another player who had once soared to the chip lead in this tournament, only to be pegged back. Rubianes was then blasted to the rail in fifth by Tyler Kenney, who had been chip leader ahead of the final. Rubianes had ace-high pre-flop, Kenney only had a king. But when two more kings turned and rivered, Rubianes was rubbed out.
Thomas Hoglund Jr. had played a largely quiet final table, picking his spots to manoeuvre his short stack into the middle and slowly climb the leaderboard. But then he got it in with queen high and ran into Kenney's aces. Hoglund was the first player to earn a six figure score. Fourth bagged him $120,000.
The next major confrontation might easily have been Selbst's last. She shoved her A♣5♥ into Kenney's A♥K♦ sending her loyal followers--seven friends and one dog--to gather anxiously around the monitors. But you don't win poker tournaments without the occasional stroke of good fortune. And you certainly don't go back-to-back without a larger slice than most.
The dealer duly delivered a five on the flop, sending Poker Dog into howls of delight.
Kenney, whose entire family (but no dogs) had come to Uncasville to watch him at his first major final, was not quite so delighted. He soon found an ace and moved in with A♠7♠, but Shak was lying in wait with A♥Q♠. It held.
That brought us to heads up and a battle that amply represented everything that is terrific about this game. Selbst started as the short stack, but chip, chip, chipped away until she had Shak on the ropes.
But then Shak showed his fighting spirit, doubling up a couple of times at crucial moments to keep the yo-yo exchange going for close to two hours. In the end, Selbst flopped two pair with her K♣7♣ and stayed good against Shak's single pair of sevens.
"This is seriously the most special thing in my career," Selbst said. "Maybe last year wasn't a fluke."
So, after Selbst's remarkable display today, we might as well just give her the NAPT Mohegan Sun trophy for good. She certainly seems in no hurry to hand it over.
All photography © Joe Giron/www.joegironphotography.com