Obrestad is already what she wants to be when she grows up -- a poker player
By Gary Trask
LAS VEGAS – Annette Obrestad is not your typical high school drop out.
At 19 years old, the brown-eyed Norwegian is the reigning World Series of Poker Europe champion. She is the youngest bracelet winner in WSOP history as well as the youngest Main Event champ. She's also the first woman to win a Main Event. On top of that, she has won more than $2.5 million in her less than two years as a poker professional.
Despite all of those accolades, Obrestad wasn't one of the 1,308 players that started the day on Thursday at the 2008 World Series of Poker's Main Event, looking to slide in under the bubble. She's been in Las Vegas the past month and hasn't played a single hand of live poker. Instead she's been hanging around the Rio All Suite Hotel & Casino as a representative of Betfair, touring the Grand Canyon, going to shows and sneaking into nightclubs.
Because the minimum age to compete in the WSOP in the U.S. is 21, Obrestad isn't of legal age to go for another bracelet just yet. So she'll have to wait until this September when she'll head to the second WSOP Europe in London as the defending champ.
"It's been frustrating [not being able to play], but I knew that was going to be part of the deal so I was prepared for it," said Obrestad as she relaxed in the VIP section of the Betfair players' lounge on Thursday afternoon. "There's plenty of other things to do here [in Las Vegas] than play poker, that's for sure."
Not surprisingly, Obrestad's personality has a genuine competitive edge to it. It's something you can sense simply by sitting down and having a 20-minute conversation with her. It becomes even more clear when you see her taking on someone in Nintendo Wii tennis or at the Heads-Up automated poker table in the Betfair Lounge.
It's also what has helped make her a success.
"I hate to lose. I always have," she explained. "When I finished second at the EPT Dublin (in October), I just wanted to go home, crawl into bed and cry and not move for a week. That's how frustrated I get when I lose. It's pretty bad."
Keep in mind that the "loss" Obrestad is referring to in Dublin added $429,181 to her bank account. And it came less than two months after her stunning victory at the WSOP Europe that netted her a cool $2 million. But she quickly points out that money is no longer the reason she plays poker. Now, it's all about prestige.
"Once you already have enough money where winning more won't really change your life, you play more for the bracelet," she said. "I want to let people know who I am. I want to establish a name for myself. That's why I play now."
Well, if that's the case, she can stop right now because her name – specifically her famous screen name "Annette_15" – is already legendary in the poker world. The name signifies the age she started playing online. She began with play money and freerolls and once she realized she was pretty good at it she began getting involved with small-stakes sit-n-gos.
As the wins became more frequent, she raised the stakes and started playing four to eight tables at a time, and with real money. This is where the high-school dropout part of the story comes in.
Obrestad would typically beginning playing each day around 4 or 5 p.m. and stay up until 2 a.m. every night. She would then get up early in the morning, usually before 7 a.m., and play some more before going off to school. While in class she would either be thinking about poker, or falling asleep. Her grades began to suffer.
When asked what her parents thought of all of this, Obrestad smiled.
"I was making more money playing poker than my mother was making at her full time job," she said with a wide smile. "So, really, I didn't seem to think there was a problem with it at all."
Obrestad dropped out of high school with six months left in her senior year and has no intention of going back to get her degree someday ("Why would I?" she asked). And she has no reasonable answer as to why she became so good at poker, so fast and at such a young age, adding that it had nothing at all to do with math since she "always hated it and was never good at it."
"The game just came to me naturally, I guess," she said. "Growing up, I used to play strategy games like Spades with my parents and by the time I was 12, I was crushing them in everything we played."
Her first huge win came in a $500,000 Full Tilt tournament last August when she captured first place and earned $117,000. Then she began branching out into the live poker tournaments with similar success.
After cashing in four live events and collecting more than $40,000, she headed to the inaugural WSOP Europe. The aggressive style of play she honed online worked just as well against some of the greatest names in the game. Just two days before her 19th birthday, Obrestad took out John Tabatabai in heads up play for the victory that would change her life forever.
"It was an amazing experience," she remembers fondly. "But now I want to win it again. I want more."
"I can't wait until 2010 when I can play [at the World Series in the U.S.]. I'm going to be multi-tabling so many events at a time. I probably play in like 30 events. And I will win a bracelet my first year. You watch me. I'm going to do it."
In addition to sightseeing and hitting the show circuit on the Strip, Obrestad has been spending most of her afternoons the past month hanging out in the player lounges. She gets a kick out the fact that as the days go on, the more she is recognized and asked for an autograph.
"It's weird because I don't think of myself as some kind of star; I'm just a regular girl," she said. "People ask for my autograph and I'm like, 'Really? You want me to sign an autograph? Why?' It's strange, but it's kind of cool, all at the same time."
One thing Obrestad hasn't done much of is wander into the ballrooms where the World Series events have been going on, simply because she doesn't find watching poker very interesting.
"The level of play [in the Main Event] is probably equivalent to a $10 game on line," she said. "There are a lot of bad players out there."
"I don't really enjoy watching other people play poker, even the pros," she continued. "I'll watch [Daniel] Negreanu because he's real chatty and entertaining. And maybe Mike Matusow, but not necessarily because I respect his game, but because he's fun to watch."
Since winning the WSOP Europe bracelet, Obrestad's life has been a whirlwind. She has traveled constantly and is only home two weeks at a time, at the most. She bought a nice house for herself and her mother to live in back in Norway and since she doesn't have her license yet, there was no need to buy a new car.
She admits that at times the hustle and bustle of her profession is tiring, but she knows that this is the life she chose and she's wouldn't trade it for anything else.
"It's just like a regular job, sometimes you have to do things that you don't want to do," she said. "I signed a contract [with Betfair] so I knew that it was going to be busy. But if I wasn't doing this, I'd probably be in school, or doing something that I hate.
"I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life until I found poker. Now that I found it, I have no interest in doing anything else. If I have my way, I'll do this forever."