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Thursday, June 21, 2018
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Gary Trask

Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has worked as a writer and editor more than 20 years. The Boston native was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's inaugural Media Committee and a current member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame voting panel.

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Former WSOP champ Annette Obrestad has a new perspective on life as a poker pro

LAS VEGAS -- The prevailing mood at a tournament as prestigious as the World Series of Poker Main Event is one of anxiety and apprehension. Walk the floor and you can sense the urgency and feel the tension, particularly as things move closer and closer toward that all-important money bubble.

Annette Obrestad, however, isn't one of those players living and dying with every hand. The 27-year-old Norwegian — catapulted to stardom the day before her 19th birthday, when she stunned the poker world by winning the inaugural WSOP Europe Main Event in 2007 — has a much different perspective on poker and life in general since the days when she was too young to drink or play live poker in the U.S.

Annette Obrestad, pictured here playing in Day 2C of the WSOP Main Event, is enjoying life at and away from the poker table these days.

Annette Obrestad, pictured here playing in Day 2C of the WSOP Main Event, is enjoying life at and away from the poker table these days.

"Poker will always be part of my life, but it's not the only thing to me anymore,” Obrestad told us during a break in the action of a busy Day 2C at the WSOP Main Event at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, a few hours before she was ultimately eliminated after the dinner break. "The game has changed so much since I started playing. It's crazy. In order to stay on top of it all, you need to be playing many, many hours a week. I'm just not doing that these days. And I'm fine with that."

As these words came out of Obrestad's mouth, I immediately flashed back to the last time I interviewed her during the 2008 WSOP. She was nine months removed from becoming the first woman and youngest player to win a WSOP Main Event, and since she wasn’t 21 yet, she couldn’t play that summer at the Rio. Her entire career was ahead of her, and she was a laser-focused on adding more bracelets to her resume.

Here's a sampling of what she told us eight years ago:

"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'll probably play in like 30 events. And I will win a bracelet my first year. You watch me. I'm going to do it."

"I hate to lose. I always have. When I finished second at the EPT Dublin, 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."

"Once you already have enough money where winning more won't really change your life, you play more for the bracelet . . . I want to let people know who I am. I want to establish a name for myself. That's why I play now."

When I reminded Obrestad of these quotes and what a spitfire I thought she was at the time, she laughed and then pleaded guilty as charged.

"Yeah, that sounds like me," she smiled. "I guess I've matured. I'm getting old, you know? I've learned a lot about life since then. I've changed and I think I've changed for the better."

One of the most dramatic differences in her life is that she spends a lot less time sitting at a poker table or toiling online. During the six years following her signature win at WSOP Europe in 2007 that earned her $2 million, Obrestad made the money in 39 tournaments and pocketed another $2 million in live earnings, playing all over the world, winning events at Aussie Millions and EPT London.

And despite not capturing another gold bracelet, she cashed in seven WSOP events, with four of them coming during that 2010 Series that she told me she was hellbent on playing as many events in as possible.

But the number of events she plays in and the money she makes at the poker table has seen a radical drop off, with just six cashes (only one at the WSOP) worth $18,875 in the last two years.

Did she get burned out?

"I wouldn't call it burnout; I just don't play as much anymore. I like to do other things."

Like what?

"I really don't like to get into my personal life. I never have," she said politely. "I never asked for the spotlight, but it's part of who I am, so I just try to make the best of it.

"Let's just say I am enjoying life right now. Really enjoying life."

Yes, life is good for Obrestad. She made millions of dollars playing poker at a very young age. Two years ago she moved to Las Vegas full-time and has fallen in love with the city. Earlier this year, she caused a bit of a stir in the poker world when she signed on to become a poker ambassador for The Venetian Las Vegas.

She caught flak from poker pundits and the basement-dwellers on the forums who asserted it was contradictory for her to represent a poker room at a casino owned by fervent iGaming opponent Sheldon Adelson, since she made a name for herself when she started to play the game online at the age of 15 (thus her Twitter handle: @Annette_15).

"Oh, those people are just jealous, that's all it is," she said with a rise in her voice. "Believe me, Sheldon Adelson has no idea who I am. That whole thing was ridiculous. I'm happy to represent The Venetian. It's been great. Go ahead and call me selfish. I don't care. I'm going to do what's best for me."

OK, so maybe Obrestad hasn't changed that much after all. Sure, her days of grinding at a poker table for an insane number of hours each week are over, for now. But she’s still got fire. She's still got some spunk. An edge.

It's just that poker isn't the be-all and end-all anymore, and that was never more evident than on Wednesday night, when she posted this tweet after being eliminated during the late stages of Level 9 of the Main Event.

Something tells us that, unlike the sassy 19-year-old we spoke to in 2008, Obrestad didn't walk out of the Rio fuming, and she won't lose any sleep tonight. Life is too good for poker to get Annette Obrestad down.

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