Vanessa Selbst’s Triple Bracelet Bet

[SS] “Did you hear about Vanessa Selbst’s triple bracelet bet?” Stan the Stat queried.

[FF] “No”, Figaro the Fish admitted. “But she’s definitely one of the most likely players to win three times at the WSOP this summer.”

[SS] “I also have no doubt that she can do it, but she’s not betting on herself!”

[FF] “She’s betting against herself? That’s a pretty rigged bet.”

[SS] “No, she bet against someone else. Selbst wagered two million dollars to 21-year-old Polish WSOP rookie Dzmitry Urbanovich’s $10,000 that he wouldn’t duplicate the feat that’s only been done five times in history.”1

[LL] “I’ve never heard of him, but his real odds must be much worse than the 200 to 1 he’s getting”, Leroy the Lion chimed in.

[SS] “Well, let’s figure this out…

In 2014, Phil Ivey and Daniel Negreanu offered even odds against one of them winning a bracelet. They cashed in on their bets when Ivey won the $1,500 Eight Game Mix, Event 50 of 65 that year.

Urbanovich isn’t Ivey or Negreanu, but if he’s close let’s say that having four extra events makes up for a slight skill deficit.2 The Pole has half as many chances to win three times as many bracelets. Ivey and Negreanu figured they could win at least one out of 130 events. Actually, they thought they had the better end of the bet, so let’s call it one out of every 100 events.

At that win rate, Urbanovich would win zero events approximately (1-1/100)^69 = 49.98% of the time, one event (1/100)^1*(1-1/100)^(69-1)*69 = 34.84% of the time, and two events (1/100)^2*(1-1/100)^(69-2)*(69-choose-2) = 11.96% of the time. That sums to 96.79%, so he would win the bet 3.21% of the time, far better than the 200-to-1 odds that Selbst laid.

If Urbanovich is only half as good as that and can win one of every 200 events, the numbers are 70.76% + 24.54% + 4.19% = 99.49%, making the bet almost exactly even money.

If Urbanovich’s win rate is only a quarter of Ivey and Negreanu’s expectation, or one win per 400 events, he’s in big trouble. 84.14% + 14.55% + 1.24% = 99.93%, and his odds are almost 1,400 to 1 against.

When Selbst claimed, ‘The true odds have to be 10,000:1 or higher’,3 she was probably rationalizing a bit, as that means she expects him to have only one-eighth as good a chance to win any given event as Ivey or Negreanu. This means only one win per 800 events, but I sincerely doubt she thinks Urbanovich is only likely to win a single bracelet over the next decade.”

[LL] “Selbst may have the better end of the bet from a purely mathematical point of view, but the utility curve says that Urbanovich’s side is fine. To them, $10,000 is one bad hand in a cash game, while 20,000 Benjamins could make or break their year. It’s a lot like playing Megabucks.”

[SS] “If Urbanovich falls short, he’ll be just another fishing Pole, but if he wins he’ll be the new Pole star!”

{ Update: since this conversation took place, rumor has it that Selbst has already sold half or her action, so the most she can lose is only a million dollars. Urbanovich can still win the full two million though. }

{ June 15, 2016 Update: Apparently, Selbst made another similar bet with Jason Mercier at 180-to-1 odds on $10,000. This was a much worse bet for her, as Mercier already had three titles under his belt. The Floridian took down the $10,000 No-Limit Deuce-to-Seven Lowball on June 13 and has Selbst running scared looking to sell a big chunk of her action.

Urbanovich has not even cashed in any events yet. }

{ June 18, 2016 Update: Selbst managed to buy out for about $100,000 before Mercier was able to turn up the heat with a second place finish in the $10,000 Razz on June 15 and his second bracelet of the summer in the $10,000 H.O.R.S.E. on June 17.

Mercier became the first player to win four bracelets in the 2010s and has moved all the way up to a tie for fifteenth for the most career bracelets (5, matching Allen Cunningham, Berry Johnston, Chris Ferguson [who quietly cashed in the event for his fifth of the summer], Daniel Alaei, David Chiu, Gary Berland, John Juanda, Scotty Nguyen, and Stu Ungar). }

{ July 12, 2016 Update: Mercier made plenty of money on other bracelet bets but failed to win his third bracelet of the summer. He ended up with two firsts, a second, and an eighth among an impressive ten cashes.

Urbanovich finished with just three cashes, getting no closer to a bracelet than 12th place. }

Footnotes:

  1. Six players have won three WSOP bracelets in a single year — Puggy Pearson (1973), Phil Hellmuth (1993), Ted Forrest (1993), Phil Ivey (2002), Jeff Lisandro (2009), and George Danzer (2014) — but Danzer earned one of his bracelets in Europe, so he doesn’t count for this bet. The closest a WSOP rookie has come to a triple was Jeff Madsen winning two events and finishing third in two others in 2006.
  2. Urbanovich has already won almost five million dollars in tournaments, so he’s definitely a poker prodigy.
  3. Selbst is quoted in the CardPlayer article about the bet (warning: page has an autoplay video).
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