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Vanessa Selbst's Triple Bracelet Bet

Before the 2016 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, Vanessa Selbst bet two players that they wouldn't win three WSOP bracelet that summer.

Dzmitry Urbanovich

First, she 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 Let's analyze this bet to see who had the better end of it.

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", 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 she probably doesn't think Urbanovich is only likely to win a single bracelet over the next decade.3

However, even if Selbst had the better end of the bet from a purely mathematical point of view, 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.

Jason Mercier

Selbst's second bet was against 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.

Results

Urbanovich finished with just three cashes, getting no closer to a bracelet than 12th place. Through 2018, he has made three final tables but has yet to win his first bracelet.

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. He became the first player to win four bracelets in the 2010s.

Selbst did not collect the full amount from either of them, however, as she sold off some of her action, and may have bought Mercier out for $100,000.