Prior to this tournament, my experience of Annette had been limited to a splattering of Internet gossip and a few brief sightings in the Irish Open and the Monte Carlo EPT final. What I did know, however, was that she held a reputation akin to some of the game’s greatest online players, and possessed a cult status as one of those hugely successful, yet near mythical players that we all want to know just that little more about.
Hailing from a small coastal town in the southwest of Norway, Annette’s initial fray into poker was via her father who taught her the game of Five Card Stud. As the poker boom gathered speed, Annette’s attention soon turned to No Limit Hold’Em and it wasn’t long before she was ambushing the virtual tables.
However, at the tender age of 15 (hence the moniker, Annette_15), she was unable to deposit money so entered a freeroll where she won $9. The rest is history. A win on the Full Tilt biggie, $68,000 in the opening fortnight of May 2007, and a throne at the top of the Pocket Fives rankings that she has virtually made here own; Annette has rocked the online world and made thousands of dollars doing so.
Following in the footsteps of online giants such as Johnny ‘bad_ip’ Lodden, Jeff ‘Action Jeff’ Garza and Shane ‘Shaniac’ Schleger, Annette is the latest whizkid to translate her legendary status onto the live scene, but has been restricted to European venues due to her mere 19 years. Hence, her assault on the WSOPE in London.
Physically, Annette is a bizarre specimen within the confines of the cardroom. She is sheepish, camera shy and a far cry from the aggressive, unrelenting image that her playing style has shaped her up to be. In fact, on first sight, you’d barely notice she was a poker player; you’d barely notice her at all.
Whilst you could easily imagine a bouquet of flowers or set of knitting needles filling her palms off the table, on the table, her menacing image is set in stone: a deadly silence, unmovable Terminator shades and a deafly stare that could turn Medusa into stone – she seems 100% focussed on her game, and nothing will hamper her mission.
Initially, I considered her to be a right little madam, calling the clock on players when not involved in the hand, refusing interviews, making short, snappy comments and generally coming across as a grumpy brat, but on second glimpse, you realise that perhaps she has a more amicable side – it’s just that it has to be lured out of her and at a time when she feels comfortable.
We sometimes forget that she has only just turned 19 and been catapulted into a male dominated and sometime foreboding arena. However, judging by a recent interview in which she was questioned about the more experienced players at the WSOPE, age isn’t a factor, Annette quoted as saying, “I’ve played so many hands online that I think I probably have more experience than they have, playing certain situations, I’m just not as good at reading players as they are.”
If she were at least a little bit intimidated, then it certainly didn’t show at the table. In line with her actions at the virtual felt, if weakness was sensed, she pounced, whether it be Doyle Brunson or Joe Amateur. There were times when she admittedly got lucky (all-in with A-T vs. A-J, Q-J vs. J-J and a harsh cooler at the end) and she did demolish most of her stack unnecessarily with a pair of threes, but she had been one of the chip leaders for most of the tournament and never really looked troubled till the very latter stages.
If anyone ever questioned how much winning means to her and how determined she really is, then you need only speak to someone who witnessed her final hand. The dealing of the final card and the announcement/confirmation of her victory resulting in a mixture of emotions. Her friends, one being fellow player, Jason Laso, felt obliged to approach the table and raise her hands in triumph, because if they hadn’t, she may still be sitting their today, her mouth slightly ajar and her eyes watering in shock.
Too timid or flabber gasted to give an acceptance speech, Annette was sucked up by the crowd that had engulfed the tiny room and the applause that was being directed towards her. Previously, all attention had come from her computer, but now it was here in the flesh, and she had no choice but to face it in all its intimating glory.
For me, the defining moment came when a member of the audience commented, “Well done love for becoming the first female player to win a World Series of Poker Main Event” in a most patronising manner. Momentarily ignoring the ‘Is this actually a WSOP Main Event’ debate, I found this question to be slightly uncomfortable and was one which had unnecessarily reminded myself and everyone else in the room that she was female.
To me, it just doesn’t matter. The beauty of poker is that it brings all walks of life together and allows them to play on an even keel, their gender (or age, race, or occupation for that matter) is irrelevant. Annette was a poker player, and one that had fended off 361 other poker players to earn herself a vastly deserved million pounds. Highlighting her gender seemed inappropriate.
In this sense, I have much admiration for Annette. She might not be the most sociable or camera friendly of poker players, but I can only watch in awe of a player who achieves what she has without gender being a factor. With the likes of Erica Schoenberg, Shannon Elizabeth, Brandi Hawbreaker and co using their gender as a stepping stone into the fame and fortune that poker can bring the minorities, it is simply awesome to see a young lady like Annette Obrestad achieve what she has done without taking such a sour route.
At the beginning of the event, I asked my PokerNews colleague, Barry Carter, who he wanted to win, and he said Annette Obrestad. I’d controversially chosen Jamie Gold as I wanted to give him the opportunity to hold his middle finger up high and say ‘fuck you’ to the poker world. However, in hindsight, I wish I’d chosen Annette. I think her victory is worth a lot more.