Tag Archives: cash

Victoria Coren’s historic double EPT win, and why gender still matters in poker

21 Apr

 

Victoria Coren

Victoria Coren Mitchell, with the hand that won her second EPT

So Vicky Coren (or rather Victoria Coren Mitchell, as she now is), won the European Poker Tour last night, taking home nearly £400,000. Absolutely bloody brilliant. In 2006 Coren became the first woman to win the EPT. Now she’s made history on gender-neutral terms as the first person ever to win it twice.

Gender shouldn’t matter in poker, but it still does. Play any tournament, and you’ll see an average of one woman for every table of 10. Go to a cash game in a casino outside Vegas, and you may find fewer still.

Why? Coren herself describes in her excellent memoir For Richer, For Poorer the initial fear at stepping into the all-male preserve of the Victoria Casino: “My second trip is by myself… I peep through the partition wall. There, just visible through the volcanic cloud of smoke, is the same cliquey gaggle of old men. A couple of them peer suspiciously at me. My stomach clenches with fear. I go back down the stairs, find my car, and go home.”

The smoke may have lifted, and the old men have mostly been replaced by young bucks in T-shirts and shades, but poker rooms can still be an intimidating environment for women. They are assumed to be conservative players, so more aggressive players will often re-raise them with marginal hands in the expectation of forcing a fold. The more attractive female players will get hit on mercilessly, and it’s not uncommon to hear jokes about “nice pairs” and “straddling” as soon as they step away from the table. Poker tournaments and the lesser websites (not PokerStars or Full Tilt, thankfully) are still often shamelessly promoted with bikini-clad dolly birds, as though we hadn’t left the ‘70s.

More insidiously, I have had several negative conversations about Vicky Coren at the poker table. It starts when they ask me how I got into poker. “I was taken to a home game by fellow journo Jon Ronson about ten years ago,” I explain. “I’d never played Texas Hold ‘Em, and was totally out of my depth. But as our host dispensed tips on how I should have played the hand, I realised how fascinating the game really was, how much I had to learn. The host was Vicky Coren.”

Three times this story has been met with derisory comments about Vicky’s skill, the implication being that she’s only famous because she’s a woman. This is strange, because Coren is a very good player. I’ve played against her a few times now, the last time in a media tournament at the Hippodrome Casino, with Vicky on my left and her fellow British PokerStars Pro Liz Boeree on my right. She can bluff when she has to, her reads are good, she is self-critical, and, as she said when I interviewed her for the second time last year, “As to my strategy, the old rules still apply: play aggressively at a passive table and patiently at an aggressive table.”

She is also unfailingly charming to everyone at the table. So why diss her? Everyday sexism is the only answer I can come up with.

So to all the unreconstructed Neanderthals out there, I hope Victoria Coren’s historic EPT double win sends a message: you don’t need to have a penis to play poker; but it can stop you being a dick.

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Playing poker at the Hippodrome: Six Things I Learned About Gus Hansen

20 Mar

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How often do you get the chance to play against one of the world’s top poker pros – in a humble 60-person, £80 tournament? I know; never. But last night the impossible happened. Thanks to its tie-in with PokerStars and Full Tilt, London’s Hippodrome casino brought Gus Hansen down to play with us mere mortals.

Gus Hansen!! This is how big a deal that is:

Two years ago, for an article in Conde Nast Traveller, I flew to Macau and tracked down the legendary “Big Game”. Here, in the Starworld casino, Chinese billionaires are locked nightly in mortal combat with the best poker players the West can throw at them – the whales against the sharks. The pros that night were John Juanda, Sam Trickett, Tom Dwan and, yes, Gus Hansen.

Gus had “only” about 40 orange chip plaques – each is worth HK$100,000, or about  £10,000, so that’s nearly half a million quid. The businessmen’s plaques, on the other hand, rose in front of them like the Great Wall of China.

From my lowly 1-2 table nearby, I crane my head to see Gus push half his stack into the centre of the table — £200,000 in a single hand! His opponent picks up some chips, seems about to call; reconsiders… and folds. Chalk one up to Gus.

I am hoping to sneak a quick interview with Gus, having played on his table at the World Series of Poker Europe (I outlasted him, too), but the pit boss says simply, “No break.” “I’ll catch him when he goes to the toilet, then,” I say. The pit boss just laughs: “That won’t happen. Sometimes they play for 20 hours straight.”

Even so, I hang around, playing 1-2, watching as much of the game as I can see beyond the protective screens. I pack it in at 8am; they’re still going strong. By this time Gus has tripled up – that’s £800,000 profit in six hours. And now I see why he hasn’t stood up from the table, not even once. At that rate, I calculate that a five-minute break to “spend a penny” would cost him, on average, £10,000.

And now we few, we lucky 60 who have braved no more than a Tube journey to sit at the PokerStars Live Lounge’s fourth-floor balcony tables, have the chance to pit our wits against this Poker Master for a measly £80.

So what is it like to play against a man whose live tournament earnings alone surpass $11million? Here’s Six Things I Learned About Gus Hansen…

1. He’s generous. He’s nice to everyone on the table, trading small talk and jokes. When the waitress hands him some water, he slips her a £5 note. “What’s that for?” she asks. “For you,” says Gus.  She still looks baffled. “A tip,” explains Gus. The waitress grins like a schoolgirl. She’s not used to seeing anything bigger than a £1 chip tossed on to her tray.

2. Then again, he can afford to be. I tell Gus I saw him at the Big Game in Starworld a while back. He grins. “I’m doing gooood in that one,” he says, elongating the ‘o’ for emphasis. “Doing real good.”

3. He knows when to fold ‘em. Early in the tournament, with the big blind still at 100 on a starting stack of 5,000, Gus raises to 350. Fellow Full Tilt pro Sin Menis Melin shoves all-in. She even gets another caller – now Gus has value. He dwells… and folds Ace-King. Dead right. Sin had pocket Aces.

4. And he knows when to hold ‘em. “I’ve just got this weird feeling I’m ahead,” he says, calling an all-in shove of 2,800 by a previously tight player on the button, with the big blind still at 200. The other guy shows J6, more commonly known as “Jack-sh**”. Gus has A8. Good call! Even so, Gus is just 64% to win… which plunges to 13% when the Jack comes on the flop… until Gus catches an Ace on the river. That’s poker.

5. Even Gus Hansen is still learning. “How’s it going?” asks a passing friend. “Pretty good,” says Gus, “I’ve introduced a new element to my game.” “What’s that?” “Folding!” he laughs.

6. But apparently not fast enough! I twice saw Gus make smallish river bets on a dangerous board, presumably to test the water and dampen down any potential bluffs, as well as maybe squeezing out a little value. One board had three sixes showing; Gus had pocket Aces. The second time, I myself called his river bet with just a pair of fives, on a board with four cards to the straight, just because it would have been cool to say that I had caught Gus bluffing. No chance. He’d actually made trips on the flop with pocket sevens. Later in the tournament, however, the new-found love of folding Gus had joked about deserted him: he was knocked out with what he later called a “ridiculous” river bluff.

What a great night. Daniel Taylor was the guy who knocked Gus out: the bounty on the pro’s head was a seat at the PokerStars UKIPT series here on April 11-13. The first prize of £1490 was won by Sarah Berry. And, I console myself after I bust out against Sin’s second pocket Aces of the night, in a very real sense we’re all winners: the Hippodrome has just introduced a leaderboard, with points for every player – eventual grand prize, a PokerStars sponsorship to all weekend multi-day tournaments including the UKIPT.

Tournaments at the Hippodrome’s PokerStars Live Lounge run Sunday-Wednesday; cash games daily. For my guide to playing in Vegas, click here