Tag Archives: poker

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The smoke may have lifted, and the old men have mostly been replaced by young bucks in T-shirts and shades, but poker rooms can still be an intimidating environment for women.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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Victoria Coren: my life in poker, and the WSOP Main Event

22 Jun

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Earlier this month I played in the Millionaire Maker tournament of the World Series of Poker, without success. Victoria Coren, my own poker mentor (it was playing at her home game, ten years ago, that I discovered how complex and fascinating the modern game was), may have rather more success when she heads out to Vegas next week.

I’ve just interviewed Vicky about her love of poker and her marriage to comedian David Mitchell in the International Business Times: click here. For my guide to the top 12 places to play in Vegas, click here. NEW: FOR MORE ON VICKY’S HISTORIC DOUBLE EPT VICTORY ON EASTER SUNDAY, click here.

Las Vegas poker: my guide to the top 12 places, part 2

10 Jun

In honour of the premiere on Wednesday of the poker doc Bet Raise Fold at Palm’s, I’ve compiled my insider’s guide to Vegas’s finest poker rooms. This is part two. Click here for part one

MGM Grand (south-centre Strip): The spacious, elegant 22-table room is situated next to the Centrifuge Bar, good for landing the odd oversauced fish on your table. And now that the vast new Hakkasan restaurant/club has opened at the MGM, you can expect even more action. There’s a good range of games, including a weekly H.O.R.S.E. tournament. Tournaments: daily 11.05pm ($80), 7.05pm (Sun-Thur $80, Fri-Sat $125); Tues 7.15pm H.O.R.S.E. $120.

Mirage (centre Strip): This is one of the first places I ever played in, ten years back, and still a favourite for cash as it’s so easy to make money. There seem to be no pros, just a lot of happy holiday-makers used to friendly games back home who call off big raises in the hope of improving later. Nice atmosphere, though the dealers are infuriatingly lethargic. The tournaments and Sit ‘n’ Gos, however, are underattended and have terrible structures. Tournaments: daily 11am ($60 except Sat $110), 2pm and 10pm ($50).

Orleans (west, near Strip): This sprawling, somewhat down-at-heel casino has the largest poker room off the Strip with 35 tables, as well as the cheapest rake (capped at $3 rather than the usual $5). The players are mostly old-timers and locals, and they offer a wide selection of games and tournaments with an excellent structure given the relatively modest buy-ins. Years ago I came first equal in an Omaha tournament here, despite it being the first time I’d played (I looked up good starting hands on the internet and stuck to that), so the standard is not that hot. For a real adventure, try the H.O.R.S.E. tourney. Tournaments: daily at 12.05pm (Omaha Hi-Lo Mon-Wed $60; NL Hold ‘Em other days $60-80), and 7.05pm (Omaha Hi-Lo Mon $100, Thur $80; NL Hold ‘Em Tue $80, Wed $100, Fri $125, Sat $100; H.O.R.S.E. Sun $100).

Planet Hollywood (centre Strip): The new poker area is a great improvement on the old, which was sandwiched in between noisy slot machines. This is not a place for serious play, but it is a good place to have fun and to make money at cash. You get a lot of Brits here, and more women than in most rooms. The tournaments have a terrible structure and are best avoided. Tournaments: daily $70 at 10am, 1pm, 4pm, 7pm.

Rio (west, near Strip): I’m including this as a nod to their hosting the WSOP, but outside that period there is little reason to venture out here, other than the chance to eat steak in the Voodoo Lounge after playing, which (top tip!) gives you free access to their terrific rooftop club. The poker room is small and cramped at just ten tables, the tournament structures are poor, the players random, but the staff are very efficient. Notable for the Mega Beat jackpot, one of the world’s largest, which starts at $200,000. Tournaments: daily $65 at 12noon, 3pm, 6pm, 9pm.

Venetian (centre Strip): This is the biggest of all Vegas poker rooms at 59 tables, and my favourite for tournaments, due to the size of fields, but less so for cash as it’s noisy, overly bright and you can run into some decent players. Experienced players may enjoy the variety of games on offer, with the currently trendy Open-Faced Chinese on offer as well as Omaha variants. Tournaments: daily at 12noon ($150 Mon-Thur, $200 Fri and Sun, $500 Sat), and at 7pm ($120 daily except $150 Tue and $200 Fri).

Wynn (north-centre Strip): A lovely 26-table room in one of the most relaxed and elegant casinos, this makes most people’s top three, along with the Venetian and the Aria. You get all sorts here, from sharks to money-no-object fish, with good action at mid-levels, and the staff are highly professional. Tournaments: daily at 12pm ($140 Mon-Thur, $200 Fri and Sun with $10,000 guarantee), plus 7pm Thur ($140 with $25 bounties).

For my pre-WSOP interview with Victoria Coren on her life in poker and marriage to comedian David Mitchell, click here.

Cannes confessions #6: the night time is the right time

21 May

Whoever said “Man cannot live by canapés alone” (they do say that, don’t they?) clearly has never been to the Cannes Film Festival. The place is a ligger’s paradise: every major film-making country has a pavilion, each one hosting receptions; the Croisette beach is lined with party marquees; and that’s without even counting the regular hotel ballrooms and nightclubs.

Veteran Canneites swap tips on how to smuggle extra people in – from walking purposefully past talking the doormen in someone’s slipstream talking into a mobile phone, to getting a stamp on your way out for a cigarette and then pressing it to your friend’s wrist before it’s had time to dry. Director Paul Wiffen, with whom I spent a fair bit of time, is a master of the art, having been to 16 Cannes Festivals. Someone really should ask him to write a book of Cannes Film Festival astuces, as he calls his clever wheezes, so if there are any publishers reading this…

There is truth, however, to the phrase “No such thing as a free lunch.” Every drink must be paid for excruciatingly in speeches, most of them barely audible and in a foreign language. And so I can exclusively report, from the ballroom of the Majestic Hotel with the Princess of Thailand in attendance flanked by kneeling flunkies, the exciting news that Thailand is proud of its film industry; ditto for the Russians; ditto for the Locarno Film Festival. As to the Swiss, for all I know they make atrocious films as efforts to gain access to their woefully disorganised bash on the beach were rebuffed.

The best party I went to was for Four Senses, starring former Miss Switzerland Nadine Vinzens and described by the wonderfully named producer Omar Kaczmarczyk (pronounced “Cash-my-cheque”) as an “eromantic” adventure. (The movie, he clearly believes, is so ground-breaking that it necessitates a whole new word.) Though I am still eager to hear the rest of charismatic director/writer Gabriel Murray’s Hamlet story, as I was called away to dinner too early…

And of course, poker fiend that I am, I couldn’t resist trying out the Croisette Barrière Casino, which a couple of years ago wrested the World Series of Poker Europe away from London’s Empire Casino. The cash games there are brutal, with minimum blinds of 5-10, but I figured it would be a novel way to meet top producers, and so it proved: one ended up sitting to my left.

He was in a foul temper, however, cursing every unlucky break, and in no mood to chat to an aspiring film-maker. My British modesty didn’t help. After I guessed correctly that he was a producer (he had a Festival pass round his neck, and was playing high-stakes poker, so duh), he asked what I did. “I’m a journalist,” I say, “but I also have a film I’ve co-written at the festival.” And then, apologetically – “It’s only a short, playing in the Court Métrage. Gotta start somewhere, I suppose.”

At that, he turned away. I have to learn not to be so bloody British. Still, it meant I felt no guilt when I flopped two pairs to crack his pocket Aces, and he exited soon after, hurling his final chip angrily at the dealer with appallingly bad grace.

So let’s abandon all British reserve now and toot my own horn. The next night I played a 30-person tournament at the casino, and came fourth after eight hours’ play. Not too shabby. Good training for the WSOP Millionaire Maker tournament in Vegas the weekend after this…!

For my recent Cannes despatches, read my first IBT article first, with the opening night gala and towering celebrity tales. Then my tips for festival virgins; hanging with the Bond spoofers; and streakers, lesbian love-ins and Nuke ‘Em High with the Troma crew. Plus picture-gallery here, and my final IBT article, on outrageous Cannes publicity stunts, here

For more about my own film in the Short Film Corner, Colonel Badd, see outtakes here and posters here.

Come back tomorrow for more on Cannes.

How I became a hook-handed supervillain

14 Dec

Last week, shooting wrapped on a 15-minute short I helped write. Not only that, this was my first speaking role, at the insistence of director/co-writer Tony Errico, whose whole crazy scheme this film was. And me so shy and retiring 🙂

The premise is great: it’s a mockumentary about a retired supervillain. I played one of four supervillain friends. If the film turns out half as funny to watch as it was to shoot, we’ll be made up.

The day started badly, for me at least. Tony had decided overnight that the villains should all be of different nationalities: my German character was suddenly American. Luckily I had one of the writers on hand (me!) to rework my three passages of dialogue to an American idiom, but it was nerve-wracking to relearn the lines and practise a new accent at the last minute.

It was yet another illustration of the fluidity of film. It always seemed to me that The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where scenes change as Jim Carrey’s memory is rewritten, is on one level a metaphor for the script-writing process: characters that started out female become male; two become one; old becomes young. It was an eye-opener to be part of it happening during shooting.

The scene was a poker game. I had a hook for a hand, which made holding the cards interesting. And I got off lightly: Tony’s character was blind. I’ve played a $10,000 tournament in the Caribbean against world champions; in a mahogany-lined club a stone’s throw from the Arc de Triomphe; on the Mashantucket Pequot native American reservation; on a table suspended from a crane 40m above ground beside City Hall; against millionaires, gangsters, hookers and hustlers. This was definitely my strangest game yet.

I haven’t had so much fun since playing Toad of Toad Hall aged 12. Apart from a wordless cameo as Surprised & Disgusted Journalist in the last featurette I co-wrote, Animal Charm, I hadn’t acted since playing Chrysale in a French production of Le Malade Imaginaire in my teens. It’s a different skill, for film: working out what the framing is; performing actions (like poker) at the same time as speaking; learning new lines on the day; trusting the director when there is no audience reaction to guide you.

And always remembering the sagest piece of acting advice given by the screen’s greatest actor. Asked for his best tip, Robert De Niro once thought hard, and said: “Try not to blink.”