Victoria Coren Mitchell - Writer, Broadcaster & Poker Player

First review

Friday, 4 September 2009

- of the new book -

by Charlie Campbell in the Literary Review.

“First porn and now poker. In Once More, With Feeling, Victoria Coren described her attempts to make an erotic film. Now, in this memoir, she writes about her love of poker. She’s unusual, not only for being a woman in what is still largely a male-dominated game, but also because she is an excellent player and writer. Many poker journalists are on the outside, peering in at a game they haven’t fully mastered, and their books are often slightly disappointing - they’re fine if you haven’t read the others, but they all rake over the same old ground, digging up the same old mouldy corpses. You can only read about the glory days so many times.

  “For Richer, For Poorer, however, is fresh, funny and moving. Coren writes insightfully about love, obsession, depression and illness - and poker, obviously, and how it helped her cope with life. She grew up watching her brother play with his friends and longed to join in this game, with its rituals and secret language - nuts, trips, bullets, etc. And she did play, in whatever games she could find, learning and losing, and gradually getting better. During this time, poker changed, from a game played by a few in smoky backrooms to one played by millions, with great glitzy corporate tournaments. Then in 2006 the author’s own life changed: she won the European Poker Tour championship, netting $1m and creating a history of her own. And so she concentrates on that, with little need to borrow the stories of others, replaying the action of the final table at the EPT in short alternate chapters. Rarely has poker been written about so well, with drama and wit, and none of the usual tired virility.

  “Best of all, Coren engages with the question of what makes the game so enthralling and addictive to her and so many others. It isn’t just the mental challenge, nor is it simply a gambling lust. Rather, it’s the sense of belonging to a community of natural nonconformists who have at last found rules they are happy to live by. She feels more at home here than anywhere else - family, friends, all belong to another world. But the bond is purely one of poker. Talk about outside life to a stranger at the table and you’re committing an unpardonable sin, reminding them of what drove them there in the first place. As Coren puts it, ‘Poker wasn’t about fame, it was about hiding.’ It is also about loneliness. She writes, ‘I love the underworld. I love the screwed-up people, I finally fit in and I am happy.’ And they’re certainly screwed-up. Some of them have obvious appeal, some of them don’t. Coren compares it all to the world of Damon Runyan. But that, like P.G. Wodehouse’s Mayfair or Blandings, didn’t exist. Both writers gave charm and glamour to those who never had it.

  “I haven’t met nearly as many poker greats as Coren, but the ones that I have come across have tended to be disappointingly ordinary - even dull. Sitting and staring at small bits of plastic and paper for hour after hour, day after day, year after year, does little for the personality. And the discipline of the successful card player rarely extends to the rest of their life. But she knows this and forgives all, writing:

      ‘With few exceptions, I love anyone who plays poker, who spends their life in the card room, who is hiding from something and chasing something, who knows there may be a better life elsewhere but is a little too frightened to look for it, who lets the invisible clock tick down as they play hand after hand after hand.’

  “I’ll leave it to other critics to brandish their poker clichés now. But this is a wonderful book, worthy of comparison with the best - Al Alvarez’s The Biggest Game In Town. Read them both.”

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Pettsvaldo at 6:56 pm on September 4th, 2009

That is a nice review, isn’t it?

I wasn’t really considering buying the book - I am now.  Should I read it before or after Alvarez?

Drumvesta at 10:57 pm on September 4th, 2009

Yes, that’s nice for you Vicky.

Looking forward to reading it myself.

Best wishes

Victoria Coren at 1:26 am on September 5th, 2009

Hmmm… I’d say Alvarez first. If you were going to read both back to back (if that wasn’t too much poker at once), better to read his before mine than the other way round - when in doubt, chronological order!

John-Boy at 2:59 am on September 5th, 2009

This is a good line, “Rather, it’s the sense of belonging to a community of natural nonconformists who have at last found rules they are happy to live by.”
Obviously your book is going to be very insightful about the poker world and what makes it tick, but sounds like this reviewer also has a good understanding of it, whether from reading your book or he had it before I don’t know.

Alan Glaum at 11:54 am on September 5th, 2009

And 5 stars from Anthony Holden in the Telegraph on Saturday, a very impressive review at—-a-Love-Affair-with-Poker-by-Victoria-Coren.html

Julia at 7:30 pm on September 5th, 2009

Just wondering when the Champions Only Connect edition is on - it’s not in the listings for Monday night. Have been tasked with checking this out by my husband who is visiting his mother in Cumbria and in a state of panic that he might miss it, especially since he works with one of last years winners and hasn’t missed a show.  Finally decided to go straight to the oracle. Thanks

Kristian Petterson at 9:15 pm on September 5th, 2009

“When in doubt, chronological order”.

There’s a politically incorrect joke in there somewhere.  I’ve been the bigger man and abstained from typing it out…

Jason Reichert at 8:38 am on September 6th, 2009

Vicky, I already couldn’t wait to see this book BEFORE the reviews came in. I dearly hope this book is available on the US version of Amazon, too. You’ve always been a favorite of mine in the poker world not just because of your top notch play, but because you are one helluva stellar all around lady. Best of wishes on everything you do, but I don’t think you need much luck.

Victoria Coren at 4:33 pm on September 6th, 2009

Hi Jason, thanks so much for your lovely message. I’m afraid I don’t think the book will be for sale on US Amazon, but I assume it’s possible to go to and order it for international shipping? If not, or the postage is too high, it should be available in the VPP store on PokerStars within a few weeks. Best wishes, VC

Robert Duboff at 6:21 pm on September 6th, 2009

“First porn and now poker. In Once More, With Feeling, Victoria Coren described her attempts to make an erotic film.”

I want a copy of both!

Victoria Coren at 6:34 pm on September 6th, 2009

Well, what’s stopping you?! The ‘erotic’ book is on Amazon and available immediately! The poker book will be in bookshops in ten days’ time…

The other Julia at 12:23 am on September 7th, 2009

Robert, you really need to buy OMWF. I’ve just finished reading it and it’s brilliant. Now it’s over I feel like I’ve lost touch with an old friend.

Garth Wood at 9:01 am on September 7th, 2009

Hey this is great news, Im a huge fan of your writing,  and am currently reading your other book “Once More…” I will check out the new one soon! Congratulations Miss Coren!

joeking at 3:12 pm on September 7th, 2009

I don’t understand how your book can be the 5th bestselling book when I put in ‘poker’ in
I’t's only on pre order. How do they work out the bestselling order list? Is it the total amount sold?

Andrew H at 9:09 pm on September 7th, 2009

Congrats on the good reviews for your book.  Just wondered if you’d recommend it to those people like me who are real poker novices.  I’ve played a few hands on one of the main poker sites (just for play-money) and have been trying to understand the game for a while…but am having trouble. 

For instance, why do some people hand their cards back before the dealer puts the three cards in front of them?  Surely they don’t know how good their hand is until they’ve seen those as well?  Any help would be very welcome.  I’m struggling here!

PS. Hey Joeking.  Yes, I believe the bestsellers are the highest number either sold or pre-ordered.  They don’t differentiate.

Victoria Coren at 11:25 pm on September 7th, 2009

Hi Andrew. The short answer is, you still have to evaluate your starting hands. Those first two cards are the building blocks of the hand you’re going to make - if they’re not a pair, not two big cards and have nothing in common with each other, you’re unlikely to make anything good - like, if you were going to build a wall, you wouldn’t want to start with a rubber band and a stick. You’d want two bricks, or a brick and some mortar, or some mortar and a trowel… does that make sense? I don’t know much about brick-laying… but you need to start with two cards that either might be winning already or promise to take you on an interesting journey.

  To answer your first question - yes of course my book can be read by poker novices, I hope it will be enjoyed by people who have never played poker at all! It isn’t a strategy book, it’s a memoir of life in a strange world. In the book, I do go through the hands I played in a big tournament where I won $1m, so people can see what I was thinking as I played (and that should be useful for new players to see how the thinking goes) but really it’s supposed to be a fun read for the quirky characters, the colourful locations, the high risks taken and the unusual things that happen. You don’t need to know about poker to read it.

Andrew H at 5:59 pm on September 8th, 2009

Thanks for your reply, Miss C.  I had a go on a play table on Poker Stars and lost all my ‘money’ in five hands.  I really don’t understand the game, so think I’ll give up trying.  Thanks for your help, though.

Drumvesta at 11:57 am on September 9th, 2009

Just received an email from Amazon.

Arrival date for Vicky’s book has been brought forward to 18 Sept.


Grub Smith at 4:12 pm on September 9th, 2009

Charlie happens to be my agent - and an excellent one. I like to think when he mentioned “the usual tired virility” in the review, he was thinking of me. Have fun on the 17th! Grub

MarkP at 5:28 pm on September 10th, 2009

Your book has just arrived from Amazon, a bit earlier than expected.

galty at 10:56 pm on September 10th, 2009

Went up to the Vic to day to get a copy of the book and to meet a person i admire.

Had a shower and put on some brut, got on the tube and sweated like a pig God it was hot.

Arrived at the Vic and stated that I was there for the Book review and promply sent round the back to the staff entrance, luckily enough so was someone else and after ten minutes of asking they said we should go back to main entrance and there was the Lovely Miss Coren.

Signed in at last and got to the book signing got 2 copies signed by Miss Coren.

First chapter reading on the Tube home was brillant.

Shame about the Moron on reception who directed me round the back.

Drumvesta at 4:47 pm on September 11th, 2009

As with MarkP above your book, ordered from Amazon, arrived today. Can’t wait to get started.


sudhakar at 10:13 pm on September 12th, 2009

Well done on the reviews.

galty at 7:44 am on September 14th, 2009

just finished reading the book, enjoyed it, very good read.

One thing What’s the name of the Tube station?

Victoria Coren

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