Victoria Coren Mitchell - Writer, Broadcaster & Poker Player

Friday 13th Came Early

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Wow, there really is such a thing as “one of those days”.

I was in a pretty good mood, on route to play the PartyPoker European Open. I wasn’t wearing my magnificently-selected Blog Outfit after all, maybe I should’ve. My new black skirt was definitely not lucky for me. But I was happy with it yesterday: it turned up mail order in the morning post and thus I miraculously acquired something new that fits reasonably well, despite having no time to go shopping, AND it was in the sale. I was a happy little mail order convert as I headed off to East London in the sunshine, for a lovely afternoon break from work before my regular Tuesday game.

  Technically, I shouldn’t have agreed to play in an event which I needed to slot so neatly in between work deadlines and a longstanding evening arrangement. But these matches always take 3-4 hours; every day so far, the second game had begun at 4pm sharp and finished by 9. Besides, I needed a break. I’m in the middle of another OCD workaholic phase; I might sing the joys of taking time off, but I’m very bad at practising it.
  When I got to the studio to find three people still playing the last match, half an hour after it should have ended, I didn’t worry too much. Blinds were 5000-10,000, average stack 200k. This wouldn’t take long. But it was only after 4 o’clock, the time our heat was meant to start, that they got heads-up.

  “Don’t worry!” cried Beiju, the lovable event director from Matchroom Sport. “So far, all the heads-ups have finished in three hands!”

  Fifty hands later, the six players waiting for the second match were lined up on the sofa with slumped shoulders as if we’d all, already, been defeated. Ian Frazer, God bless him, expressed his certainty that it would surely now be finished in less than ten minutes. Padraig took the bet. I hope he finds something fun to do with the money.

  With the unexpected aeons of extra time, I took the opportunity to phone back a relative who’d left me a message – what an error. It turned out to be one of those “difficult” conversations. I’ve had too many of those this year.  Family, eh? Now I just wanted to go home. But you can’t really, can you? Even though nobody pays you to show up for these TV poker things, and they can promise you a start time that doesn’t deliver, it’s just mean to leave, however you’re feeling. Cocks up their programme. Not fair.

  The fold-fold-fold-raise-fold-fold-fold heads-up marathon finally grizzled to a halt around 6pm, two hours after our match was meant to start. “Come on”, I said gloomily, “Let’s go in.”

  But no! Turned out the crew had to have an hour’s break. Of course. I don’t begrudge the cameramen a meal and a trip to the bathroom, but this was horrible news. Partly because it meant we would be starting only an hour before six people would show up at my house, on the other side of London, expecting dinner and a card game. But also because, unexpectedly, an old friend of mine was knocking around the studio. Sounds like cheering news? Someone to hang out with on the break, catch up, have a laugh and a cup of tea? Sadly not. This is an old friend who woke up one morning last year deciding that he hates me. I honestly don’t know why. It’s a bit scary and sad. For years we played cards, swapped shares, travelled together, went swimming and had meals in the sunshine. Then, suddenly, from about three months after my father died, everything I did seemed to piss him off. You don’t really expect friends to get angry with you, do you? That’s the thing about friends. Unlike family, boyfriends, employers, rivals, enemies or strangers on the internet, friends are the people who don’t get angry with you. When it happens, over and over again with the same person, at one of those times in life when you really need your friends, it’s bizarrely unsettling. Eventually he just stopped talking to me. At Christmas, after six months of this, I was feeling nostalgic for the friendship I thought we used to have, and sent a nice text to see if he wanted to hang out at the end of the year. He didn’t. And I understood, finally, that it wasn’t to do with pique at any individual thing; he must have just realized, one day, that he’d hated me a bit all along. Or should have done. Nothing I could do about that, except give up and try not to feel too hurt or resentful. It’s very sad, but who needs friends to make you feel terrible about yourself? I, particularly, don’t. On the days when I wake up yearning to be told what a **** I am, I can just read the Hendon Mob forum.

  Some pretty terrible things have happened in my life over the last 18 months, so I’m quite muscled-up, emotionally, for getting past the sadness of a lost friendship. If you’ve had a serious kicking, you can deal with a Chinese burn, even if you’ll never understand why an old friend would want to administer one. At bad times, you are amazed and delighted when anything nice happens, and the world goes all sparkly when good friends show their kindness and patience; when the opposite happens, it doesn’t cripple you because you’re in a state where you sort of expect it. Probably sounds weird, but anyone who’s been depressed will know what I mean. So, it’s ok. But let me tell you: it’s not ideal to be reminded of all that, with no warning, when you’re meant to be playing poker, you’re running hours late, and you’re already upset about family stuff and you want to go home.

  It certainly doesn’t help your brain to work perfectly when a man you’ve never played before, who has so far showed down only a full house (thus knocking out the player you feared most in the heat) calls your pre-flop raise, check-calls on a flop of Q T 2, then bets out heavily when an 8 comes on the turn. My hand was pretty standard: I had a flush draw and a gutshot, plus I was the pre-flop raiser. It would be an automatic all-in for me, normally; I’d do it in my sleep. But my brain hurt. I knew that I wanted to go home. I was worried that the instinct to move in was coming from a place of desire to sabotage my tournament, rather than a desire to win it. After all, the guy had played it exactly as he would play J9. And I didn’t know him, and I had no reason to believe he’d do anything crazy at level one, and Padraig had put all his money in with a much better draw than mine (up and down straight flush) to discover that the geezer had a house already. I sat there for ages, in a sort of dream world, trying to analyze my own instincts rather than just listening to them. It was simple really: in that kind of situation, I would always stick it in and wish the guy luck if he had a straight and I missed. But I was lost in all these other thoughts, and my difficult afternoon, and I didn’t trust any of my impulses. So, I called with some strange passive idea of hitting the flush or passing, missed it, passed, and the guy waved 9-5 offsuit in my face shouting “That’s the second time you’ve raised my big blind!”

  I dunno. We chatted on a cigarette break and he seemed like a nice guy really. But I could’ve done without that. Whether it’s internet posters, old friends or new acquaintances at the poker table, too many people lately seem to treating me like their arch-enemy. I feel like a soft target. Let’s be honest: I could craft a three-piece suite out of my own self-pity, and curl up in it for a snooze.

  So, the upshot is, I ended up getting knocked out in fourth place but still not arriving home til midnight, to find the players just starting to wind up my home game. Still, the washing up was therapeutic.

  And the moral is: poker might seem like a great little unwinding treat in the middle of a busy schedule, but it isn’t. Not a high-stakes live tournament, anyway. If you’re too busy but you can spare a few hours one day for “fun”, go for a nice walk in the park. Leave poker for when you’ve got a clear head.

  And the happy bit is: luckily, I am quite a shallow person. My depressions never last long; a few hours, and suddenly I’m all cheered up by the thought of beans on toast. And you know what? I paid my dues in advance: I reckon Friday 13th is going to be a beautiful day.

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Ian at 4:26 pm on February 11th, 2009

I’m guessing you’ve been with this person to Vegas and Amsterdam. Correct?

John at 6:16 pm on February 11th, 2009… thigh-length… boots… ...

Victoria Coren at 7:31 pm on February 11th, 2009

Vegas and Amsterdam? No… Are you thinking of Charlie? Thank God, he’s still one of my closest friends and I hope will be until the end of time. Not worth guessing, please don’t, it’s not a “public friend” and names aren’t important, it was just a burbly stream of consciousness about being depressed yesterday. I put it up because Jesse May always said that honesty is an important thing on a blog & especially about poker, and I think he’s right.. but half my brain thinks I should probably take it off the site again, so I’ll sleep on it!

Andy W at 9:34 pm on February 11th, 2009

You’ll be pleased to hear that today’s heats finished by 8.15 !

Oh no wait, not pleased, infuriated, that’s the word.

Andy ;-)

Colm at 11:44 pm on February 11th, 2009

Hi Vicky,

Don’t delete the post. Jesse was right, honesty is important.

Others in the public eye may indulge themselves posting regular whinges about the ‘pressures of celebrity’ but you delivered a beautiful and heart-felt piece about the importance of friendship, the pain felt when one ends and its impact, something we can all relate to even without the horrible times you’ve had recently. You even managed to turn it into a poker lesson!

I hope you’re feeling better but would hate to think you’d refrain from venting on the blog again. Pieces like this have their purpose and increase the pleasure when you’re happier and describing the joys of a snowy day or your choice of wardrobe. back to the thigh-length boots…

James at 1:25 pm on February 12th, 2009

People aren’t logical and there’s no sense trying to figure them out. Don’t waste time pondering this fella’s behaviour. Just shrug your shoulders, say ‘your loss’, and forget about it.

Ian at 2:47 pm on February 12th, 2009

Thanks for the answer.

The only way that your friendship can have suffered after being friends for a number of years are:

#1 - You have changed.
#2 - They have changed.

If it’s #1 you can do something about it. Worry about the things you can change and not the things that you cannot…..

Andrew T at 4:01 pm on February 12th, 2009

If you are in the public eye there’s always a decision to be made as to where you draw the line between what you let random internet people know about and what you keep private - only you can decide where you want that line to be. I thought it was a great post and, even if you do delete it, simply writing it up and reading it back can help.

You could always sell the story to one of the low-rent weekly magazines - ‘My Poker Game Delay Hell by TV’s Glamourpuss Lexitrix’ or somesuch

R at 5:44 pm on February 12th, 2009

‘Those days’, they do exist, yes.

In my case, there’s an observable connection between depression and snow. And now imagine yourself living 500 - 1800 metres above sea level.

It has been snowing.

Peter H at 11:00 pm on February 12th, 2009

To be honest, I didn’t get all the gambling references but it still seems like a dreadful day.  I hope Friday 13th is better for you.  Has P Diddy done any new blogs to lift your spirits?

AndytheDealer at 11:30 pm on February 12th, 2009

Went to the Empire today, didn’t feel right, so I didn’t play.  Ended up even, minus a few tips.  Probably saved myself a packet.

Thanks for the lesson Vicky.

Jon MW at 12:46 am on February 13th, 2009

“On the days when I wake up yearning to be told what a **** I am, I can just read the Hendon Mob forum. “

We all love you really.

We just have a ‘special’ way of expressing it.

selfishness at 11:58 am on February 13th, 2009

Never mind deleting this post Vicky, you should have never written it in the first place.  It wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t a complete lie.

Most people who know you and the friend in question know that he only broke contact with you after you repeatedly hurt him and treated him disgustingly, culminating in some extremely bad behaviour in Monaco. The friend in question as you know does not hate you but has broken contact so you cannot hurt him anymore.

Try looking in the mirror and taking a deep breathe before posting lies like this on your blog looking for sympathy that you obviously don’t deserve.

Victoria Coren at 12:34 pm on February 13th, 2009

Monaco? Nothing happened in Monaco. I wonder who you are and where you get these ideas… I’ve never treated anyone disgustingly in my life. You have no idea what you’re talking about and you shouldn’t try to speak for people you don’t know. The guy in question would never think anything as cruel and unpleasant as you seem to assume, because he isn’t that kind of person. You also make it sound like he’s lied to people about me, and he wouldn’t do that either. Whoever you are, “Selfishness”, you have your own reasons for believing that anyone - he or I - would behave that badly, like pantomime villains. It’s a nasty, wrong view of the world. This is just one of those really sad things where two friends were having a bad time for different reasons, both were unhappy and a friendship got lost. I’ve tried to put it back together, he doesn’t want to, that doesn’t make either of us a monster, it’s just sad. Yes, I found it very hurtful - I’m sure he feels hard-done-by too - but I don’t think he’s evil, and I know that I’m not. When people are unhappy, they find it hard to be patient or kind or understanding. That works both ways. It doesn’t need to be dark and poisonous like you paint it. He doesn’t think I did anything “disgusting”. I didn’t “do” anything at all, it’s more about what I failed to do. He knows that everything I felt for him was affectionate and admiring, but that I sometimes failed to meet his expectations, and he’s decided he doesn’t want the kind of friendship I can offer. Maybe that’ll change one day when he’s happier, but I’ll tell you this: whatever hurt has risen unnecessarily, he’s a much nicer person than you are, so you can take your black paintbrush away from both of us. The irony is, my original post wasn’t even about him, it was about me having a bad day, and feeling like too many people are treating me like an enemy for no reason. And here you are, whoever you are, sneaking along with your fake name and your pretend email address, to say horrible, cruel and completely misrepresentative things. Does that really prove me wrong, do you think? You must be very unhappy too, and I wish you better days.

MF at 12:38 pm on February 13th, 2009

Hi Victoria.

I’m a big fan of your BBC 4 work and wrote a tribute post about the sterling job you do on my blog a while back :

Victoria Coren at 12:58 pm on February 13th, 2009

“A plumper, less fit Julie Delpy”

!! That’s exactly the kind of thing this thread was desperately starting to need, thanks MF


James at 1:43 pm on February 13th, 2009

Wish someone would treat me badly in Monaco. I’m lucky if i get as far Marlow these days.

Rich G at 4:31 pm on February 13th, 2009

Wow, this is heavy stuff.

I think far too many people want to judge others when they know little or nothing about the reality of a situation. I’ve seen it time and time again, people becoming judge and jury particular when people split/get divorced.

The best advice I known in situtions like this is “don’t let the bas***ds get you down”

David R at 5:16 pm on February 13th, 2009

When I was at university, someone I thought was a good friend was telling people behind my back that I was pissing them off.

I should have read the warning signs when he used to phone my student house, and he would ask to talk to everybody in the house first (people he didn’t really know), and then only lastly, he asked to talk to me. He kept doing this, and I became upset at what was going on. However, looking back years later, I can see that it was all rather amusing.

ShadowBJ21 at 10:34 pm on February 13th, 2009

There are days that better should be left behind. And obviously that was one of these. Hopefully that blog entry helped you to make peace with that lost day.

It doesn’t matter anymore if you keep the entry or take it down. But it was important to write it at all!

Wish you all the best

LC at 12:45 am on February 14th, 2009

Hope your Friday the 13th was dandy, VC.

mightymojoe at 10:34 am on February 18th, 2009

thanks it gives me a better outlook on the challenge of poker and real life friends

Alex at 12:37 pm on February 19th, 2009

HI Victoria,

I’ve just recently discovered your blog through your articles for The Observer and am enjoying it ;) This blog entry in particular, because it brings things into perspective and other people’s comments (such as Selfishness) provide the odd chuckle.
  This is wild shot in the dark, but is the Charlie being referred to, Charlie Brooker?

Anyway, don’t work too hard!


Victoria Coren at 1:11 pm on February 19th, 2009

No not Charlie Brooker - if you click on the ‘books’ tab at the top of the page, THAT Charlie! I’m a big fan of Charlie Brooker and have met him a few times, but sadly I could never claim that he’s my best mate…

MR Aberdeen at 12:32 am on February 20th, 2009

Hi Ms Coren,

I look in on your blog every month or so and find it a good, honest and funny read.  A blog should be your inner feelings or there is no point.  With regards to friends, I work that I have grade 1 grade 2 and grade 3 friends.  Grade 1 friends you can tell everything to and will always be supportive and honest. Grade two a little less so and so on.  Sometimes friends change from grade 1 downwards or grade 3 upwards depending on how our lives are going.  Perhaps you and your friend slowly went down the grades without you both realising.  Should you decide to use the grading system for goodness sake dont tell any of your friiends what grade they are in!!

Victoria Coren

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