Victoria Coren Mitchell - Writer, Broadcaster & Poker Player

Not Meant To Be

Saturday, 4 July 2009

I don’t think I am meant to win the World Series of Poker. I mean… in a field of 5000 or 8000 or 10,000 (or whatever it’s been since 2004) most people are never going to win it, but I have never got ANYWHERE AT ALL in this competition. There are tournaments where I have gone deep, had good chips and just missed out but thought, well, maybe another time (like the WSOPE where I’ve been effectively on the bubble both times I’ve played, with phases of double average chips) and tournaments which have gone particularly well (like EPT London, played 3, cashed 2, won 1) - but the main WSOP event, I have only ever gone out quickly and unluckily with no shot at all. It’s just silly.

  I have been knocked out on day 1 three times. Once after a day of double-cracked aces and set under set; once after straight under straight, flush under flush and finally with AK v. AJ after four raises against someone who absolutely could not conceive of a better hand to get it all-in with pre-flop. Today, it was a bang-bang little series of hands on level 3.

  I lost a big pot just before the dinner break, when I raised on the button with KQ and got called by one limper. The flop came Qh Jh 3s. He checked, I bet 1200 and he called. The turn was Ah, which I didn’t love at all - but it gave me the nut flush draw, so when he bet 2100 (into a pot of 4300) I decided to call. The river was an offsuit 10. He bet 4100 and I’d like to have been able to pass the straight, but I just couldn’t. He showed 2h 3h - a curious hand with which to limp and call a raise before the flop, but fair enough. I was annoyed with myself mainly for making a mistake which I had warned others to avoid only four months ago in my Guardian poker column. Yes, my hand improved from a pair + a flush draw to a straight - but that was a red herring against a made flush, and I think it might have been possible to pass.

  Anyway, I was glad the dinner break had come round so I could regroup. I still had 20k in chips, with returning blinds of 150-300: fine. But after dinner it was ridiculous. I played a weird hand where I raised with Qc Jc and got a board of Kd Jd 3s Js 4h and my opponent check-called throughout with KJ. A nervous way to play a full house, but good luck to him. Then two people flopped sets against me back-to-back (once when I had KK, then with AK). My third hand of this happy little trilogy was QQ. Lise Vegezzi raised early to 900 and two people called. With 9000, I decided to go all in: no point calling and letting three of them (plus the possibly priced-in blinds) see a flop; no point making a small reraise when I couldn’t possibly pass for whatever I had left. So I stuck it in and the big blind, who had yet to act, found KK. The Q on the turn helped me for about three seconds.

  The good thing is, I’m absolutely fine about it. If ever a tournament was not meant to be, it was this one. Just daft. People were flopping (or finding) monsters against me time after time after time. It was relentless. I never had decent chips, never had a chance, nothing to mourn or feel nostalgic about. And I don’t think there’s a hand I would have played differently - apart from maybe passing that straight on the river. I have this discussion with The Camel sometimes: if he plays well and gets unlucky, it devastates him; if he makes a mistake, he can forget about it. If I make mistakes to knock myself out, I am filled with loathing and self-disgust for hours. If I get unlucky, it just rolls off. What can you do? This is not a risk-free enterprise.

  It may also be a factor in my sang-froid that, last night, I had my greatest ever night of blackjack. I know, I know, I shouldn’t play. AND I DO NOT ADVOCATE IT. I smoke, and I recommend that to others about as enthusiastically as I recommend casino table games. Stay away, stay away. But it’s nights like this that suck you into gambling for the rest of your life. Over a quite astonishing series of shoes on the double-deck, I turned $3k into $40k. Amazing. People were gathering round to watch; I was like an advert for blackjack. The casino should pay me a marketing fee. Of course, the fates soon organized for this luck to be balanced out today - but hey. I won as much last night as I would get if I burst the bubble in the Main Event and beat about 4000 players. And that would have taken at least four days.

  So I am feeling philosophical, and very efficient. Now to win the Bellagio Cup.





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MarkP at 1:09 pm on July 5th, 2009

Happy Birthday/Anniversary. Your blog is one year old and it has kept me entertained throughout. Thank you.

Darren at 8:27 pm on July 5th, 2009

First of all nice work for making the money, but BAD COREN! Blackjack? you know better than that, I hear smoking is better for you than Blackjack.

Hows the BC? and happy 1st b’day…..

If it all goes south come back to london!! its not half bad here now….

DVT at 9:06 pm on July 5th, 2009

excellent blog & articles.  Big fan.  Love to join the world poker series one day.

I’d like to raise a sad pedantic point about the use of the word “complimentary” in today’s Observer article.  Though this usage is everywhere, surely it should be “complementary” in this context?

Victoria Coren at 12:31 am on July 6th, 2009

I don’t think so… I haven’t brought my O.E.D. to Vegas (shame on me; I don’t usually leave home without it) but I believe that it’s “complimentary” when it’s meaning something provided free of charge (as well as in the flattering sense) and “complementary” is something entirely different - I get confused by “complementary” because I think it’s mainly a maths term and maths is rarely my strong suit, but I believe it is to do with two contrasting things that balance each other out or neutralize each other in some way.

RomanticRecluse at 1:32 am on July 6th, 2009

Vicky, I don’t know if you will ever win the WSoP but maybe there are reasons other than destiny.  Maybe WSoP fields are different to WSoPE or EPT fields.  Maybe the prestige of the WSoP bracelet makes people think and behave differently.  Or maybe it’s due to being far away from home, being somewhere where you’re uncomfortable and having to change your routine.

In football some players and teams play better at home than they do away.  Some cricketers don’t go on tour because they don’t want to be away from home for months.  You’ve done well in the EPT London but not in the WSoP in Las Vegas.

Perhaps the World Series of Poker should move around the world like the Olympics so when it comes to London you won’t have to fly thousands of miles and stay in a hotel.

Victoria Coren at 6:39 am on July 6th, 2009

Interesting theories. Yes, I think it is definitely an advantage to play on home turf, sleep in your own bed at night etc. When it comes to the marginal decisions in the later play, I’m sure it is relevant how rested / comfortable / familiar you are feeling in the surroundings; even to rent a house out here, rather than stay in a hotel, is a big advantage to state of mind (I am told; I’ve never done it). But I don’t think that was a factor in this case. Sadly, I suspect I would consider a straight, KK, AK, QQ and JJJ to be playable hands wherever I was in the world…

Darren J at 8:40 am on July 6th, 2009

A straight, KK, AK, QQ, JJJ are the same anywhere in the world, it’s just all about what you’re up against. Being in another country without the feeling of home always makes people/players do things in a way they might not do at home. Having just lived in Mexico for six months and played in lots of cash games there I found myself playing hands I would not always play just because of where I was and who I was playing. All in all, what will be will be, you just make the best of what you have, when you have it, bit like life!! (oh god far too deep!!)

Anyway you just play it as you see it….

Andrew McGill at 9:44 am on July 6th, 2009

Commiserations Vicky, from what I saw on my first time, Day 1 looks like it can go in one of dozens of different ways depending on your table draw.

Picking up the entry and then some at B/J must have been some consolation?! Unless its the old ‘report the winnings and understate the odd $500 losing spree’ story.

Thanks for your advice, playing tight for the first three levels helped me make it to Day 2b - via some crazy aggression in the final two levels after moving tables.  I’ve never seen a re-re-raise bluff of an initial squeeze play before, but I suppose its all valid poker.

I’m just over the starting stack going into Day 2 on Wednesday, think will take the Grand Canyon flight in the meantime, though would hate to crash and burn with a playable stack sat waiting.


DVT at 9:57 pm on July 6th, 2009

OK, hear me out on this one.  The first person who gave someone a free drink when they paid a load of money to join a club wasn’t getting a compliment.  The point was that the drink was a complement to the service they were getting from the club. 

Fair enough, just like with global warming and my interpretation of 9/11, I accept that there’s a certain amount of evidence against me.  But - like Copernicus, and…yeah, like Jesus,  I just know I’m right, so don’t be giving me dictionary references. 

BTW, I think your poker book is up there with Alvarez and the other greats of poker literature.

Victoria Coren at 2:23 am on July 7th, 2009

Well that’s very a kind thing to say - except you can’t have read it yet, because it’s not out til September so… I’m not sure I can really be accepting compliments* at this atage….  (*def. correct in these circumstances)

Sam at 8:38 am on July 7th, 2009

Surely the main event is just like a nice big juicy freeroll for you since pokerstars pay for your entry these days.  I’d like to think that this is where all my rake goes.  Can I have a share if you win one day?

RomanticRecluse at 10:54 am on July 7th, 2009

Vicky, thanks for replying.  You may be right that you would have played those hands wherever you were and you went out due to bad luck rather than bad play.  Maybe over time your WSoP luck will even out.  However, perhaps the more time you take the better your chance of seeing it.

If a bracelet is the goal, thousands are fighting to get there and the journey takes days perhaps the best thing to do is to take it slowly, let the scrappers and sprinters knock each other out or tire themselves out and watch the field thin and tire.  You can’t win on day 1 or without reaching the cash and then the final table so perhaps patience, caution and stamina are the keys.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint.  Be a tortoise, not a hare.  Give your luck time to turn good.

Pete C at 3:32 pm on July 7th, 2009

I echo your feelings re. the WSOP and it was this that led me to make a terrible attempt at handing you my business card outside the Palm Beach Casino approximately a year ago. Had I managed to take the few paces over to you without hesitation I may have beaten the incoming mobile call for your attention. I didn’t and instead I suffered the embarassment of randomly handing a business card to a woman who was now talking on the phone! Well done Me! My intention was to introduce you to a more luxurious, enjoyable and ultimately winnable way of playing poker. So if you need a WSOP detox I’d be more than happy for a 2nd chance at my bungled introduction. I have an event that may interest you on July 18th in London. I have been practising my business card distribution skills since :)

Anonymous Stalker at 4:47 pm on July 7th, 2009

@RomanticRecluse : if you go to and do a player search for Vicky, you’ll see she’s doing just fine. In the meantime we’re looking forward to your comments on U2’s site about what they should do to sell records.

MarkP at 10:20 pm on July 7th, 2009

Just to remind you what you are missing at home.

RomanticRecluse at 1:02 am on July 8th, 2009

@Anonymous Stalker: I know that Vicky is a successful poker player but this thread is about a dream which hasn’t come true yet (in this case winning a bracelet).  If you are a fatalist and a pessimist and believe that nothing you can do will change anything you may as well as give up on your dream.  If you are a sceptic and an optimist and question why events happen and what you can do to change things you may find reasons and ideas which may help make that dream come true.  The questioning process may be painful and sometimes ideas may turn out to be wrong but I think it’s better than doing nothing, changing nothing and getting nowhere.

U2 should have paid more attention to their sceptics because their recent output isn’t a patch on their late 80’s stuff.

Victoria Coren at 4:39 am on July 8th, 2009

Thing is Recluse, winning the World Series is a ridiculous long shot for anyone who’s ever going to play it - a tiny handful of whom, of course, will win it - but you have to survive through thousands of people for days and days; whether you play well or not, luck is going to be an enormous factor. It is often worth thinking through losing hands to work out what you can learn for future reference, but if you lose successively with a straight, AA, KK, AK, JJJ and QQQ then there isn’t a great deal of useful thinking to do about the bigger picture: fortune is elsewhere and you’re not going to win this time. It may be that any one (or all) of those hands could have been played differently to lose less, but I personally think it’s more likely that other players would have gone out quicker with them and never arrived at the final and damning pair of queens at all. Or I could have made massive overbets with the AA or KK to make sure of closing it down pre-flop and only picking up the blinds, but that’s no way to attack this tournament either. The point is, there were too many of those situations to survive. A person who is dealt those six hands on Day One and finds that NOT ONE of them is a winner.. whoever that person is, they are not going to win this year’s WSOP.

AndytheDealer at 12:53 pm on July 8th, 2009

The first paragraph of Sunday’s column had me rolling about.  I don’t know what happened in the restaurant and I live in London!

Are you staying out there until the 20th July?  That’s one helluva holiday.

RomanticRecluse at 11:40 pm on July 8th, 2009

Vicky, thanks for replying.  You are probably right about “those six hands” but when I look at poker I keep seeing pessimism, fatalism, superstition, inflexibility, predictability and impatience.  When I look elsewhere I keep seeing more flexibility, unpredictability and patience and those things bring success as constant searching for an edge brings transformation.  As luck is a big element in poker perhaps finding an edge is even more important.

In an earlier blog you wrote about the motto “fortune favours the brave”, it made me think about what pessimism and fear have done to me and despite the pain I’m grateful to you for making me think.  Maybe one of the bravest things people can do is change.

Good luck at next year’s WSoP (and think about renting a house).

Paul Greaves at 8:36 am on July 9th, 2009

True, For Richer For Poorer is not officially out until September, but I am three chapters into an advance copy :) Liking it so far.

Next up Chapter 4: Tuesday…

Brad at 3:02 pm on July 9th, 2009

As the old saying goes, as long as you keep making the right decisions you should be ok.  I think you need to give yourself a positive pat on the back before playing events, you’re clearly a world class player and surely being a winner is all about confidence, you seem to be going into the WSOP ME already defeated.  Hey, you’ll always be the best looking lady in poker anyway, so thats a crown you’ve got!!!

Clyde at 12:09 pm on July 10th, 2009

Not just the best looking lady, but the best looking person in poker!

Okeephe at 8:40 am on August 2nd, 2009

would say, from what little I know of your win/loss ratio, that you must be luckier than most of the people playing these days.

With that knowledge, you have a leg up on most of the field.  As long as you’re having fun, playing within your means, and aren’t going to go crazy keep at it.

I know I often feel the powers-that-be hate me, when I get hit by bad beat after bad beat, bt I am sure the numbers actually do balance somewhere.

Victoria Coren

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