Victoria Coren Mitchell - Writer, Broadcaster & Poker Player

Two Travellers Skip Vegas

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

  I’m not going to the World Series of Poker this year. I’ve written a cheery little blog for the PokerStars site with a few reasons why not, which is here.

  But I’m posting it in this other blog because I think it makes an interesting comparison with a recent piece by Neil Channing on the same subject.

  Neil’s blog is spikier, edgier, and more of an argument than mine. I like to think I’d have written something as good if I’d had more words to play with, but I’m not sure that’s true; maybe I wouldn’t have been brave enough to stick my neck out that far.

  I’m especially interested in the last section of Neil’s blog, “Old Problems” - if you don’t read the whole thing, at least scroll down and read that bit.  When I talk in my Stars blog about finding last year’s Vegas hot and relentless, and not feeling excited about it, I think a lot of the reason may be to do with what Neil is talking about here. Vegas at WSOP time was a real Disneyland for me when I first went, when it was a pretty small-scale affair (though we didn’t think so at the time) down at Binions on Fremont Street, with everyone staying at Binions, the Mint, the Four Queens or the Golden Nugget. The poker was amazing, but it was part of a whole social scene where you bumped into friends on Fremont Street and made new ones at the table.

  Obviously it couldn’t stay like that once the fields got so big - it had to move somewhere bigger, and that bigger place was (unfortunately) a giant off-strip hotel-casino that saw everyone scatter into hotels all over town. But there’s no reason why we should lose the spirit that used to reign at the tables, where totally disparate groups of people would tell each other their stories, teasing and bantering from all over the world (or quietly listening). It doesn’t need to be so serious - and certainly, as Neil says, it’s a real tragedy if the young pros are so busy getting each other’s opinion on mathematical niceties that they exclude everyone else.

  I had a very sad moment at the table two Vegases ago. I was sitting next to an American fellow of maybe 65, and taking the opportunity to ask him all sorts of questions about how he came to play poker and his history in the game. Another man across the table, of similar age, said to him: “Don’t talk to her. She’s a pro, she’s just trying to get information to exploit you.”

  I thought this was awful. “Getting information” about people’s lives and experiences is something I have always loved about poker, and I think of it as a valuable way to become better at life, never mind the game. Something has gone very wrong if chat between pros and non-pros has become so rare that it actually makes people suspicious when they see it!

  So, if you’re out there, do take the time to chat with your fellow players, have a laugh, enjoy yourself as well as trying to make money. Or if you’re the type that doesn’t like to talk, fine - poker has always offered community to the shy - but don’t be one of those people who talks ostentatiously to friends or people whose games you respect while ignoring the others. Poker is full of people who were ignored or overlooked at school, because they (we) weren’t cool enough or didn’t look right. Half the joy of discovering the poker world is that those stupid old rules don’t apply. Nobody fits in, so everybody fits in. That should be truer of Vegas than anywhere else in the world.

  Obviously, I kinda wish I was there.

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GirlyNebbish at 10:52 pm on June 13th, 2014

I don’t blame you for skipping Vegas, but have you ever fancied a trip to New York? On second thought, better not: It would put both of you in the vicinity of a nerdy, zaftig superfan.

Marcus Lindeen at 9:31 am on June 23rd, 2014

Dear Victoria, I am a Swedish documentary film director interesting in asking you a few questions about your writings about The Jolley Gang for a project I am working on for The Swedish Television. Please contact me on the given e-mail. All my best, Marcus Lindeen, director, Stockholm

Josh Goldenberg at 10:34 pm on June 23rd, 2014

Hi Victoria,

Thank you for being so enjoyable and interesting both on TV and in poker tournaments!

I wanted to ask if you’ve seen what’s gone on with a few other high profile poker players - they set up this: basically an organisation for poker players to give to effective charities. What do you think of it?

Victoria Coren M at 4:24 pm on June 24th, 2014


GirlyNebbish: I haven’t been to New York for years. Would love to go again at some point, but no immediate plans. (Also I hear it’s tricky to play poker there!)

Marcus - best contact for that would be Dylan Hearn (his details are on the contact page).

Josh - I’m not familiar with that organisation, but poker players seem very charity-aware, in my experience. Whether by organised tournaments or charity rakes or private donations and support, many give away a lot from their winnings, which is a very likeable aspect of the community.

Best wishes, VCM

Josh Goldenberg at 11:26 am on June 26th, 2014

That’s interesting, any reason you think that’s the case?

What interested me about REG in particular is that they apply EV to charity as well, so look for ones which expect to do the most good (for example treating blindness in the third world is much cheaper than providing guide dogs in the UK), and say “some charities are more than 100 times as effective as others”, which seems really remarkable.

Samuel at 6:04 pm on July 5th, 2014

If you’re skipping vegas you should come to Montreal for the WPT in August/September. Great city, incredible blend of cultures, wonderful restaurants, and always a load of festivals during the hot months, some ostentatious, some quaint, and some outright bloody excellent.

jim carr at 11:43 am on July 8th, 2014

victoria, nobody would wish to see Only Connect dumbed down,but the connections in mondays final were so tenuous as to be almost invisible. the question setters have gone to far in their attemps to baffle the teams.  Only Connect always interesting,but no longer as enjoyable.

Jan at 8:50 am on July 22nd, 2014

The questions are more difficult as the quiz progresses, so the final is bound to be taxing.  The joy of the questions is in the realisation of the connection and how I might have got it if I had had another hour or two!  Perhaps only the competitors could really tell us whether the connections were too tenuous?  Even I got one :)

Luckycol at 1:50 am on July 23rd, 2014

Victoria - I am about 70% of the way through your book at present. Like a good winning streak I am hoping it won’t end but resigned to the truth. Very interested to read your blog and particularly re the wsop having just read about it in the book. Look forward to a 2nd instalment. Are you national treasure status yet? I think so.

Stuart Duncan at 10:44 am on August 18th, 2014

I just wish I could play poker so that we’d have something to talk about where you wouldn’t be more cleverer than me…

Victoria Coren

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