Victoria Coren Mitchell - Writer, Broadcaster & Poker Player

Vegas Memories (2)

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

I’m worried that my Vegas blog was a bit gloomy the other day. The trip wasn’t all bad news. Here are some happier memories of Vegas 2008:

Playing blackjack with King Arthur.
  I sat down at a double-deck table alongside a serious, silver-bearded fellow. He, the pit boss and the croupier looked at me oddly, I wasn’t sure why. Then a passing gaggle of tourists said something about Spamalot, which is showing in the Wynn theatre.
  ‘Oh’, I said, ‘Are you in the show?’
  ‘In it?’ he rasped, horrified. ‘It’s my show!’
  Turned out that this fellow, John O’Hurley, has the lead role of King Arthur. He also won the first series of Dancing With The Stars, the American Strictly Come Dancing. They’d all looked at me oddly because I was gatecrashing the ‘private’ table of their big resident star.
  But it wasn’t my fault. I’m from Cricklewood, London NW. What do I know from American TV stars?
  I decided to be deferent and super-polite to King Arthur, and he relaxed immediately. How funny celebrity is. I’m familiar with the prickly, defensive vibe of a star who expects to be recognized, but it was very odd to feel it coming off a man I didn’t know from Adam. I treated him like royalty (why not, if it helped him feel comfortable?) but secretly I’d have been more excited to meet Pam Ayres.
  After the tone change, we had fun playing blackjack together. I didn’t win on the session though. The way that trip was going, I’d have more likely pulled a sword out of a stone.

Hanging around with children.
  Ah, toddlers. Tantrums, showing off and constant attention-seeking can be tiring. So it was nice to get away from the A-list poker community for a while and spend some time with a two-year-old.
  Little Jake (son of The Camel) was the sweetest, smiliest, calmest antidote to the town grime. And his insistence that his satchel was a horse’s head was one of the more logical things I heard in Vegas this year.
  It was also great to meet Beatrice, new daughter of Aussie Sarah. And it was brilliant to see Sarah spending half her time looking after Beatrice, and the other half (when husband Michael took over the childcare) winning about 107 satellite tickets to the main event. An inspiration to women everywhere.

A $1250 bottle of wine.
  Dinner at Bartolotta with cherished author Anthony Holden and European poker’s Mr Big was a definite highlight – and not just because Mr Big was on a full RFB comp (ie. doesn’t get bills) and said we could order whatever we liked. Tony Holden, no stranger to a wine list, selected a Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1991. I’ve drunk £35 wine that seemed delicious, but this was a different universe. It wasn’t just the taste but the sensation, like being wrapped in a cloud. No hangover, no slurring, and a crystal memory of my companions’ sparkling smalltalk. This was less a wine than a potion, an elixir; like something Professor Dumbledore would sup from a chalice. This magical brew would cost about £350 in a shop. I’ve heard of people drinking £3000 bottles of wine – what the hell do those do? Make the sun come out? I must never drink another bottle like that or I’ll get addicted and find something new to go skint on. Straight back to the Blue Nun, feet on the ground. I felt rather sorry for our host, who doesn’t drink – although I believe he’s able to get the same floaty, joyous, other-worldly feeling from a good shoe of baccarat.

The Boatmans.
  They had a rented house in Henderson, all quiet and normal away from the Strip. They had a barbecue. They had a sense of humour. I felt very lucky to know them. Barny, who’s known me for 15 years and suffered many an angsty plane journey in the next seat, even came to the airport at the end of my trip to see if we could fly back together – involving (for him) stress, hassle, last-minute packing and a near miss with a tow truck. Obviously there were no spare tickets. But just to know someone who’s good and kind and caring enough to do that, made the world feel like a benevolent place after all.

Wearing the PokerStars logo.
  A lot of people are cynical about sponsorship, but I was genuinely proud to wear it. This is a great poker site, which transformed the spirit of the World Series with its online satellites, making the whole thing so much more open and democratic. The tournament is no longer just for those who can afford it. There used to be live satellites of course, but flying to Vegas to play them was still too big an investment for most players. Everything changed with Chris Moneymaker’s result and (nostalgic though I am for the old days of the Series and the small poker circuit) I love the feeling that, these days, anyone really can win it. That’s a lot to do with PokerStars. I was proud to ruin a selection of summer dresses with my Velcro sticker, and baffle a selection of American interviewers with my ‘wit’; I can’t yet compete for tournament results with Negreanu, Minieri and Greenstein, and might never have time to play as much poker as they do, but I’m determined to bring what I can to the party. I always say: if you might not dance, at least take a bottle of vodka.

Getting told on three separate occasions that I look like Natasha Richardson.
  She’s about 15 years older than me; I took it as a compliment anyway. It’s possible that the Las Vegas folk making the comparison had simply never seen an English woman in the flesh before, but they could’ve said Thora Hird.
  Natasha Richardson actually went to my school. I remember once getting the annual newsletter, where old girls write back to say what they’ve been up to. And there, in the list of “Smith, B: Now works in a bank”, “Jones, C: Has two children and a job in local government”, “Bennet, L: Moved to Hampshire”, it said “Richardson, N: Married Liam Neeson”.
  I thought: if I’d done that, I’d probably write back to the school newsletter too.

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Add Comment


Jon B at 6:10 pm on July 31st, 2008

John O’Hurley was in Seinfeld!

.. but I don’t remember him. He looks nice.

GC at 4:26 am on August 1st, 2008

He was Elaine’s boss at J-Peterman (the clothing catalogue)...very minor role…and very minor actor in general…has not done much else…

RobGib at 3:51 pm on August 4th, 2008

Stay away from selfridges fine wines then - I’ve done far too many big blinds in there after a good session at the vic

IM at 10:12 pm on August 4th, 2008

If you are taking a bottle of Vodka to a party then which would you recommend?

Personally? Belvedere

Victoria Coren at 2:11 am on August 5th, 2008

Hmm, I don’t think I have a sophisticated enough palate to recommend one vodka over another… although a friend of mine once brought round a bottle of ‘Zubrowska’ and put it in the freezer; that looks nice. It has a picture of a bison on it. The fact that it’s still in the freezer 6 years later is no reflection on the brand, purely on the fact that, for all my addictions, alcoholism just isn’t one of them.

IM at 9:42 am on August 5th, 2008

Zubrowka isn’t anywhere near as drinkable, even if you take the grass out of it!!

The Poles drink Zubrowka with apple juice, according to google it’s called a Tatanka, that’s useful as I’m in Poland in 2 weeks time and thought that was the word for Menu!

Belvedere is something you can sit and sip whilst putting the world to rights rather than trying to get to the bottom of the glass as quickly as possible.

IAN CARPENTER at 4:03 pm on December 14th, 2008

Victoria, I just wanted to say the Observer column was a right larf again today, but ended up here.  Well well: I was in Vegas simultaneously (remarkable we never met).  For the whole of July, lucky sod, on a Churchill Fellowship to study magic. No, really. Never gambled once in that time, not even a nickel, so obviously your life seems a bit scary. Also had rather more $1 Margaritas than £1250 wine - but I still loved Vegas to bits.  And now I could show you some cool poker tricks that would have you losing every time.  So - kind of like your own experience, but cheaper…            : D

Victoria Coren

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