Since winning EPT Sanremo Victoria Coren Mitchell has been in the headlines of every national newspaper and her victory was the most-read story on the BBC website. PokerPlayer.co.uk’s Ross Jarvis caught up with the woman of the moment for an exclusive interview…
PokerPlayer: What has the response been like since your EPT Sanremo victory?
Victoria Coren Mitchell: Amazing! There’s been an incredible response online and on Twitter, and because of the mainstream coverage I’ve had text messages and emails from people I’d never normally expect to hear about a tournament result – old family friends, old schoolteachers, everyone. It’s really incredible. I think the fact that the tournament final was played out on Easter weekend, when people weren’t busy with work and were quite up for something distracting to watch or read about, was a huge factor. What’s been great about the coverage is that I think the press have really understood the difference between poker and other sorts of gambling; they understand that, although this isn’t like winning the Olympic 100 metres, it isn’t like winning the Lottery either.
Do you think there were a large proportion of people who know you from writing and TV work who didn’t even know anything about your poker career until last weekend?
I don’t think a large proportion, no, because being a poker player is a big part of who I am and I think if people know who I am then they’ve probably heard something about that already! But there were certainly a few.
On a podcast after your win you said that you and Neil Channing often talk about the importance of bringing the fun back into poker. You seem like a perfect representative to do this – have you got any plans to get even more involved in poker going forward now?
I honestly don’t think I could be more involved in poker than I already am! I’ll keep on playing tournaments and playing online, and talking about poker when people ask questions about my life. It’s a really key part of my existence.
Despite huge strides in the number of women playing poker, they are still outnumbered by men. Do you see a time when the male/female participation in poker will ever change?
I think the numbers of female poker players will continue to increase, but it will be slow because these things always take time. I just think that my playing the game so publicly – along with Liv [Boeree] and Vanessa [Selbst] and Jennifer Tilly and other women who are very visible as poker players – is likely to be reassuring for those women who fancy playing the game but imagine it’s a male-only world and not for them. There are also lots of women-only tours and competitions regionally around the country, which help raise the profile and make the game feel more welcoming.
Poker has changed dramatically in the eight years between your EPT London and Sanremo wins. Have you noticed the game get tougher to beat, or is it just different?
It gets tougher all the time, of course, because there are always new players coming in and the existing ones are gaining more experience and learning more as they go along. But that’s okay. It would be boring it didn’t get harder; I like the ongoing challenge.
Lots of EPT champions have always talked about wanting to be the first two-time winner. Now that you’ve done it, do you view it as a huge achievement?
It could have been any of them. It happened to be me. I’m very proud of it, of course, but also just feel lucky.
Had thoughts of the double win been there since 2006 and was it something that affected your strategy when getting deep in Sanremo?
No, really not. I’m only ever thinking about winning one hand at a time. People asked me about the double win when we got in the money, but I didn’t take it seriously as a thought until we were heads-up.
You mentioned the contrast with the Vic where you had lots of people physically there to cheer you on, versus Sanremo where most of the support was through social media. Can you talk a little about the differences in atmosphere at the two events?
Actually they were very similar – but getting the support online cost me a lot less in post-tournament drinks! (Though I did actually call the Vic that night and get them to send a few bottles of champagne round the card room on me, in tribute to my home club and the memory of 2006). I had a lot of text messages from British poker-playing friends, so it all rang a lot of bells.
How much did the support from everyone online help you out?
It probably made me want to win more, because some people had been following my tournament tweets for six days and I didn’t want it to have an anti-climactic ending. But actually that was more of a worry than a motivation; I was thinking a lot about the possibility of letting people down.
The hand versus Jordan Westmorland 3-handed – when you had A-T on a T-T-x flop and he had Q-T – was obviously very important. Can you talk us through your thoughts both on deciding to check-raise the flop instead of slow playing and also what your thoughts were when he shoved the river.
I think that until we got to the very final bets in that hand, Jordan and I both put each other on Aces! We each knew that the other was not generally going to pour a lot of chips in with nothing, over the general course of the three-handed action, so we both sensed that each other’s probable-Aces in this hand was a rare chance to win a big pot. We’d both signalled strength and we were both looking to get lots of chips in.
WATCH THE HAND HERE…
You seemed to really understand how to play your stack at the final table and never panic even when you got short stacked. Do you think that’s something special in your game when others, especially online players, are too keen to start shoving?
I have a lot of experience playing a short stack! There’s nothing wrong with a super-shovey strategy in the spot I was in, I just don’t often play that way and didn’t feel like it on that day – there were a lot of opponents I didn’t know, from various countries, and I wanted to give myself a chance to watch the play and work out what the good situations were likely to be. If I’d known the players better, I might have been more active earlier. I didn’t have a big enough stack to sit back completely, but I had enough to take my time and find out what I needed to find out.
Where would you rank your poker game at the moment – is this the best poker you’ve ever played?
Oh, I have good days and bad days like everyone else – and I always have done.
How can you ever top this from now on in poker? Will you be playing lots of WSOP events this summer?
Actually I might not go to the WSOP at all this summer. I love the World Series but it isn’t always a good idea for me to go every summer automatically as a matter of form. Vegas at that time of year is insanely hot, I don’t like flying and I always get “Vegas flu” from the air conditioning; it’s good to take a year off from time to time so you feel more excited about it the following year. This might seem a weird time to do that, when I’m in form – and I might still go – but at the moment I’m thinking about how beautiful Britain is during June and July, and how much I’d miss my husband if I went away for five or six weeks, so if I had to bet right now I’d bet on skipping it and sharpening my enthusiasm for WSOP 2015!
Picture courtesy of PokerStars.com/Neil Stoddart.
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