UK poker ambassador Vicky Coren answers our questions: “The most important thing when a big field gets smaller is to keep concentrating on playing to win rather than playing ‘to make the money’ or ‘make the final’”

Vicky coren is the only woman to have won a major European title so we put the questions to the newly crowned Queen Vic

She’s an ex-PokerPlayer columnist who’s known for her poker skills as much as her mainstream TV work on programmes like Balderdash and Piffle. but she also won the recent London EPT and scooping the £500,000 pot, Dave Woods talks to Vicky Coren.

Did you always believe that you would win a major poker title?

Goodness, no. I always admired those players who went into poker tournaments thinking they were definitely going to win. I don’t have that kind of psyche; I only ever hoped to enjoy it. I thought it would be lovely to make a final table in an EPT event, and I would have been perfectly happy with that.

Did you feel any different going into this tournament or while you were playing?

The EPT always feels special, never more so to me than when it’s in London, and this year it was the first event I played in a PokerStars logo. Isabelle Mercier and Joe Hachem were there in their own PokerStars gear, and I felt quite proud to be dressed like them, quite professional! And over the first couple of days I did feel that I was playing well; it was one of those times when you feel ‘in the zone’ and can read situations quite accurately. Other than that, I didn’t feel different from usual – I certainly didn’t have any feeling that I was going to win the tournament. Not until the last flop came down and I thought: as long I don’t cock up this hand, it’s over.

Did you play your usual game or did you have to adapt to the situation as you went deeper and deeper into the tournament?

Well, obviously the most important thing when a big field gets smaller is to keep concentrating on playing to win rather than playing ‘to make the money’ or ‘make the final’. You can think you would be happy enough just to make the final, but you still shouldn’t let that affect your play, and that’s harder than it sounds. You have to make brave moves when necessary, and not be frightened of getting knocked out. Of course, I always try to play well and adapt to the pace of a developing tournament, but sometimes your head isn’t right and your timing is off and it doesn’t work.

You’re always very chatty at the poker table – do you find this helps you get a read on your opponents?

In all honesty, I’m just chatty at the table if I’m having a nice time and I like my fellow players! However big the money gets, I never forget that I choose to play poker because I enjoy it. I think it’s a challenging game played by interesting, often funny and usually likeable people. I would never sit there in an iPod and shades, growling at my opponents. If I didn’t think it was fun, I’d do something else!

Aside from the final hand that won you the title, was there a particular key hand you can remember from the final table?

There was one much talked about hand where Jan Sjavic had 3-3 and I had A-J; I re-raised him preflop and then moved in on a flop of 10-10-9. He thought for a very long time and then made a good call, though I was still maybe only about 6/4 to win the hand. Obviously it was a key hand because Jan was unlucky and got knocked out, leaving me even in chips with Emad. But if it had gone the other way I’d have been sanguine. I think I played it right, with a good idea of what Jan had; that’s the best you can do in a tournament, and you have to be philosophical about the luck that comes your way.

You had a couple of glasses of wine while you were playing. Would you recommend that as a relaxant? And how much is too much?

Not for myself, I wouldn’t! I was oddly nervous before the final so I drank two glasses of red wine, which made me all giggly and confused. Thanks to a couple of loyal friends in the Vic, I was persuaded to move on to a nice cup of tea and played a lot better after that. One of them had received a furious text from Joe Beevers in Cyprus, which read, ‘She doesn’t even like red wine! Take it away from her!’

What are you most proud of:

1) The fact that you’re the first woman to win a major European title?
2) The fact that you won at your spiritual poker home, The Vic?
3) Just the fact that you won?
4) All of the above?
5) None of the above?

Definitely the second, though I would extend it slightly: what I was most proud of was that the people in the Vic, the regular players and the dealers and management, seemed genuinely happy for me when I won. And not just because it meant the money was staying in the room… There was a real warmth around the whole place. I don’t want to sound like too much of a girl, but money and titles are nothing compared to friendship.

This is probably going to open up some avenues of poker opportunity. Are you going to play more, or keep the balance you’ve got with your non-poker projects?

I’m not sure yet. I was always planning to play most of the EPT because I love that series. I was very happy when someone reminded me that in winning the London EPT I automatically qualified for the Monte Carlo final as well! What a brilliant bonus. When I get there, I may buy an even more ridiculous pair of shoes than I did last year. I’ve also been talking to PokerStars about doing more stuff with them – their logo has been very lucky for me so far – and I’m sure that would involve playing a few more tournaments. But I won’t go crazy, because I like the balance I’ve got. I love writing and I love poker, and I’d always hope to have a life with both things in it. I really admire Isabelle Mercier, who lives out of a suitcase like a proper romantic road gambler, but I’m not quite so gutsy and freewheeling.

We’ve heard a few people muttering about ‘luck’ since you won the London EPT and one newspaper columnist saying, ‘I don’t care how much she’s won, I’m not taking poker advice off a Judy.’ Is it exasperating that some people can’t/won’t accept that women can play poker with men on an even playing field?

Well, first of all, I was lucky. You need luck to win a tournament, and I definitely got some. The question of women… I don’t think many people really do believe we can’t compete equally. That Neanderthal in the Daily Mirror is quite unusual. What people recognise is that women are a minority in tournament poker, and many feel much happier playing online than live, so men win the majority of titles. There’s nothing wrong with thinking that – it’s the truth. But the handful of people who still think women somehow lack the mental capacity to play properly… well, that’s obviously idiotic.

Are you looking forward to watching it all over again on TV?

Yes, because it was all such a blur, I don’t really remember what happened and I’m quite looking forward to finding out!

Career highlights

Tournament winnings: $1,034,384
21/9/06: £3,500 European Poker Championships (EPT London) – 1st, £500,000
27/7/04: Celebrity Poker Club, Series 2, Cardiff – 1st, £25,000
28/6/04: European Poker Championships, London; £200 Pot-limit Hold’em – 2nd, $14,910

If you want to play better poker whilst enjoying a great read then you should try PokerPlayer magazine HERE

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