Vicky Coren reveals all following her recent big wins and tells us what people think: “She’s just a journalist, she’s just a girl, she’s never won a big tournament”

After two decades in poker, Vicky Coren finally reveals her warts-and-all story in new book “For Richer, For Poorer: A Love Affair With Poker”

Once upon a time in a faraway land (well, north London) there lived a girl named Vicky. She liked climbing trees, playing football with boys, and a magical game called poker. Although she didn’t know the rules of the game, the language that was spoken, or the curious characters that she’d meet in this strange new world, she knew that she wanted to explore it. She felt like Alice in Wonderland, tumbling down the rabbit hole and waking up in a land populated by talking cats and sleepy dormice. And once inside, there was no turning back…


Today, Victoria Coren is one of Britain’s best known and most successful poker players. She’s won more than $1.2m in live tournaments, was the first female winner of an EPT title, and has a lucrative sponsorship deal with PokerStars. She travels the world playing poker tournaments, but is never more at home than sitting in the high stakes cash games at the Grosvenor ‘Vic’ Casino, where much of her poker education began.

Despite her success at the tables, Coren is still first and foremost a journalist and writer. And like her literary hero Al Alvarez, author of classic poker book The Biggest Game in Town, she’s managed to meld her two greatest passions – writing and poker – into a career. With her latest book, For Richer, For Poorer: A Love Affair With Poker, she attempts to emulate her icon in writing a classic poker book for our time. Part autobiography, part poker history, For Richer, For Poorer spans the past 20 years of Coren’s life set against the backdrop of the poker explosion. Vicky tracks the lives of those people – winners and losers – who live and breathe poker, how the game (and stakes) has changed so dramatically over the years, and how poker has played such a big part in her life.

As we sit in the garden of her north London flat I begin with a couple of obvious questions: why write a poker book and why now?  
‘Publishers have been getting in touch for years,’ begins Coren. ‘They’ve been saying, “When are you going to write a poker book?” But I was nervous  because I knew it would have to be really personal and honest. It would make me a hypocrite if it wasn’t, because all I do is read other people’s poker books and whinge about how they’re not honest enough. So I shied away from writing a book for years because I didn’t know if I wanted to share that stuff.’

The turning point, she says, was her dad getting diagnosed with cancer in 2007. ‘My dad got ill and he probably wasn’t going to get better,’ says Coren. ‘I thought, “I’m going to need something to write that’s really involving and really intense… as a sort of therapy.” And then I signed a contract to write it and there was no getting out of it.’


But Coren’s quest was more than just a way of dealing with the grieving process, it was borne out of frustration. ‘There were all these brilliant poker books written in the 50s, 60s and 70s, that were about stories of the hard life on the road,’ she enthuses. ‘They had colour and characters, but were often quite gloomy. Since the poker explosion there hasn’t been what feels like a really honest, authentic book.’

Why does Coren think that is? ‘A lot of it is to do with sponsorship. I think certain pros feel if they’re writing a book or giving a magazine interview, they’ve got to sell the dream. So you get stories about Ferraris and topless models in the Jacuzzi and winning millions. Obviously there’s some of that in my book, but where’s the disappointment? Where’s the heartbreak when you’re out of a tournament? Where’s the fear when you’re on a losing streak? Because all of that is true as well. I wanted there to be that kind of book and no one was writing one, so I did.’

Coren’s book delivers all that and more. For Richer, For Poorer is a paean to the poker world – a romantic and nostalgic trip back to old-school Las Vegas and the World Series when it was held on Fremont Street; to a time in Britain when no more than a small coterie of players travelled around the UK, shuffling into smoky, sticky-floored cardrooms, doing whatever they could to eke out a profit. It is also her personal journey of poker discovery spanning the past two decades, as she grudgingly comes to terms with how the game has been popularised, revolutionised and, to some extent, sanitised by the advent of online poker and television.  


But how did Coren wind up in this melting pot? ‘Poker had a magnetic attraction for me,’ she explains. ‘From the day I listened to a poker game through the wall with my brother’s friends the magnet was starting to glow and I was going in that direction.’

A trip to America, aged just 17, where she fell in love with Las Vegas set her off on the journey; soon after she started having recurrent dreams of a secret bridge to the Desert Inn cardroom. Then her brother’s friends invited her to a game in Archway where a young Ross Boatman was honing his skills. Later, after university, Coren began playing in another regular home game on a Tuesday night, and eventually plucked up the courage to start going to the Vic casino. She didn’t dare to play poker of course – it looked far too scary – so she ended up becoming, as she puts it, a ‘roulette junkie’. But one day she made it past the wheel of misfortune and sat down in a game. Before she knew it she was one of the crowd. A return to Las Vegas in 1996 to interview then world champion Huck Seed for a newspaper sealed the deal: Vicky had arrived in Wonderland.


Late Night Poker, the groundbreaking poker show that kicked off in 1999, has been responsible for raising the profile of many of Britain’s best poker players, including The Hendon Mob, Dave ‘Devilfish’ Ulliott and Simon Trumper. But it was a pivotal moment in Coren’s life too. Invited to take part in the second season, she got the Sunday Times to stump up the £1,500 buy-in in exchange for a feature on the experience.

I put it to her that it could have been her big break, but she sees it a little differently. ‘There was no thought, “Is this my break to become a famous poker player?” because I didn’t want to be one and the concept didn’t exist…I went to play in the early Late Night Poker because I wanted to meet the players and get to know them. When they invited me to play I knew I had no shot – I mean, I didn’t play Hold’em and I’d never played a tournament, so the chances of my getting anywhere in a series of Hold’em one-table tourneys was nothing.’

She was right. In front of the TV cameras Coren locked up, too scared to bet until she picked up a ‘hand’. But by the time Aces came along she was short-stacked and got looked up by Bambos Xanthos holding Qc-9c, who then flopped a flush. Despite her early exit she hung around, met some of the players and got invited back the following year to play in the celebrity heat. Once again Coren failed to progress, but she stayed to watch the main tournament featuring some of Britain’s top players, including Joe Beevers. The Hendon Mob man – one of the most promising British players on the scene back in 2000 – met Vicky and quickly swept her off her feet. And as Vicky admits, their relationship accelerated her move into poker. ‘Going out with Joe, I learned a lot of things fast – how the cash games worked, what a competition was, who the people were.’

It also helped her to gain confidence and acceptance in the poker community, which, for a female poker player a decade ago, was no mean feat. ‘It is weird being a female player, especially in this country,’ says Coren. ‘You have to befriend people without looking like you’re flirting with them, you’ve got to make it clear where the line is in terms of their own flirting without being humourless, and you’ve got to be brave enough to walk around with cash in unfamiliar places without being stupid; negotiating that line is harder for girls. So for me, having a few key allies along the way, predominantly Joe when we were going out, was hugely important in making it easier not to be scared of those things.’


Although her involvement with Beevers never got too serious Coren talks openly and with a refreshing honesty in her book about other relationships over the past decade. She is particularly candid about one break-up that left her emotionally wrought – and that mirrored what she felt about the changing poker world. ‘In 2004/2005 I was depressed so I was kind of negative about everything. One thing I’m trying to do in the book is tell my story against the background of what’s happening in poker, because a lot of the time they reflect each other. At that time I was kind of thinking, “Who are these people? It’s meant to be a little crew of people, 200 of us, trotting around Europe to these tournaments and everyone’s got a great little story of what brought them into poker in the first place. How come there’s suddenly tens of thousands of clean-living young people who are approaching it like it’s a business?” It was all so kind of depressing.’

But gradually, as she emerged from her funk, Coren started to embrace the modern poker world of sponsorship deals and thousands of internet qualifiers. ‘I’ve always been nervous about change,’ she admits. ‘For the first couple of years I thought it was going to ruin the romance of the game, but I eventually came round to it.’

‘Now,’ she concedes, ‘there’s a much wider range of people in the game, and it all makes for a healthier social mix. Plus there’s a lot more money in the game, a lot more tournaments, a lot more opportunities.’

But having come from a live poker background, how did she feel about the online poker revolution? ‘From the first time I saw online poker I thought it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. It was only what was going to happen to the live game that I worried about.’
There is still a part of her which is wistful for the good old days of live poker though. She allows her thoughts to wander as she says, ‘In some ways I still miss it. If I could go through a door just for one week, back to a poker tournament around 2001 – certainly the World Series when it was on Fremont Street – and everyone was staying in the same place, bumping into each other and having coffee, I’d love to do that once a year.’


Any concerns she may have had about the live game, however, were quickly swept aside by new tours like the European Poker Tour, which began to spring up as a direct result of online poker site sponsorship deals and internet qualifiers populating the fields.

There was even the chance to get in on the act herself. In 2006 Coren was being courted by PokerStars about the possibility of being a sponsored pro player. But for Vicky, the thought of playing poker for a living was terrifying. ‘I was nervous because I still think of myself as a writer and I don’t want poker to ever feel like a full-time job. Also, the poker world is very opinionated. I thought that if I made that deal people would take the piss and say, “She’s just a journalist, she’s just a girl, she’s never won a big tournament.” So I said [to PokerStars], “Why don’t you put me in the London EPT and we’ll see what happens?”’

The rest of course is history. Coren went on to win that very EPT at her beloved Vic casino with scores of friends cheering her on from the rail. She pocketed £500,000, signed the deal with PokerStars, and became a legitimate poker pro.


The most impressive part of her win and life since is that she seemingly hasn’t changed. The £500k helped to pay off the mortgage, start a pension and give Coren a bigger bankroll. But she’s very keen not to lose sight of the value of money. ‘I still remember when winning or losing £200 was enormous for me. Now in a normal night at the Vic I’ll go in looking to win £3,000-£5,000, and if it’s a bad night to lose £1,000-£1,500. In the real world, that’s a lot of money.’

When pressed about what games she plays and what she can afford to lose, she has a refreshingly low-key answer. ‘I’ll usually play in the £10/£25 game, but that hasn’t been going lately, it’s been a £5/£10 game. Once it’s £25/£50 I find it a little big. I’ll play in it if it’s the best game – if it’s got a really good line-up – but I’m not interested in losing £40,000 in one night. I’m quite interested in winning it but not enough to risk losing it.’

It’s a philosophy about the game and money, that in the current nosebleed stakes poker climate, is very different to that of the American coinflip kids. Coren comes across as a typically self-deprecating Brit, far more at home sipping tea and moaning about the football with the Vic regulars. She still plays her Tuesday night home game with old friends and makes it down to the Vic as often as she can, which, she admits, is not often enough these days.

‘I would go to the Vic every night if I thought I could get away with it. The thing about the Vic is, I love it! I feel comfortable there – it has that Cheers mentality that everyone dreams about. At any time of day or night it’s a place I can walk into and I’ll know lots of people and there’s conversation to be had and a game to be played.’


But what’s in store for Miss Coren now? Is it more poker? Does she want to settle down and start a family? Laughing, she says, ‘I don’t know whether I play cards all the time because I haven’t got married and had children, or I haven’t got married and had children because I play cards all the time.’

‘I’m a bit new-agey and spiritual about how people’s lives pan out,’ she continues. ‘Even if you don’t know it, your life is usually how you want it to be.’ She pauses, scrunches her face a little, and says sheepishly, ‘I don’t know how to say this without sounding cheesy, but poker and life are the same. In poker you have to be philosophical about the things that happen; if you lose you have to shrug it off and move on to the next thing, if you win you have to be gracious and realise that at some point you got lucky – and it’s the same with life.’

“For Richer, For Poorer: A Love Affair With Poker” is available from for £8.49.

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