When Victoria Coren-Mitchell won the European Poker Tour for the second time last month, the Guardian ran an excerpt from her 2009 poker memoirs, and Amazon slashed the e-book‘s price (which strikes me as pretty dire business sense but I defer to the multi-billion pound empire, I guess). The excerpt was good, I played poker, a bit, badly, in high school, and have generally enjoyed Coren-Mitchell’s columns, so I went for it. I’m writing this from a flight that is making an unpleasant descent to Luton (apparently EasyJet are ok with electronics being switched on at take-off and landing: wonderful news), having just finished it, and I was very pleased with the purchase. Especially at that price, though I think I’d have been pleased at full price. Review after the big blind…
Part of me just wanted to find out the story of her relationship with David Mitchell, but that’s not what the book is about. It’s certainly a kind of autobiography, but the driving focus is Coren-Mitchell’s poker career, starting from games played as a teenager with her older brother Giles (the restaurant critic) and his mates, and culminating in the first EPT win. Each chapter proceeds a chronologically, and is split in two – the first half, the autobiography, and the second, the detailed account of the key hands of the European Tour final
As such, it’s a poker-heavy read. The one criticism I have of the book, really, lack of David Mitchell gossip aside, is that for someone who always had to play poker with a piece of paper listing the hands under my nose, the jargon can be a bit much. I mean, there’s a glossary, so it’s not like they didn’t try, and I’m not sure if it’s just me being thick or there really being a lack of clarity, but even in the final hands of the tournament I wasn’t really sure what was happening, mechanically. Coren-Mitchell is a good enough writer that the general dynamics and psychologies at play in each hand come through, but the nuances of rivers, flushes, buttons and high pairs tended to be lost on me.
In terms of the autobiographical bits, its a very lyrical, quite funny, occasionally moving (though the Guardian excerpt “spoiled” one of the better sections) read. Colourful characters fade in and out of the narrative, and while at first I found it frustrating that I couldn’t really keep track of them (this book made me feel dumb as hell) I found that ultimately, the main recurring players become clear, while others are just their for passing anecdotes. Coren-Mitchell captures the numerous culture-clashes she navigates throughout the book vividly – being a middle-class woman in a working class man’s game, being a Brit in Vegas, being a professional gambler with a father who never gambled, becoming part of the more traditional poker game before the internet and television took an interest and made it massive.
The lifestyle does sound kind of enchanting, though Coren-Mitchell does enough to suggest the different ways her fellow players were broken people seeking refuge in it to blunt the romance somewhat. Still, £500,000…
All in all, well worth the read.
PS: Tried to put a picture in for your aesthetic pleasure but Chrome is being distinctly unhelpful, so wall of text it is.