Victoria Coren-Mitchell Talks to FlushDraw
Victoria Coren-Mitchell is a well known personality in the UK, and not just for her poker achievements. She is a published author, journalist, TV presenter and pundit, and she’s married to one half of the hit UK comedy TV duo, “The Peep Show”. On top of all that, she’s the first person ever to win two EPT titles, and she when I talked to her at the London stop of the PokerStars EPT, being run in concert with the London Hippodrome Casino, she was gearing up to try tp win her third.
FlushDraw: Congratulations on your win in San Remo. I’m sure you’ve already answered this question more times than you can remember, but how does it feel to be the only two-time EPT Champ?
Coren-Mitchell: “Well it’s very nice, you know. I never especially sought to be taken very seriously in poker. This game is full of people who want to be taken tremendously seriously, they want to be frightening. They want to walk into a room and, you know, glasses are dropped on the floor, and the saloon bar goes silent. I’ve never really been up for that, and didn’t think it was tactically very good, either. Obviously at some level it’s annoying when they believe you too quickly. If you giggle a lot and say you’re just here to have fun, and they’re too quick to think, “She’s an idiot,” that can become annoying. It’s quite nice every so often to win a tournament, just so people are forced to go, “Yeah, she really does seem to have fluked this a few times now!”
FlushDraw: When we were watching your second EPT win, we saw a dramatic increase in first-time viewers/Tweeters. Why do you think so many of your fans from other your other work wanted to follow your poker success?
Coren-Mitchell: “I think that’s at the heart of why PokerStars wanted an endorsement deal with me in the first place. Poker is a fascinating world that I think a lot of people could be potentially interested in, but there is still sort of a divide, almost more than ever now, between the people who play, and they talk a weird language. They don’t know how to make it interesting. It’s all ‘It’s +EV to insta-pre jam(!)’ and it doesn’t mean anything to anybody! You’ve got a world out there of people going, ‘Poker seems quite exciting, it’s adventurous, you meet a wide range of people, and you can win lots of money. What’s it about?’
But it’s quite hard to find the way in. I think the idea of somebody like me who is sort of as professional communicator in a way. I mean, I spend my life trying to, whether it’s a quiz, questions or an opinion about politics, or a narrative in a book, I’m generally trying to communicate with people. I think that if people think I’m playing poker, which is something they are interested in anyway, they want to know more about it, they come to me because they think I’ll be able to explain it in a way that they’ll be able to understand.
It’s like my father used to say, “It’s a shame that only astronauts go to the moon,” and what he meant by that was you want to know what it’s like on the moon! So what you need to ask is a poet, or a comedian, or a journalist. An astronaut is going to tell you all sorts of stuff about quality of the physics of the dust, but that’s not what you want to know! I think about that sometime when people want to hear about poker from me. It’s because they are naturally interested, and they think I’ll put it in a comprehensible manner.
FlushDraw: You mentioned your sponsorship deal with PokerStars. Do you think they are going to be looking for more people like yourself who have that cross-genre appeal?
Coren-Mitchell: “I don’t know. It used to be that people were always asking about sponsorship deals, other poker players. It was always the questions they wanted to know the answer to. “How do you get a deal?” They would always be really annoyed because they would think that somebody had a deal who wasn’t as good at poker as them, and I would always try to explain, when I could be bothered to explain, it’s not really about the results. My results are fine, I’ve won a couple of EPTs, I’ve won a couple of side events, I make a profit playing poker, that’s all fine.
I think that if I was a losing player, (PokerStars) wouldn’t want the deal, but it’s not really about that. I think the job of being an endorsed player is about being welcoming and approachable. I think they should have a wide range of people so that a wide range of poker players can recognise themselves in the team. I think it’s about respectability, because a lot of people, quite understandably, are nervous about typing their credit-card details into a website and they’re worrying about everything from cheating to spam. I think the whole idea of it is to give the thing a human face. So I understand why somebody who has never left their bedroom — and they don’t really speak very articulately — is quite unfriendly and cross, but they’ve won a bunch of online competitions; I understand why that person is cross not to have a sponsorship deal, but that’s not what it’s about.
In exactly the same way that the best footballers don’t always make the best football commentators, you can have a great football commentator who can’t really play the game at all. Then there’s Paul Gascoigne (a famous ex-football player) who was a great footballer but I wouldn’t necessarily want to listen to him talk for two hours about what other people are doing!
FlushDraw: With all your commitments from your other work, writing , TV and other projects, are there ever any times where being a sponsored player causes clashes for you?
Coren-Mitchell: “Very occasionally there are clashes, but I think that PokerStars broadly understand that I can’t be doing this full time. I can’t, and it wouldn’t work. If I was available to be playing poker tournaments and talk about poker 100% of the time, it would be because I would have nothing else to do and then I’d imagine I’d be less interesting to them anyway. I don’t go to that many tournaments. Looked at one way, my results are pretty spectacular relative to the number of tournaments I play. I didn’t go to Vegas this year, I didn’t go to EPT Barcelona. This year, I’ve been to the EPT in Deauville, San Remo, Monte Carlo and here in London. That’s it, it’s four tournaments that I’ve played, and I’ve won one! That’s a pretty good result, but it’s not a constant presence in poker. I’m not always available to do the stuff they want to do, but it’s give and take, really. I’m very sad when I have to miss a tournament because I’m doing something else. Part of the problem is advance planning. For example at the moment, there is a big gap in the poker calendar between the Deauville EPT in January and Monte Carlo in April. I’m pretty sure they’ll put something in.”
FlushDraw: I thought they’d announced Malta?
Coren-Mitchell: “Oh, have they announced it? If they have it would have been in the past few days, and the problem for me is that two months ago I had to commit to doing a documentary series, and will probably do more “Only Connect”, and I have to try and juggle ’round when things are. The things that are always the same such as London in October, Deauville at the end of January and Monte Carlo in the spring, and I can ring-fence that. If they can’t announce an EPT until a few months before I often have to miss because I’m doing something else.
I’m sorry not to be able to play poker all the time, PokerStars are probably sorry I’m not available to do the press work all the time. On the other hand I think we all think that, generally, it’s good to do lots of things. Also, when it comes to being a welcoming face for other people who are thinking about playing poker, it’s quite important to me to regularly make clear that I do a lot of other things. I’m not trying to encourage somebody to play poker 100% of the time. The kind of people who are going to do that will do that without my help, and I don’t even really approve.
I think you should play poker, I think you should travel, I think you should meet people, I think you should other jobs, you should get other sources of revenue, I think you should create things and have adventures. I think playing poker all day everyday is not very exciting; you might as well get a normal job! So when people are looking to me and thinking ‘Oh, I might start playing poker, how does she do it?’ it’s a thing I’d always want to say anyway. How I do it is some of the time.
As the interview ends, I’m struck by the similarity of Victoria’s (she actually prefers the longer form of her name, I asked) opinion on sponsored players to the view I have been writing recently. She came across as a well-grounded, intelligent, funny (I spent about half the interview trying not to laugh out loud, and failing on several occasions) person, who hasn’t let her massive success inflate her ego. She knows her own worth, and while she was self-deprecating several times throughout our conversation, it seemed more of the reserved thing we Brits tend to do, rather than a lack of confidence or self belief. I’m not sure I’d want to be standing between Victoria and one of her goals; I’m not sure I’d survive the experience in one piece.
If cloning becomes widely available, I’d like to think that PokerStars would be mass producing witty, clever blondes with English accents — the goal being to stack the Team Pro deck with enough cover so that a Victoria Coren-Mitchell presence was available 100% of the time, while still allowing for the rest of her interests. It would be the best of all worlds, the only issue would be, if Coren-Mitchell can win two EPTs playing part time, how many will she win if she (or her clones) play them all?