For Richer For Poorer
Victoria Coren-Mitchell

Published in 2009, this book is a self-written account of Ms C's love affair with the game of poker and her journey from hanging around the peripheries of a murky sub-culture to becoming the belle of the UK poker scene. As one would expect from someone who writes for a living, she engages the reader from the off and her somewhat dry, witty style certainly ticks the box for entertainment value. Definitely one of the better true life narratives I've read in recent months.

Shortly after picking this up I read the intro, in which recalls how she got ready to go to a major final and where the car laid on by the TV production company was driven by someone she knew from the poker circuit who had fallen on hard times and now drove a cab to make ends meet. Funny, she reflects, how their fortunes had gone in different directions - he's now driving a mini-cab and she's about to join the final table of a televised tournament with a quarter of a million dollars first prize. Funny indeed, and a great opening to the book. I had to put it down for a week or so after reading this, and it left me wanting to pick it up again and read more.

The opening chapters, where Ms C describes how her brother's home poker games with friends aroused her curiosity, her first visits to the Victoria Sporting Club (casino), the shady characters that frequented the card room there, her brief fling with the wheel of doom (and of falling for spending her following month's pay before she'd earned it) etc all contribute to setting the scene for her developing obsession with the game and of her becoming one of the "regulars" herself - once she'd plucked up the courage to enter the cardroom at "the Vic" and take a seat.

Around half way through the three hundred plus pages, I have to admit my interest did start to wane. There seemed to be far more words written about other people than about Ms C herself; some players she'd meet up with regularly and some just "names" known only to people involved in the world of poker (past and present), which I felt wandered off-topic a tad. Rather than reading about Amarillo Slim and similar, I would have liked to have read about how she resolved the inevitable conflicts between her ever time-consuming "hobby" and her working life as a writer, the cost of her "apprenticeship" and how much she lost undertaking it, regrets around the times when she put poker first when perhaps she shouldn't have (I'm sure there were some - there usually are where there's a degree of obsession involved) but these didn't make it into the text. She does, however, write about times when the excitement of the lifestyle, and the travelling abroad with like minded people - not necessarily to compete but just to be there and take part in the peripheral action - were replaced by descents into a dark and lonely place, frequented by depression and meds.

The chapter "Desperado" is certainly a contrast to what's written beforehand. She considers the "tricky dynamics" of social games, and of taking money from friends who possibly can't afford to lose it after getting in over their heads; "Is poker horrible?" she writes - "it is if you're doing it right". Then there was the case of somebody caught cheating, and another of her feelings of self-loathing after taking an old man's last four hundred quid - "blood money" as she refers to it. Later on she compares two outlooks on Las Vegas that she's made at different times in her life; one made when she was eighteen and travelling across the States with a friend ("This is definitely the best place in the world . . . "), and one written many years later where she reflects on LV as being "" . . . lonely and loveless, with no society and no truth", and the fact that hotel windows don't open in Las Vegas, because too many people would jump. The very next paragraph recounts that she spent every evening of the next year, bar Tuesdays where she hosted her regular home game, in the Vic.

The remainder of the book is devoted to accounts of how online poker took off to become an international multi-billion dollar industry, the emergence of a "new" type of pro-player that was very different to those that had gone before, of the successes of the members of the "Hendon Mob", of her father's battle with cancer and ultimate death in 2007, and of her ascendency as one of the leading female players in the poker world - which culminated in her winning the European Poker Championship in 2006 and picking up a prize of £500,000 into the bargain.

Since 'For Richer For Poorer' was published in 2009, Ms C has married (November 2012), recently announced that she's a mum in waiting (March 2015), won a second European Championship (April 2014) and called time on her sponsorship deal with PokerStars (November 2014) - so it's likely that there's a follow-up title in the offing somewhere which I look forward to. It'll be interesting to read about whether she continues to fit "poker" in around a family life she hasn't had in the past or if a new set of priorities interupt her regular visits to the Vic. I'm sure she wouldn't want to end up like Riverboat Ray (the cab driver), who could remember the minute details of his worst bad-beats but not the name of his recently arrived granddaughter?

Overall, a great read. You can read more from Victoria Coren-Mitchell at www.victoriacoren.com.

May 2015.


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