How Vicky’s win could change the poker world

April 29, 2014

The first ever double European Poker Tour (EPT) champion turned out to be Team PokerStars Pro Vicky Coren Mitchell, not A.N.Other (Somewhere, Season X). I’m sure there would be something good to say about any player’s second EPT title, but Vicky’s win feels special.

Vicky Coren Mitchell - EPT win 2.jpg

Poker involves such a mix of skill, luck and people, but it feels like Vicky’s win emphasised the people side of the game. From the reactions of other players at the final table to Vicky’s enthusiastic Twitter rail, and from press room cynics finding themselves touched to Lee Jones talking about her poker grace. This was a poker moment of warmth in a game that can occasionally feel dominated by cold hard cash.

It even got me wondering if it might not be a big game changer.

The following ‘what if’s’ are pure fantasy, but I’m not going to apologise for getting excited. Vicky’s win inspired me to some happy dreams, as PokerStars Women celebrates her success by imagining a new poker era.

What if … poker isn’t all about pros?
Vicky’s quandary about whether she was “a professional writer who plays poker as a hobby? Or a professional poker player who writes as a hobby?” was an interesting one. My take on this is that it’s great to be skilled at poker, but better to have a non-poker life, too.

Vicky won her second title wearing a purple floral dress, a far cry from the usual uniform of hoodie and shades. She is not your regular poker pro; she is a talented, funny woman, who happens to be great at poker, too.

Maybe she will inspire fellow players to write, or take up gardening and country walks, or even go clothes shopping?

There is clearly a life outside the business of chips and cards, but few players in the poker world demonstrate it quite so well as Vicky. She proves that you can win big, but that doesn’t need to come at the expense of having a well-rounded personality, charm and style.

What if … poker is pure entertainment?
EPT poker is watched by thousands, but Vicky’s final table enthused a new audience. She is a TV personality and writer who brought fans from both those worlds to EPT Live. I like to think the people who watch Only Connect enjoyed her poker performance as much as her TV show. Perhaps the BBC should commission a new poker quiz show called Only Suited Connectors?

What if … poker is fun?
I hope many of Vicky’s 250,000 Twitter fans realised poker is different from the game they expected. Vicky looked relaxed at the table; there was wine, there was chat, there were even hugs – all this in a grand old card room at a seaside resort in Italy.

I’m going to dream of a poker future that offers some of this world to ordinary players. Maybe in the distant future, the EPT is sponsored by and visits 179 stops at holiday resorts throughout Europe. Maybe tourney buy-ins start at the price of a cinema ticket. Maybe Delicious Doughnuts sponsors the trophies, and every champion gets a delicious spade-shaped doughnut with a strawberry jam star in the middle?!

I know Vicky won €476,100, and there were no doughnuts at the table. But my point is that it would be a mistake to raise the expectations of new fans who try poker. They won’t win thousands overnight, but we can show them how to have a good time playing. There will always be the satisfaction of a good play, banter at the table, and the joy of a win.

Vicky Coren Mitchell - EPT win.jpg

What if … poker is for women?
The media quickly noted that this first two-time EPT champion was female. Some of them seemed to notice it faster than they’d figured out what the letters EPT stood for. Vicky spoke to BBC Women’s Hour about women in the game and mentioned that few women manage to give up nine hours of their day to play a poker tournament, or even nine hours of their day to do anything for themselves! She also discussed the difficulties for women managing poker when they have a family.

So in my perfect poker future, I’m going to imagine a couple of plucky mums inspired to open a poker crèche. They set up a babysitting rota so their kids are happy while they learn to play. And there are Poker Coffee Clubs, pleasant places with coffee and cake and a small set fee for poker with prizes. There is no money risk and no problem with playing a short while, just a load of happy women at the tables. I’m also going to imagine some women inspired by Vicky’s wins and her lifetime earnings of $2,406,126. I’m going to see them get bullish about ‘me time’ and dedicated to making their poker passion pay.

What if … poker smiles are encouraged?
Vicky also discussed how she doesn’t do a ‘poker face’. She finds it easier to chat and can still disguise her hands.

So in my poker future, ‘poker personality’ becomes the hot new strategy. Serious young guys with unmoving face muscles have to find poker coaches to teach them Vicky’s style. This new technique is called ‘the smile.’ In my poker utopia, no one gets a sponsorship deal until they master the smile. Top players of the future need to learn about odds, bank roll management, and being nice to other people at the table.

Could poker really be like this?
This is obviously all an imagined world. Poker is a serious game where money matters, and Vicky’s win was nice, but that doughnut thing is never going to happen.

A decade ago, I learned to play poker when I saw Vicky on Late Night Poker. It was serious but the competitors chatted like friends. I went from thinking, “That looks fun,” to assembling some interested buddies and learning the rules. Our home game was full of smiles and chatter, the stakes were low enough not to hurt but still nice enough to win, and it was a game I was comfortable inviting female friends to play. Maybe poker plays out like this in home games everywhere? But it’s rarely the face of the game we show the world.

Even though Vicky’s win was about her skill and talent, and her amazing achievement as a double champion, it was also an EPT final table that reminded me of my home game and the friendlier face of poker.

“She’s a sweetheart,” Jordan Westmorland said, when Vicky beat him at the EPT Sanremo final table. “If I could lose to anyone, it would be her.”

Vicky’s win was historic because no one had won two EPT’s before, but it might also be significant because it showed poker in a good light.

Does it represent the truth of poker? I don’t know. Will it help establish a new poker world? Well, I can always dream.

Joanne Bartley is the PokerStars Women Manager.


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