Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Victoria’s Secrets

Victoria CorenThe latest Wise Hand Poker podcast (the 1/14/09 episode) contains three interviews. Wise starts out talking to 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event champ Peter Eastgate, and concludes with a conversation with Jeffrey Haas, president of the Asian Pacific Poker Tour.

Those two interviews are fine, but the one I especially want to recommend is the middle one with British poker player, writer, and PokerStars Team pro Victoria Coren. The Coren interview begins at about the 27:00-mark and lasts about a half-hour. Definitely worth checking out if yr curious to hear an insightful, articulate, and interesting observer commenting on all things poker. To share a few highlights....

During the first part of the interview, Coren discusses her poker-playing background, including winning the 2006 EPT London Main Event. That was the first televised final table ever won by a woman, and so Wise asks her a bit about the significance of that achievement.

Coren immediately responds with what I thought was a very provocative comment about men, women, tournaments, and cash games. Coren says that she, like many others, had previously found herself “falling into the trap of believing that women are more natural cash game players than tournament players. You know, [the idea that] in cash games where there’s virtue in patience and perception and guile, women were better suited to it, than [to] the aggressive, blustery nature of a tournament.”

Coren’s victory at the EPT London helped her see through this notion, realizing there wasn’t anything particularly “natural” about women being better suited to cash games than to tourneys. (“It proved to me that was a load of old hogwash,” as she puts it.)

Victoria CorenPerhaps an obvious dichotomy to some -- this suggestion that we might theoretically “gender” tournaments and cash games this way -- but one I can’t say I had necessarily thought about all that much before. Since I spend about 95% of my poker time at the cash tables, I don’t generally spend much effort contemplating all that deeply the differences between cash games and tourneys (though I certainly immediately recognize ’em whenever I do decide to take a seat at a MTT).

That issue of the relative “competitiveness” or “aggression” of men and women at the poker table emerges as a kind of theme in the book Women’s Poker Night (2007), edited by Maryann Morrison. I reviewed that book here a while back, if you’re curious. As it happens, several of the essays in that collection deal in one way or another with the notion that “there’s a killer instinct women don’t naturally have” (as one contributor, Raparata Mazzola, quotes pro Kristy Gazes saying).

Interestingly, in the interview Coren goes on to talk about her own game and explicitly notes how despite her tournament success she still believes she lacks the “killer instinct” at times, and in fact recognizes that as a weakness in her game. But it is a weakness with which she is willing to live.

“For me, it’s a balance,” says Coren. “I want to beat the game, I want to be successful, I want to win, but I want to do it while still being able to sleep at night and look myself in the mirror with pride. And I’m aware that it’s a cruel game with a lot of hard edges, but I think I can find my way through it doing things that are morally acceptable to me while still winning.”

There’s more of value in the interview, including some thoughts from Coren about “poker writing” (and some of the great poker narratives), as well as a comparison or two between poker playing and writing (of special interest to yr humble gumshoe, for sure).

'Once More With Feeling' by Victoria Coren and Charlie Skelton (2002)Coren is at work on a poker narrative herself. I would expect it to be a good one, given her writing background. She currently has regular columns in both The Observer and The Guardian, and she’s also already authored or co-authored four books, including one detailing her experiences trying to produce a porn movie, titled Once More With Feeling (2002). (Was a little surprised Wise didn’t ask her about that, though I suppose he was being tactful.) If yr interested in that, or anything else about Coren, you can find out more on Coren’s website.

Meanwhile, if yr wanting to hear some thoughtful commentary about men, women, writing, and poker, check out that interview.

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