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Sunday, 20 March 2011

For Richer, For Poorer Confessions of a Player -
Victoria Coren

Victoria Coren’s obsession with poker started when she was a teenager. We’re talking old school poker here. Seedy, smoky backrooms with men called “Slim”, “the Kid” or “the Greek”. The days before maths drop-outs and Scandinavian game theorists could make a million dollars online without leaving their bedrooms. Touring America in her gap year with a friend, Coren visited Las Vegas intending to stay two days. She played poker and stayed 12. Hardly typical behaviour for a middle class, privately educated schoolgirl about to go up to Oxford.

In For Richer, For Poorer Confessions of a Player, Coren engagingly charts her progress from losing her pocket money in cash games with her brother and his friends to the final table at the main event of the European Poker Tour in 2006, which carried a top prize of $1m. Interwoven with this journey are tales of legendary poker players and the story of her life.

Coren writes with moving candour about her gambling habits, failed love affairs and depression. She is also very funny, especially when describing some of the card room characters she meets and what it is like to be a young, single woman in a man’s world. Coren tells of being greeted once by Dave “Devilfish” Ulliot. Staring at her chest, he says: “There’s a couple of things I wanna talk to you about."

The best passages are the ones about her family and particularly her father –former Punch editor Alan Coren - which are tender and poignant.

In this entertaining and insightful book, Coren also answers her own question: is she happy she’s put poker ahead of a finding a husband and having children? She is. Poker, it seems, is about friendship, being true to yourself and belonging. Coren concludes: “I just want to keep playing, keep playing, keep playing."