There may be pressure bearing down on Vicky Coren Mitchell from her sponsors PokerStars – that’s us – to win today’s EPT Sanremo Main Event and become the first two-time European Poker Tour champion, but if there is she’s not showing it. There may be an expectation from her 231,000 Twitter followers to spin her 18 big blinds from an eighth-place start into a trophy-lifting win, but that doesn’t seem to be weighing her down, either.
The Team PokerStars Pro came into the day with the shortest stack of the final eight: 910,000 tournament chips won over five days of poker. Each of the 556 players that entered this EPT Samremo Main Event started with 30,000 chips having paid €4,900 to play, now just seven players remain following the elimination of Frenchman Emmanuel Perisat, who collects €53,000. This is tournament poker. You can’t cash out until you bust out.
If you managed to make the final 79 in this tournament then you would be guaranteed €8,434 back, good for a profit of more than €3,500 (or an even greater return on investment if you qualified online at PokerStars for a considerably smaller amount, which today’s chip leader Jordan Westmorland did). Coren Mitchell is now guaranteed a minimum return of €76,650, but could walk away with as much as €476,100. Yes, almost half-a-million euros. And not for the first time.
Real poker talent
Coren Mitchell, who is a lot better known in the UK for her work as a journalist, panellist and TV presenter, has long been a fan and proponent of the game. She won EPT London back in 2006 for £500,000, but that’s just one of three tournament cashes that has paid her a six-figure score (as measured in dollars, the de facto unit of choice for poker players). She currently sits 35th on the England all-time money list and 10th in terms of female players worldwide. She’ll move up both ladders by the day’s end. Put it this way, she’s not a celebrity player, she’s a player who just happens to be a celebrity.
While today’s as-live webcast started broadcasting as 1pm CET on a one-hour delay, the players were actually required to arrive at 11.30am local time. Photos needed to be taken, interviews had to be recorded, and most importantly, breathing space for late arrivals had to be built. Poker players are frequently smart, edgy, funny, but punctuality doesn’t tend to be one of their strong points.
Coren Mitchell was pulled to one side for interview by the TV crew, but I managed to grab her for a few minutes before the final table kicked off.
Yesterday afternoon, Coren Mitchell had found herself to be one of the shorter stacks, thanks to a dry run of cards and rising blinds. (The forced ‘blind bets’ increase every 90 minutes to keep pressure on the remaining players.) She successfully pulled herself out of a downwards trajectory by picking on Mestre, a well-known Spanish player who was raising liberally. Bluffing or not, Coren Mitchell forced a number of folds from Mestre allowing her to drag in several key pots uncontested. Yesterday’s webcast, unlike today’s, did not reveal either players’ cards. Was she bluffing or did she have premium hands?
“One obviously has to be very careful before a final about other players knowing what your strategy might be,” said Coren, “but the way I may play against Raul doesn’t reflect the way that I would play against these other players. One of my disadvantages going into the final is that I haven’t played that much against some of the people in the final.”
Fewer players, larger stakes
As a tournament field condenses players get squeezed onto an ever-decreasing number of tables, each with as many as nine players at each. The way the random daily seat draw takes place can mean that you end up playing with one person for several days or that you play your first hand against someone else for the first time at the final table. Coming into today, each player will have mixed experiences of each of their opponents. It’s one of the many factors that makes the game so fascinating. The player that you might think is a lunatic might be pegged as a great player by someone else and then the way they play them could affect the way that you have to play them. It’s circles within circles, levels upon levels.
“Do I have enough chips to watch them for as long as I’d like to watch them before deciding what I want to do?” said Coren Mitchell. “Raul, I know. We’ve got history and played in a final before. I think that the first time he made a final I was the TV commentator so I know his style and know when I was coming over the top of his three-bets I was not expecting him to call, except when I had ace-queen and I sensed that he’d got the hang of what I was doing and was waiting to trap me. On that occasion I probably wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t have a strong hand.”
As it so happened, Mestre also held ace-queen and the pot was chopped, but she’d done more than enough already to make it through. Other talented players, including Mestre, weren’t so fortunate.
The power of positive pessimism
When someone’s in the public eye, as Coren Mitchell and her husband David Mitchell are, there’s often an assumption that they’re multi-multi-multi-millionaires and that just €50,000 would be a trifling amount. That’s really not the case.
“First of all, my current thinking is that I’ve already won €53,000 and that’s an enormous amount of money. I’ll be very excited to get that,” said Coren. “Obviously €450,000 is an insane amount and that’s when you start dreaming of other things that you could do in your life, but I don’t tend to think about the money during the tournament.
“When I won EPT London in 2006, and that was £500,000, about a $1,000,000, after I won it I was hugging the trophy like it was a newborn baby and drinking champagne with my friends in the Vic (London Victoria Grosvenor Casino), and calling my parents and crying with happiness. When I left, I forgot to take the money, I just forgot about it. The next morning, I thought, ‘Hang on, there’s £500,000. I must go back and get that.” Obviously a couple of days later my head was spinning with how much money it was, but at the time I was only thinking about the hands.”
It would be understandable to assume that it easier for Coren Mitchell to disassociate herself from the pressure of becoming the first two-time champion, here in Sanremo for the 98th EPT, because poker isn’t her only passion in life, or in fact income. She doesn’t feel much pressure, although plenty of other players in the past have said that they have, but it’s nothing to do with what else is going on in her life. It’s thanks to a typically British form of positive pessimism, a make-the-best of it attitude that normally comes with a cup of tea and a biscuit or two to dunk.
“It’s to do with my view of the world. I’m a natural pessimist,” said Coren. “I get this from my grandfather who used to say that a pessimist is never disappointed. My approach to all things is I’m grateful for anything that I can get. If I have the worst day where I’ve lost a poker tournament and haven’t finished an article and been dumped by a boyfriend and have got a cold, I think I’m delighted that I haven’t got a broken leg. That is just my world view.
“I began this tournament thinking I’m very happy to come to this beautiful place in the sunshine by the sea when everyone else’s job involves horrible grinding work in an office or factory. I’m grateful just to be here. I’m grateful to have a good run. I’m grateful to cash. At this point I’m really happy to be in the final. Obviously I’d love to the be the first two-time winner, but I’d love to win every tournament that I play. I find that looking for the best possible outcome in everything that you do isn’t the route to happiness. Being grateful for what there is works for me.”
There are few players on the tour, or anywhere in the world, that have as large a profile as Coren Mitchell, and certainly none that span the spectrum of poker knowledge as widely. It would be fair to assume that the vast majority of Coren Mitchell’s followers don’t know much about the game, and this is often reflected in her Tweets, which often are delivered two-tone: one resplendent with poker lingo, one in layman’s terms. She’s been enjoying support from both ends of that polarised range.
“I’ve been incredibly touched by all the messages that I’ve had,” said Coren Mitchell. “There was one lady who doesn’t really understand poker at all and was at home making hot cross buns for Easter and found herself inexplicably excited. I was blown away by that. People in Australia saying that they were setting their alarm for 5am and obviously I’ve incredibly touched by fellow EPT champions wishing me luck.
“I would say they’re probably conflicted because I’m sure they feel, just like me if the situation was reversed, they would rather I didn’t win because they can’t be the first two-time champion. I am not expecting that if those people had a magic wand that they cause me to win, but that’s just poker. It’s natural to feel that. Alongside that, we’re all friends, we all get along and I’d be happy for them to do well, as I hope they’d be happy for me to do well. The messages are incredibly kind and probably mean more to me than the money.”
Final table payouts (so far)
7. Andrija Martic, Croatia, €76,650
8. Emmanuel Pariset, France, €53,100
Victoria Coren Mitchell is a member of Team PokerStars Pro.
Click through to live updates, features and interviews from the Click through to live updates, features and interviews from the EPT Sanremo Main Event and the EPT Sanremo High Roller. You can also check out all EPT Sanremo side event results here.
Rick Dacey is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.