I come here not to praise Victoria Coren’s poker skills. In recent days and in those coming, plenty of ink has been, and will be spilled on that subject. Indeed, her skill at the game is settled fact.
I am not here to proclaim the advent of a new dawn of women in poker. Vicky Coren has been a powerful force in poker for years; you will recall that she won her first EPT title (god, it feels good to write that) in 2006.
In fact, I am here to talk about a quality which gets little enough coverage anywhere, and precious little in the poker press: grace. I don’t mean the physical grace of a ballet dancer, but the uncanny knack of doing and saying exactly the right thing at the right time, no matter the circumstances. The ability to reach beyond yourself and put people at ease in difficult situations.
Victoria Coren put that on display… ah, I said that wrong. The point of grace is that it’s not on display. It’s simply what you do in the moment that, when seen in review, feels exactly right. On, April 20th, 2014, Victoria Coren exuded grace in its truest form.
Watch the replay of the EPT Sanremo final table, at hour 8:10. The hand itself has become legendary, but in many respects was just yet another “cooler” for which poker is famous. Chip leader Jordan Westmorland (holding queen-ten) and Vicky (holding a dominating ace-ten) got into a 3-bet pot preflop. The flop came ten-ten-deuce and poker players around the world held their breath. The almost certain outcome of the hand was that all the chips would go in and Vicky would win a massive pot, becoming the prohibitive chip leader.
As the hand played out, Vicky bet on the river (which had left her still in the lead) and Jordan pushed all-in (as we all expected). Vicky took a while to review the hand before calling. This was for her tournament life and she needed to think it through before making the call. But she did make the call and when the cards were turned up, it became clear that she had been winning throughout.
Realize that at the moment Vicky saw Jordan’s hand, she knew that she had just become a huge chip leader, crippled him, and was now well-poised to win the event. Many players would have leapt into the air, run to the rail to high-five their supporters, or any number of generally accepted forms of celebration.
The first thing that Victoria Coren did was apologize to Jordan Westmorland.
She felt bad that she had taken so long (it was actually just 43 seconds) to make the all-in call on the river, and feared that it looked like a slow-roll (arguably the worst possible breach of poker etiquette). Jordan very graciously (there’s that word again) said, “Hey, that’s poker”. And what could have been a difficult and awkward moment became one of understanding and mutual respect.
Now fast forward to hour 9:17 of the same video. Jordan Westmorland did indeed bust out in third place and it was down to Vicky and Giacomo Fundaro. In another cooler, Vicky flopped two pair against Fundaro’s aces and won the pot, eliminating him and winning the title. She had just won almost half a million Euros and become the first person ever to win two EPT main event titles. Watch the videos of previous winners (there is no previous two-time winner to watch) – you will see people running around the stage with joy, diving into the arms of their supporters, and so on. Now watch here as Vicky, seemingly stunned at the win, gets up and (with some difficulty) walks over to Giacomo. There is a quick embrace, but she pulls him back for a proper hug. That, my friends, was an acknowledgment from one poker player to another of the conclusion of an epic competition – an understanding that just a different card in one or two places could have made him the champion.
Joe Stapleton, on the EPT Live webcast, said in those first astonishing moments, “I cannot think of a better ambassador for the game.” And on Easter Sunday, poker fans of every faith, the world over, replied, “Amen.”
Vicky Coren is probably not the best poker player in the world. But there is an ineffable quality to Victoria Coren – I will call it “grace” – that makes you think, “I am delighted to have this woman be the face of poker.”
Lee Jones is the Head of Poker Communications at PokerStars. He first joined PokerStars in 2003 and has been involved in the professional poker world for over 25 years. You can read his occasional tweets at @leehjones.