Vicky Coren on her EPT Heads-Up win and more

May 07, 2012

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You could say Team Pro Victoria Coren had a good trip to Monaco. She began the Monte-Carlo®Casino EPT Grand Final with an historic win in the €5,000 Heads-Up tournament over specialist Melanie Weisner. A few days later, Coren was heads-up yet again, this time for the PokerStars Women Grand Final title. Although Spanish pro Leo Margets prevailed, Coren impressed and amused by live multi-tabling the final table of the Women’s Event with the concurrent tournament of champions, a freeroll she qualified for from winning the 2006 EPT Main Event in London.

In this interview, Vicky talks to PokerStars Women about why Melanie Weisner reminds her of herself, changing her mind on women’s events and how she plans to spend the €60,000 she pocketed with her heads-up title.

PokerStars Women (PSW)- Congrats on your EPT Heads-Up Grand Final title! You ended up playing HU specialist Melanie Weisner in the final. What was that match like?

Victoria Coren (VC)- It was really fun with Melanie. I was slightly embarrassed that at one point on the PokerStars blog they ran up a thing going “Oh Vicky and Melanie are talking about boys, and love and what’s the right age to get married.” I was like, “Brilliant, we’ve been playing for four-and-a-half hours and someone walked by at just the bit when we were talking about that kind of thing. And people will be rolling their eyes saying “For heaven’s sake–women in any context . . . Maybe in a women’s boxing match . . . they say in between blows ‘Do you have trouble with commitment?’, ‘I have trouble with commitment.'”

We genuinely did talk about love during a very tough match. It would have really freaked me out earlier in my poker career to try to maintain that level of interesting concentration with that difficult of a game.

PSW- Tell us about one of the most interesting hands against Melanie.

VC- There were a few. There was one where I almost felt sympathy for her. It was her button, she raised pre-flop, I called with Q♥10♥. The flop came with two hearts. I check-raised, she called and the turn brought the flush. She only had 4500 and I bet 4000. She reminded me of myself when she talked about the agony she was in. She told me she had a pair of queens and knew I either just turned a flush or I didn’t have anything. I loved that Melanie was doing that because I’ll do the same thing. I’ll do it either as a sign of respect for my opponent or to get a tell from them. I genuinely felt sympathetic for her in that situation–there’s no way of knowing, you’re just tossing a coin. You’re either throwing away the huge hand you’ve been dealt as it’s not easy to get queens heads-up, or you’re paying off an exasperating value bet. She did call and that was a turning point in one of the matches. Though we took it in turns to get very low in chips and fight back I remember thinking during that hand “she’s so like I am.”

She is like me in other ways too. She’s in poker because she’s competitive and stubborn and very bright and funny. (I’m not saying I am) but I recognize her way of dealing with the world. She’s flirty, combative, difficult and likeable, and doesn’t like to be pushed around. She plays aggressively, almost to make a point about the World. And in that hand, watching her with queens and not sure what to do, was like looking in a mirror.


PSW- So how cool was it that two women ended up heads-up in a mixed field event, especially in a game type that’s particularly associated with poker skill?

VC- Poker players are obsessed with statistics so in addition to thinking about winning my second EPT event and my first live heads-up tournament win, I was musing that it might be the first time in history that a final table in a major mixed event has been all-female. I know there’s only two of us, but with two or with ten, have there ever been any all-female tables where it’s not a women’s event? I don’t think so.

PSW- Looking back, which was your toughest match overall?

VC- I played Annette (Obrestad) who is obviously very aggressive, but not in a way that’s easy to play against. And Melanie, of course is one of the best H-U players there is. She’s brilliant.

A Finnish guy played a style of H-U that I found difficult to play against. He makes very small pots, small raises, even limps the button occasionally. He absolutely won’t put a huge amount of chips in as a big mistake. You’re not going to find him putting in 4000 when you have the nuts. You have to keep concentrating all the time, and outwit him in small pots.

Then I had Dori Yacoub. He’s an older gentleman. He’s the kind of player that I’m grateful that at EPTs, the heads-up tournaments are best of three. It’s not like you play seven or eight hands and figure out “he’s this kind of player,” so it helped that I had more than one match to figure it out.

PSW- How do you describe your own heads-up style?

VC- I try to play in the same style as the Finnish guy. That’s why I found it hard to play against him. I try to play more and smaller hands. That’s effective against players who play very aggressively. But if you play someone who plays in the same way, your brains are constantly churning over these small pots. You can feel like you run a marathon.

PSW- It’s tougher for women to get experience in live heads-up because the tournaments tend to be very expensive, I’m sure in part because of the cost of paying the dealers.

VC- It’s tough for anyone to get experience in live heads-up. In the next season of EPT, season nine, the heads-up tournaments are going to be €1000. Of course I know that’s still very expensive if you’re a recreational player but it’s a lot less than €5,000. Anyway, practicing heads-up on the Internet is perfect. Online poker is for two things: 1.) You can play for any amount you want, and 2.) You can play in your pajamas drinking a martini. And this is something I know women appreciate. Get the practice in and the heads-up games you play live will not be as tough as the heads-up you play online.

PSW- You wrote an article about a year ago on your change of heart about Women’s Events. How did that come about?

VC- I’m definitely still of two minds about women’s events. Right at the beginning, when I was a novice player, I loved them. In 2001 I went to Vegas and played the ladies event there–it was a different universe. When the players arrived for the ladies, somebody announced “Let’s have a round of applause for the ladies who are all looking so lovely.” And everyone applauded and we were all given a flower. It was ridiculous but hilarious and I loved it.

Later on as more women came into poker through the Internet, I decided I didn’t like women’s events because I thought it was patronizing to suggest that women needed some sort of handicapped event. My mind was changed by two things. Firstly by a few women writing to me and posting on my blog, “Listen it’s not about thinking we can’t play against men. It’s about the fact that these live tournaments are all male. They said ‘We’re shy. We don’t want to turn up late at night in a room full of men, and have people thinking we’re weird.'” So just for people starting to play live tournaments, women can think of it as a social occasion, a fun way to get started and then play the mixed events later. So I thought “Well, no harm in it, but I won’t play because I don’t need that kind of reassurance, I’m very confident.”

Then I was at the PCA one year, and a Brazilian woman came up to me and said, “Are you insane? Why wouldn’t you play this tournament? Any restricted field you are eligible to play in you should play as it’s bound to be easier.” And a professional player should just think about where they are more likely to win. So I thought, why I didn’t think of that–a dumb obvious thing, I need to get over myself. It’s not just about the politics and the feminism.

So two sides of my brain do battle. When I’m not actually playing, one of the things I do as a writer, as a Team Pro and a commentator, is to encourage women into the game, reassure them not to be scared. So the other side of my brain is thinking “Well after having encouraged all these recreational players to get started, why I don’t sit down and try to take their money?” I’ve played a few since then and thought they were good fun. I played in three and cashed in all three (four after placing 2nd to Leo Margets in the EPT Grand Final Ladies Event).

PSW- That’s a stellar record! I agree that no one should criticize women for playing these events, whether for fun or for value. Besides, the more women who are thinking like you are, the tougher the fields become. At the PCA I had Vanessa Rousso and Ana Marquez to my left. In another I played with Vanessa Selbst and Liv Boeree, and people like Melanie and Xuan always play. You may even find yourself at a tougher table than in an ordinary 1K!

VC- That’s how times change, isn’t it?

PSW- Is it hard for you to find time to write during your poker schedule and keep up with deadlines?

VC- Yes, I have a weird life. I started writing about poker for a Chinese magazine. People who live in Hong Kong are often keen on gambling. I like this idea of a market hungry for poker stories. I was really late with it and was thinking, “How can I write it here, how can I concentrate?” Fortunately, after the heads-up I was so adrenalized by the win that I woke up after four hours sleep. So I found myself sitting out on the balcony at six in the morning, writing this article with another tournament to play at Noon. Probably not the best thing for my game, but good for keeping all the balls in the air.

PSW- So you won €60,000 with the heads-up title. When you have a big score, do you buy something nice for yourself or does it just go into the bankroll?

VC- I generally try to buy something nice, but coincidentally enough the day I won, I had an email from my best friend reminding me that I had to buy a wedding dress, which I keep forgetting about cause I find the idea of a full-length white dress so embarrassing. We were meant to go shopping for one next week, and I told her I was in Monte Carlo. And I thought, “I guess I won this money, it doesn’t have to be a 100 or 200 pound dress from Oxfam. I’m not going to spend €60,000 on a dress, I’m not insane!” But having shouted at my friend that I’m not going to spend a fortune on a dress you wear once and never again, maybe I’ll throw a little more money at the problem.

PSW- Oh yes, congratulations on your engagement (to David Mitchell). Does your fiancé play any poker?

VC- He does not, I am pleased to say. He once played in a charity poker tournament and he found it baffling. It’s kind of perfect; for me it wouldn’t work to marry a poker player. But he’s now at the stage where if he’s sitting next to me watching TV and I’m playing poker, he knows enough to sympathize if I get knocked out of a tournament but not enough to say “If you raised on the flop that may not have happened,” which is just about perfect.


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