The recent spate of poker literature has not been particularly noteworthy, to be kind. There are only so many times a player can read about how to play pocket Jacks or suited connectors, especially when the final analysis of many writing endeavors is that old poker axiom, “it depends.” A recent book that has been re-released in paperback not only rekindled my love of poker books, but also of the game itself.
British poker player and writer Victoria Coren’s “For Richer, For Poorer” was originally released in 2009 and, in March, came out to bookstores and Amazon.com in paperback form. The new paperback version has been subtitled “Confessions Of A Player,” but that phrase does a disservice to the original tome. It’s original subtitle, “A Love Affair With Poker,” is a much more apt description of what you will find between the covers.
Over the span of 339 pages, Coren details out what has become, for her, a life long relationship with not only the game itself but the people who populate it. After being exposed to gambling (through blackjack) by her grandfather Sam, the teenage Victoria further succumbs to the siren’s wail of poker after overhearing the enjoyment her brother, Giles, and his friends are having with the game. “Don’t want to study Shakespeare,” Victoria frustratingly writes in the first chapter of the book. “Clink-burble-clatter go the chips and the drinks in the other room. The smoke floats and the boys laugh. I want to be there.”
Coren painstakingly details out how the game became a part of her life and, in a sort of symbiotic relationship, how her life became part of poker. She didn’t immediately jump into the biggest games in London; as a young woman who just completed college, Victoria lacks the bankroll – and perhaps the knowledge – to bring herself to play the game she loves. Gradually, however, her inhibitions fade and she enters into “the rabbit hole,” as she is fond of citing the British author Lewis Carroll’s works as a blueprint for her life.
Throughout the entirety of “For Richer, For Poorer,” the theme that Victoria presents is that, for some, the world of poker can become an extended family. Although she is quite close to her parents and brother, the denizens of “The Vic” (the Victoria Casino in London) and those in the European poker scene become a familial base for her and her travels through the world of poker. As Coren’s immersion into poker becomes more of a part of her life, these familial touchstones – both blood and poker room – expand her borders and, in turn, expand her abilities at the tables.
Like most of us involved in poker and over the age of thirty, Coren is able to say she has had a ring-side seat for the entirety of the history of poker at the end of the 20th century and its beginnings in the 21st. From its seedy side, with Texas road gamblers, thieves and grifters that initially drew Victoria to the game, to the birth of the internet version of poker, to the corporate version of poker that exists today, she writes about the changes with an unblinking eye. But perhaps the best thing about “For Richer, For Poorer” is the passion that Coren puts into the endeavor.
The book could have been a simple toss off by such a talented writer as Coren, whose background in journalism would allow her to write a mundane essay and simply go for the money. Victoria, however, puts tremendous passion into each page that is written, allowing the reader to experience the joys – and pains – that have been a part of her life and her journey. At many points, you can viscerally feel the same emotions that she is experiencing during her life’s events, be they major or minor.
For those looking for a routine “how to play” book, Coren will not offer anything of the sort. Although each chapter ends with descriptions of some hands she played during her run to the European Poker Tour London championship in 2006 (on her stomping grounds of the Vic, nonetheless) and her thoughts behind them, Victoria is looking to give the reader more than a poker manual. She is attempting to give to poker readers a gift: the reasons behind why we play, why the game is as important to us, why poker has become such an integral part of many peoples’ lives.
For those who have racks of poker books on their shelves, Victoria Coren’s “For Richer, For Poorer” will rekindle dormant passions for the game itself. The richness of the book, through Victoria’s thoughts and stories, will awaken the reader and potentially remind them of why they started playing the game. For newcomers, the book serves as an excellent history lesson and could even provide a “how to” guide for entering into poker’s version of “Alice In Wonderland.” Overall, “For Richer, For Poorer” is one of the most underrated poker books on the market and deserving of a prime spot in a poker player’s library.
By EARL BURTON