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04/11/2001 No.3
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren writes the Guardian Poker Column
Email : TheEditor on any subject.
When the chips are down

Getting stitched up by a TV documentary is rather like winning the Lottery. Not in the sense of immediately buying 10 Ferraris and driving them drunkenly through Hertfordshire; just that you naturally assume it happens to other people.

This time last year, The Catman (a friendly chap who runs a lapdancing club) was organising a poker tournament in aid of a breast cancer charity. Catman was in the middle of being filmed for a Channel 4 documentary, and he warned players that Agnieska Piotrowska (the director and camerawoman) might be around with her camera. Fair enough. I played his tournament, failed to win the prize (a motorbike), barely even met Piotrowska, went home and thought no more about it. No problem.

So what I didn't expect, while having a curious look at a preview tape of the documentary several months later, was to see my face on screen accompanied by the drawling voiceover: 'There are a couple of women here. They are pretty good players, no doubt trained by their men, but of course they don't stand a chance.'

'No doubt trained by their men'? No doubt? I've been playing poker since I was 15, my dear Agnieska. I've taken money off more men than you've interviewed badly from behind the lens of your little DV hand-held. I dated one player for about four months: lovely chap, but the main thing he taught me was how to get a good price reduction at the picture framer's in Hendon. 'Always raise in late position with a J-10 suited' is not exactly pillow talk.

The programme didn't bode well from the start. The opening words, spoken by Agnieska (imagine a laconic Polish accent) are: 'As you sit down to watch this, all over the world people are playing poker. Let me rephrase that: men are playing poker. Whatever anybody else tries to tell you, I promise: this is the last bastion of male dominance. Women are just crap at poker.'

And this elegantly phrased dismissal of female poker players is based on what? Two months following a couple of blokes round the circuit? You're so poker-savvy that you're seen approaching the great Jac Arama at the Moscow Tournament final table and asking 'How are you getting on?', thus forcing him to reply 'Well, I'm in the final. That helps.'

And who is this 'anybody else' who might 'try' to offer a different view? Annie Duke? Nani Dollison? Cindy Violette? Do you even know who these people are, Agnieska? They are the international female poker stars whom I recommend you avoid meeting down a dark alley once this programme's gone out. The most annoying thing is, I can just imagine your tough-jawed Polish face if anybody said 'Women are just crap at making documentaries.'

Quite when the programme is going out, I don't know. Channel 4 say it might be in the new series of Cutting Edge (just starting), or it may just go out by itself. When it does, there will be more people than me angry about misrepresentation.

Catman is seen at one stage crying over the poker table, with the voiceover: 'Why Catman is upset remains a mystery.' It's not a mystery. In the middle of this nerve-racking tournament, in front of everybody, Agnieska accused Catman of bribing fellow players. This is a serious, false allegation, and Catman is an emotional guy who has lost both his parents in the past few months. Calling his tears 'a mystery' is staggeringly imperceptive, at best.

Probably the latter, since Agnieska also informs us: 'You can sit around a poker table with the same players for 20 years and never learn a thing about them.' Again not true, so let me translate that risible statement: 'You can follow poker players around with a camera for several months and never learn a thing about them.'

Do try to laugh off Poker Club if you see it, because poker is a great game full of great characters and this show is an unfortunate failure to capture it, wallpapered over with some baseless ex cathedra statements. At one point, Jac Arama tells Agnieska about his victory in the Paris tournament, which took him 10 hours. She replies: 'You see Jac, I would rather do something else with my 10 hours.'

Is that right, Agnieska? Well, sod off and do it then.