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13/10/2006 No. 68
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Friday Oct 13th, 2006
How to play poker
(How to play has been running from issue 16)

Here is my latest discovery about tournament poker: winning makes you better at it. I realised this during the Austrian leg of the European Poker Tour, the first tournament I've played since winning the London leg two weeks ago.

Baden is a pretty little spa town, curiously scented with spices and sulphur, about half an hour from Vienna. I've been once before, for a seasonal minibreak which coincided with the annual Christmas parade. Through the snowy streets tumbled a procession of witches and wolves, dancers and jugglers, giants and trolls. But when I went back this week, the town was far weirder: this time it was full of poker players.
The sight of these beady gamblers roaming through town (the sort of town that sells coloured wooden fruits, tiny marzipan churches and napkins printed with Mozart concertos) alarmed the residents more than any number of wolves or trolls. And witches' spells are nothing compared with those of a certain Scandinavian player at the casino, who, noticing the presence of a roulette table next to a free bar, managed to transform €4,000 into €750,000 and then back into no euros at all. Now that's what I call magic.

When it came to the tournament, I played with a confidence I have only understood in theory before. You need the courage of your convictions to call with marginal hands when you think you're in front, or re-raise with no hand when you sense weakness. It can be hard to silence the voice in your head that whispers: "What if I'm wrong?" But having been right once, I find, the voice seems to silence itself.

Here is an example. With 50 players left of the original 330, I raised on the button with a pair of 10s. The big blind re-raised. But I could have raised on the button with anything. Therefore he could have re-raised with any ace, small pair, or no hand at all. In the past, I would have been fearful of the gamble and weakly passed my 10s. With my new-found confidence, I raised him back all in and felt very proud of this strong play.

Unfortunately, he had a pair of queens, and that was the end of my tournament. Marvellous.

So, what is the moral of this story? That self-belief is crucial, and self- importance pointless. It is a subtle distinction. You need to be confident in your instincts, but humble about the luck factor. I believe I made the right play with 10s in that spot, and I made it because of my hard-earned courage from the London event. At the same time, I can look back and remember: on those magical days in London, my opponent simply would not have had queens. Or if he did, I would have hit a 10.


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