The Biggest Game in Town: Victoria Coren, Al Alvarez, Patrick Marber
Chair: Anthony Holden
What is the attraction of poker to writers like Al Alvarez, Patrick Marber and Victoria Coren? Is it the thrill of taking risks? Does it offer them new insights into the human condition? Is there anything particularly Jewish about a love of poker and gambling? In this lively and amusing round table discussion, chaired by fellow writer Anthony Holden, the panellists attempted to get to the bottom of the subtle and not-so-subtle charms of poker.
Al Alvarez is a poet, novelist, critic, anthologist, and author of many highly praised non-fiction books including two on poker, Bets, Bluffs and Bad Beats and The Biggest Game in Town (a new edition of which was launched at this session).
Victoria Coren is a freelance journalist with a weekly column in The Observer newspaper and a monthly column in Esquire magazine. She has written two books, most recently Once More, With Feeling. She spent two years as The Observer's poker columnist and plays at least twice a week.
Patrick Marber's plays include Closer and Dealer's Choice, the latter about a poker game and, in part, an exorcising of gambling demons. Marber is the co-creator of ‘Alan Partridge’ and has written widely for television and radio comedy.
Biographer and broadcaster Anthony Holden, currently music critic of The Observer, is the author of Big Deal: A Year as a Professional Poker Player.
“I think we Jews have a reputation for being interested in money. And I think that’s true to some extent. But I think Jews are very generous people and I think they have a healthy attitude to money which is: It comes, it goes. And I think a gambler is someone with the perfect attitude to money: it’s just stuff to play with. Money and poker, really, it’s just the chips. It’s just the ‘juice’ you use to keep the game alive. So I think there are a lot of poker-playing Jews for those reasons: we like the action; we like the money; but we have a healthy, vainglorious attitude to the money.” [Patrick Marber]
“Definitely there’s a thing that when I go to the card room, where one of the things why I feel so profoundly happy to be there, is it feels a little bit like getting in touch again with the generation that came before, you know, before my parents went to university and learned to speak properly and could ‘pass’. The generation before that that didn’t have any money and were kind of struggling and gambling and hoping that some magic thing would happen and their lives would be transformed.” [Victoria Coren]
“Poker is wonderfully classless, whether in London or anywhere else in Britain or in America or wherever. You can sit down at a table with people you know very well, because you’ve been playing for thirty years like me and Al, or you get down with a bunch of strangers. It’s a completely different game but you’re playing the same game.” [Anthony Holden]
“It’s all one game. It’s going to finish when I fold my hand and go up to the big poker game in the sky. If I go away, the game is going to be there tomorrow or next week or next month, whenever it is I come back. And so I’m having a bad time, get up and leave. You’re not going to get the money back that time, go away. Come back when things are better. That’s the only way to look at it.” [Al Alvarez]
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