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21/05/2007 No. 26
he Guardian G2 Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Monday May 21, 2007

There have always been characters in poker, but I suspect they've never been so self-aware. These days, you see Kenna James (a delightful pro player from urban Chicago) wearing a stetson and calling himself "the Cowboy". You see Phil Hellmuth announcing, "I whine too much when I lose - that's me, the Poker Brat", as if this role were set in stone. Even Andy Black, the great Irish player who once spent some time at a private retreat, is now called "the Monk" and interviewed constantly about the sexy combination of Buddhism and gambling.

You can literally see these things every Tuesday night at 11.50pm, on Premier League Poker (Channel 4). The Cowboy, the Brat and the Monk are among 12 players who will wage regular battle over an entire series, with the emphasis firmly on personality, needle, history and banter.

This has come in for some advance stick on the internet, where a few players are nervous about television's obsession with the "entertainment factor". But deliberate self-characterising is not restricted to TV; it is almost universal in poker now. People choose screen names and pictorial icons before playing online, earnestly debating whether to be ScaryWildGuy (picture of bloody fangs) or BaseballFan (picture of the kids).

Personally, I find that it can add a layer of colour without detracting from the cards. I'm always laughing at creative screen names. And preview tapes of the new show (aside from traditional whinges about my own best hands being edited out, blah blah) had me gripped. Sure, it's camp - all fireworks and flirting - but my jaded poker palate was truly tickled. And sure, on screen or off, sometimes you just want a straightforward poker diet. This show is a treacle pudding, 1,000 calories a slice, but somehow I can always find room for those as well.

Your can read more from Anthony Holden at his website

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