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21/01/2008 No. 57
he Guardian G2 Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Monday Jan 21, 2008

A gripping spat has broken out on the internet between the playwright Patrick Marber and the journalist Grub Smith. A wonderful new production of Marber's Dealer's Choice is showing at Trafalgar Studios in London, and Smith wrote a critical blog questioning the authenticity of its poker scenes. He argued that no action player would fold a set (as happens in this play); and that when a character moves all-in on the turn and shows two cards for no pair and a flush draw, it's a technical impossibility to then make a full house on the river.


Two factors make this blog especially riveting. The first is Smith's open admission that he has resented Marber for years because the playwright once dated a girl with whom Smith was in love. The second is that Marber actually hits back with a series of replies, first dismissing the date as an innocent cup of tea, then pointing out (far more entertainingly, to the keen poker player) that the "unbelievable fold" is actually a revealing tactical move, and that it's easy for a flush draw to become a full house on the river if you are, like these characters, playing Omaha.

Leaving aside the juicy love triangle, and the well-defended accuracy of the hands, the real truth of Dealer's Choice runs much deeper than technicalities anyway. First staged in 1995, it returns to a world where poker has exploded: magazines and TV rush to show us the internet millionaires, the teenage success stories and the Ferrari lifestyles. This play deals with hopeful, hopeless, desperate men, scrabbling pitifully for £100 and the pride that might come with it. "Inauthenticity" is quite the wrong accusation to make; in our current fever of gambling fantasy, I'd say Dealer's Choice is a cool and curative glass of realism.

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