Donald MacInnes: Victoria saved me from puggies and penury

In The Red

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The Independent Online

During my final year at college, I developed a habit of playing pub fruit machines. Or "puggies", as they are called back home.

For three months in my senior year, I spent every lunchtime throwing coins into whichever flashing, bleeping box was nearest to the campus. Thankfully, even though I lost a few hundred quid, something pulled me back before I fell over the edge into the abyss of hardcore penury. Maybe it was Presbyterian guilt.

This close shave coloured my lack of financial derring-do in the years to come. In fact, the only form of gambling which ever came close to seducing me was poker. And again I was pulled back from a potentially damaging fondness for the cards and the green beize by an external force: this time she was a celebrity.

Back in 2001, I wrote freelance features for a magazine called Mondo. One day, the editor called me in and said I was to go to Puerto Banus in Spain to play in a poker tournament on some tycoon's yacht. "But I don't play poker," I said. He snorted. "You'll do fine. We'll give you a few quid to bet with."

I thus found myself on said vessel, sitting terrified at a poker table with some of the top professional players in the world. To my right was Victoria Coren, then a simple journalist and aspiring card sharp; now obviously far more famous for hosting BBC Four's Only Connect and double-barrelling her name to Coren-Mitchell after marrying the Would I Lie To You star. David, or something, I think his name is.

Truth be told, I had a big crush on Victoria back then and, as the first hand was being dealt, I was determined to impress her with my skills. Not having a clue what I was doing, all I could do was go Joe Hollywood, so after examining my cards, I bet my entire pile of chips on a full house – not a bad hand.

With a flicker of a smile, Coren laid down a straight flush, blowing me clean out of the water and the game.

I crawled back to London, having lost both my chance with Victoria and all of the money I had been advanced for the game. Well, at least any lingering desire to gamble my life away had been quelled.

For that, I thank you, Victoria. Pity we didn't connect. Although I'm happy for your success.

Would I lie to you?

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