Poker room review: Grosvenor Victoria in London – “The Vic”

Lee Jones
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Posted on: January 29, 2024 10:56 am EST

Every pursuit has its meccas. Baseball has Fenway Park in Boston. Country and bluegrass music have the Ryman Theater in Nashville. And UK poker – it has the Grosvenor Victoria Casino in London (hereinafter “the Vic”). If you are a poker player, and you get anywhere near London, you owe it to yourself to play a few hours there.

Location, location, location

The Vic is located in the middle of Westminster, a ten-minute walk to Hyde Park, and a 15-minute walk to Paddington Station, which is conveniently the terminus for the Heathrow Express train. Walk 15 minutes east and you’re in the centre of the Oxford Street shopping district. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if you have a non-pokering companion, they can stay busy for hours within a very short radius.

Furthermore, the Vic sits on Edgware Road, in the middle of a heavily Middle Eastern community of London. Specifically, there are a dozen great Lebanese restaurants within a five-minute walk. I preceded my session at the Vic with dinner at Al-Arez, and chose Mousakaa B’zeit stew, a glorious mix of eggplant and chickpeas, over rice with fresh pitas. Even had I walked the 500 feet to the casino and gotten my ass kicked at the table, I would have had a fine evening.

UK poker is different

Like most UK casinos, you need an actual membership card to get in the Vic. Back in the bad old days, you had to sign up for a membership and then wait 48 hours to actually gamble. That antiquated gate is long-gone, but you’ll need ID. They might take an American driver’s license, but I wouldn’t count on it – have your passport with you.

Once you’re there, there’s an automated sign-in system where you scan your card and then select the games you want to be wait-listed for.

There is one weird rule about the sign-up system. If you join a table at a particular stakes level, they remove you from the wait-list for all lower stakes games. Why’s that? The best reason I could get at the table was that it prevented people from hitting and running at a high stakes table, then moving down-stakes.

“Lemme get this straight… If I want to be wait-listed for the £1/3 game, I have to quit this £2/5 game?”

“Correct, and if you think that’s encouraging more gambling, you’d be right, in my opinion,” said the old Irish regular to my left.

There are other interesting quirks – some of the dealers put out the flop one card at a time, though far fewer than other times I’ve been there. And newer dealers, fresh out of training, have a habit of announcing the rank (but not the suit) of the board cards: “Queen, four, nine.”

I asked about this – the regulars say that for unknown historical reasons, this procedure is taught to the newbies, but almost everybody gets over it quickly.

Poker is poker is poker

Once you adapt to a handful of changes, you’ll immediately feel comfortable and at home, playing in the mother church of British poker. And my god, the history here…

I mean, you probably think the Hendon Mob is a tournament results tracking site, right? Well yeah, it is, but that’s not how it started. It started because there was an actual “Hendon Mob” – Ram Vaswani, Joe Beevers, Ross Boatman, and Barney Boatman. Four legends of the game who spent untold hours at the Vic. Surinder Sunar, one of the grand old men of London poker, was a regular – may still be for all I know.

But perhaps the best known denizen of the Vic, the person who made it most famous, is Victoria Coren-Mitchell. Coren-Mitchell has achieved fame as a writer and TV presenter, but poker is in her blood. She was the first person (of any gender) to win two European Poker Tour main event titles, the first coming – appropriately – at the Vic. She even wrote an excellent book about her years as a semi-professional poker player, culminating in that EPT win.

Does Vicky still show up, after the babies are asleep, to mix it up in the £2/5 game? I have no idea, but if she’s looking for a game of cards, that’s where she’ll be.

They didn’t name the casino after her, but they could have.

The Vic by the numbers

If you go to the Ryman to hear Watchhouse, you don’t ask how good the sound system is – part of the reason you’re going is to hear the music in a legendary setting (the sound system is great, btw). You don’t ask how good are the hotdogs at Fenway Park. But this is a poker room review, and a review you shall have. Just for the love of all things poker, don’t let anything here put you off – go, genuflect if you wish, and pull up a chair.

Tables: 35

Non-smoking. And because the UK is sane, there are no crazy exceptions for casinos. The entire building is non-smoking.

Dress code. Yes, I said dress code. Don’t wear shorts (not usually a problem in London) or a track suit. The written code says “no trainers,” but I doubt that’s enforced at all. Just be aware that the “anything goes” attitude of American casinos does not go at the Vic.

Minimum age: 18. That’s because the UK is more rational than US states, which largely feel that you should be able to own a lethal firearm before you can bet $5 on blackjack. But I digress – if you have a 20-year-old poker fan in your sphere, you could do worse than a trip across the Pond for a West End show, a kebab in Edgware Road, and an evening of poker at the Vic.

Chairs: heavy and comfortable, but not on casters. So no height adjustment.

Restrooms: Off to the side of the room

Food: There is a full food menu available, but go out into Edgware Road to get your food – the restaurants are open until 1:00am or later.

Table management: Scan your membership card to sign up for wait-lists.

No-limit hold’em buy-in caps: £1/2 – £100-500 ; £1/3 – £200 – £1,000 ; £2/5 – £400-£2,500 ; £5/10 – £800-∞. As a practical matter, games bigger than £2/5 rarely run. Whispers at the table suggest that bigger games have gone private because of KYC (“Know Your Customer”) and AML (“Anti Money Laundering”) rules. Hint: private games are probably not a good idea.

Rake: 5% capped at £10, plus a £1.50 promotional fee. That’s pretty strong, and I doubt the £1/2 game is beatable.

Straddles: Under the gun only, 2x the big blind, except the £1/2 straddle is to £5.

Bomb pots: It seems to vary with the players’ moods. We didn’t have bomb pots at our table, but the table next to us was having one (single board NLHE) at every dealer change.

Tables have USB chargers. None of the ones I tried worked, so bring a power battery. There’s also a commercial phone-charging station in the middle of the poker room.

WiFi: Good quality throughout the casino.

Cocktail service, and they make dynamite espresso drinks.

You know you want this chip in your collection, right?