By Dominic Roskrow

Image is everything

When you think of poker, what is the dominant image before you?I ask because when we were discussing the cover story, one of the team talked of smoke-filled rooms, male only events where the players wore open-necked shirts and played all night, the stakes rising at the same pace as the tension – a grim, potentially violent world where no one trusted each other and the aim was not just to win but to win and live to tell the tale.I didn’t see that at all. I saw Vegas, Bond, glitter and glamour. On reflection, though, my colleague had a case – and way back every other grainy black and white Western had a card school where the players slugged whiskey and eyed each other suspiciously.How does an image change so much? Who did the makeover?In the case of gambling – or social gaming as the new spinsters would have it – it’s because of the acceptance of online gambling and televised poker. Big business has reinvented a grubby pastime based on greed and the irrational pursuit of wealth literally against the odds to make a lot of money.But the image whisky has similarly been transformed these past few months, too, and it’s good for all of us.Quite why or how it happened I don’t know, but I still find it odd to go in to the main gift section of a High Street store and see whisky tasting sets there. I am amazed at how many times you see a whisky bottle – normally a good malt – on British television. And these days it’s the drink of choice for the judge or chief of police or the detective hero – and not, as it used to be, a prop to represent the crisis of the alcoholic, desperado or shaken victim.The interest and appreciation of whisky has leaked through to the society dinner party, too.At the end of last year I received no less than three calls from national journalists who had been to dinner at friends and had been offered a mini whisky tasting before they ate. Initially appalled at the thought of tasting whisky, they had surprised themselves by actually enjoying it. So they had decided to write about it.This sort of attention is cyclical but whisky is very much ‘now.’ I’ve been asked by journalists about whisky in Russia and China, about what’s being done to appeal to younger drinkers, and to name the ultimate luxury whisky, or the most expensive.Our cover story looks at how whisky has been linked to the rebirth of gambling in general and poker in particular. This is no bad thing - a good whisky sits very comfortably with the sophisticated James Bond image. And this Christmas a good malt and a stylish home poker set were both much sought-after items for affluent 20 or 30 something year old men who wanted to buy in to a sense of style.I welcome all of this, not least because the trend in society is towards blandness and conformity.Smoking, drinking, social gaming and rebellious non-conformist rock music are increasingly frowned upon. Individualism is being sacrificed as people grow fearful of having an opinion on anything.This is not just dull, it is dangerous. It implies that we can’t be trusted to express ourselves freely without breaking the rules or offending in some way. It’s rubbish of course. None of us want to go back to the danger-filled smoky backroom. But we do want to enjoy ourselves in any way we see fit, and with style and panache should we so desire.