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Kara Scott: Let's Focus on Women as Players, Not Models
With a second-place finish in the 2009 Irish Open for €312,600, Kara Scott proved she's got what it takes to make a go of it as a pro.
Thankfully for the poker world, she took a different path.
One of the best-liked media personalities in poker Scott instead chose to bring her effusive charm and relentless enthusiasm to the broadcast side of the game and we've all been the better for it.
Always professional, always with heart and always willing to take one for the team to make poker players look good, Scott has won over everyone she's come into contact with in her seven-year career.
PokerListings France's Fred Guillemot caught up with Scott recently in Paris where she filled us in some of the special moments in her poker life and reminded us of the critical role women play in the future of the game.
PokerListings: What's the most interesting part of your job as a poker TV presenter?
Kara Scott: It's funny, I actually wrote something about this quite recently but I haven't published it yet. For me, the most interesting part is getting to talk to the general players.
I love talking to the pros and interviewing them but I just really like hearing “normal” people's stories. It's just so interesting, you get to hear all the weird ways people get involved in poker or about their other passions.
That's why I like talking to the general poker population and getting their stories. That's the most interesting thing to me.
PL: So what you like is to get to know people better?
KS: Yeah, I love that. You know, I grew up in a tiny, tiny place and I was reading a lot. I've always been fascinated by people's stories, but there weren't that many people to talk to.
Thankfully, thanks to poker I get to meet a lot of people from all over the world. The variety of people you meet is huge!
You'd think that because we're talking about a single industry there would some sort of homogeneity – and there is, to an extent – but there's a huge amount of variety and I love that.
PL: Do you think that the fact that you're so interested in people, that you're so outgoing, is what makes you so good at your job?
KS: It's really funny hearing that because I actually think of myself as a bit of an introvert. I get really shy when I'm not doing my job.
That's also why my job is great – it makes me talk to people, and I'm not sure I would do it as much otherwise since I tend to feel a little awkward and shy, like everyone I suppose.
I think it's the curiosity that – hopefully – makes me good at my job. I just really want to know what people are going to answer.
I want to know what they did but I also want to understand why they did it, what led them to play that tournament, how their family feels about them playing ... It's all about curiosity!
PL: It can also get a bit boring if you always stick to talking about poker.
KS: Exactly! Especially on television, because we literally just saw the hands, so I try to tell people that they don't need to describe what happened.
I just want to know the “why."
PL: Poker players do tend to go on and on about their hands and blinds and so on. How do you manage to stop them?
KS: I don't! That's why my interviews are so long!
I let them get through that and then I ask them what I actually want to know.
PL: We interviewed a French journalist recently, Estelle Denis, and she said when the camera starts shooting she feels the same adrenaline rush as when she's playing a big pot.
KS: For sure. Especially when it's live, like the WSOP on ESPN.
For me, I think it's even stronger than a big pot because the potential for things going wrong is huge!
Someone might swear, someone might disagree with everything I ask, or sometimes the pro players like to be mischievous – they go on a tangent or they try to be funny, which is awesome but also very risky.
You just never know what might happen and that's why I love it. I love the pressure.
Honestly, I think you don't do as good a job if you don't feel the adrenaline. Hopefully it never stops, because then you're just a talking head.
PL: Do you see other similarities between poker and being a TV host?
KS: I think that in both cases you have to be able to think really clearly on your feet, to be able to be involved in the actual moment.
Of course when you're playing a pot you also have to be focused on the future but you have to be really focused on the hand as it happens, to think through what happens, what you're doing, what others are doing, etc.
It's the same thing when you're hosting a TV show. If you're too focused on what's coming up, you might not listen properly to what they're saying and not ask a potentially great follow-up question.
You have to be really focused on the actual moment.
PL: What's the most difficult part of your job as a TV host?
KS: Sometimes it's hard to interview players who don't really want to be interviewed. They're there because they feel that they have to be there and they resent it.
We often interview them during breaks and they might be busy or want to have a rest. It can be very difficult because you can tell straight away that they don't want to be there but you still want to get a good interview so that you're not wasting anyone's time.
It's only happened to me a few times, when the players just give you one-word answers and all you can think is “Oh, crap...”
PL: I bet, especially in front of the camera.
KS: It's embarrassing! And asking stupid questions is embarrassing too, but it happens sometimes – because I'm thrown off by something or because I wasn't supposed to do the interview and I only have 3 seconds to prepare and I have no idea what hands have just been played or anything.
I find that when that happens, the best thing is just to ask for the player's point of view because then they'll probably talk about what cards they had and so on.
You have to let it roll off your back and be okay with being stupid, even though I really don't like it.
PL: Just keep smiling and hope everything turns out okay.
KS: Yeah ... And I've come to accept that everyone looks stupid sometimes. You just have to hope that the majority of what you do isn't stupid.
My problem is that I'm a perfectionist so I always think about what else I could have done or what I could have done differently even though the producers are happy.
I guess it pushes me to get better at my job, but I also need to not let it bother me too much. It's all about balance.
PL: So you think you can still improve?
KS: Oh yeah, of course! (laughs)
I like trying new things and I'm sure that I can improve. Especially considering I tend to work really long hours. Poker tournaments are very long, and you need to add filming hours, preparation, etc.
You can work up to 16 hours a day, sometimes 7 days in a row, so yeah, usually by the end of it, I feel like I could definitely improve. (laughs)
PL: What do you think is a poker TV presenter's most important skill?
KS: Flexibility is very important, you have to be able to roll with the punches, change when the interview changes, be able to stand outside in the middle of winter in a dress and not look like you're cold, to deal with the really long hours, etc.
That's one of the biggest things. Our industry is evolving, so you need to be prepared for anything.
You have to be able to come up with your own ideas and make them work as part of your TV show, you have to do the research, write it, produce it, present it. You need to be really flexible and be able to change fast.
PL: What do you think the media can do to improve poker coverage and maybe make it more accessible?
KS: I think poker coverage has changed a lot in the seven years I've been involved in poker. It's a good thing, people try to be creative.
All the online stuff available is of such high quality compared to what we used to get and the technology's getting better too. But it is very important to keep working on it.
Otherwise, one of the most important things, the biggest untapped market in poker, is female players. And I don't think people acknowledge that enough.
If we want more players in the game, then what's the one population pool that's not really represented? Female players.
I think that's why it's important that poker tournaments aren't places where you find behaviors that make it uncomfortable for women.
PL: Like what?
KS: When I was in Malta for Battle of Malta I was sitting at a table with another woman who's also been playing for seven years. And every now and again, she was just shaking her head, you know.
Women don't want to come and play poker to do this. We need to promote the idea that women are just people and stop focusing on their looks or their sexuality.
That has nothing to do with poker.
PL: It's difficult though, because focusing on women would single them out too.
KS: It's true and I don't think it would be necessary either.
But maybe during tournaments, we could focus on all the women playing instead of just talking about the models, we could talk about them because they're good players.
I spoke to a lot of people who don't really know poker and they were saying: “But all the good female poker players, they're basically guys, aren't they? I mean they're aggressive, they're not very soft or feminine...”
Okay, so ... a) Women are not one big homogenous thing. Women are very different. And b) all these qualities they're talking about, they're not “male” or “female”, so maybe we can just stop putting women in different boxes.
I hope we can have more equality and I also really want to see the player pool increase.
We just need to find a way to focus on women as players rather than focusing on how they look. But maybe that's not a popular opinion.
PL: Maybe it just reflects our society, which is a bit sexist.
KS: Absolutely. But I think that if we want to change things and increase the player pool, then we need to look beyond that. As the media, this is pretty much our job.
There were a lot of women who did really well during the World Series this year and we didn't really hear about them. We see a few female faces in poker, and that's great, but I think it's important to give credit when it's due.
Like you said, we shouldn't single them out as “oooh, lady players have done well!” or “oooh, last woman standing!” but still.
I get that poker's target audience is largely male and that it makes sense marketing-wise, but shouldn't we also market poker to that big untapped player pool?
Poker has already got the male demographic, let's continue to cater to them. But let's also look at who we could be bringing in.
PL: It definitely looks like a huge challenge for poker.
KS: Huge! And I don't know what the answer is, I just think that there are things that can be done. Hopefully it's just a matter of time.
PL: What's your best memory as a TV presenter?
KS: There have been many memorable highlights. The first year I was working on ESPN I was overwhelmed by the way everyone else from the channel was supporting me.
That's when I realized just how amazing the poker community and the journalism community are. Being part of that was great.
PL: How about your worst moment?
KS: Once, at the beginning of my career as well, I was interviewing a pretty famous player. The camera was shooting from the waist up and the player had his hand around my waist – which is pretty weird, but I was new and I didn't really think anything of it.
During the interview, he just kinda let it slide down to my bum and I was just ... surprised and very upset. I didn't even know how to react, not to mention the fact that there was a whole group of people standing behind us.
That sort of thing isn't okay. I managed to finish the interview and talked to him about it afterward.
It happens every once in a while. It's very unpleasant.
See, that's definitely a good example of behaviors that are not good for the game and not good to attract women to poker.
PL: You still managed to stay professional. It seems you could keep working the same through an earthquake!
KS: I always try to stay professional, yes. But that night or the night after that, as we were walking to the party with the PokerListings guys, some guys drove by and threw a full can of energy drink at me.
It hit me and went all over my clothes and everything. I just flipped out. I think it was partly because everything had been building and building and building. I mean, that same day, some weird guy had also tried to get a picture of me as I was doing my make-up in the ladies' room.
So yeah, I just started screaming and swearing at the car as it drove past and running after it. It had to stop at a red light and I just wanted to go down there and kick that guy's ass.
The PokerListings guys were pretty freaked out. (laughs)
PL: Do you prefer playing poker or commenting it?
KS: I like being able to mix both, but my job is being on television.
I'm not a pro player and I don't think I'm good enough to be one. I think it's very difficult to make a living playing poker and I have so much respect for pros.
It takes so much discipline and I tend to put that extra time and energy into my job rather than into poker.
I would like to keep playing poker and I'd hate to give it up, but TV's definitely my first love. I'm happy being a recreational player.
PL: What's your best memory as a player?
KS: Coming second in the Irish Open in 2009 was amazing, it really was. Both painful and amazing. It was very unexpected too.
But I think my best memory is the first year I played the Main Event of the World Series and the bubble burst. My best friend and coach was there with me and he just spent the whole week with me railing.
And when that happened, we were just so happy because it's the biggest tournament in the world and it just felt magical.
I think the fact that I didn't have any expectations made it even better too.
PL: What poker player has impressed you the most?
KS: I'd say Yevgeniy Timoshenko. I was watching him play during the Party Poker Premier League some years ago and he was just amazing, even in such an unusual format – it's not a very deep tournament where there's lots of space.
He was amazing, he made my jaw drop.
I did an interview with him at the World Series this year when he busted out and it was a great interview. He asked for a moment to collect himself – you have to know that usually, when players say that, they don't come back - but he did and it was a great interview.
So his grasp of the game is amazing and interviewing him is easy.
PL: The fact that some players refuse interviews even with you does make me feel better though!
KS: Oh yeah. Once I chased a guy down at the World Series because we badly needed his interview for the wrap-up and I finally found him in cash-out.
He refused though. I get it because he was really upset. Poker can be very emotional and some people don't want to show it on TV.
I mean, when you're sitting at a table 12 hours a day for four days in a row, you're bound to be highly-strung. So sometimes I do understand.
PL: Talking about Timoshenko, do you think he's underrated?
KS: I don't know, but I'm a fan. I wish I could play like him. I would make millions! (laughs)