In July 2012 I took a Profitable NL Hold ‘Em class at School of Cards that sparked a deep interest in poker for me. I’d never played the game for real money before that. The extent of my poker “experience” came from playing Zynga Poker after I learned how to play the game in January 2012. Blake’s only homework assignment after the first two classes was to go play real poker before the final class. I was terrified, but I did it. My passion for the game was a done deal from that point.
My experience of learning how to play and going to a casino for the first time sparked an idea. What does it feel like to become a professional poker player? When does a person make that decision? How do you actually take the leap? What if I wrote a book about a woman who decides to become a professional poker player?
That last part, obviously, was my idea. See, I don’t want to be a professional poker player. I want to write books, but I also love playing poker. So why not combine the two and write a poker novel?! Boom. Life changed.
Since that fateful July I have truly immersed myself in poker and the poker community (although, admittedly, I’m an unknown). If you read my blog you’ll probably figure out that I’m a ravenous learner. I read voraciously and when I set my mind on something I pursue it like a blood hound. Because of this, part of my education has been to watch every poker show I could find.
I’ve watched every WSOP and WSOPE Main Event, every episode of High Stakes Poker, every episode of Ultimate Poker Challenge’s Cash Poker, quite a few EPT and WPT tournaments, and am now in the process of burning through Poker After Dark.
One thing has stood out to me through all of these hours of poker coverage: the questions asked during interviews with players (exit or otherwise) are completely trivial (bordering on stupid) and uninteresting. Sometimes they even break all the laws of good interviewing.
The question asked after a person busts from a poker tournament is always, “How does it feel to bust out in X place with X hand?” Umm…how do you think it feels? It sucks. It always sucks to lose. There is no one in the world who enjoys losing. Okay, maybe masochists do…but certainly not poker players. Seriously. What is the point of asking this question? It leads to the same answer every time, and it reveals absolutely nothing about the person being interviewed, which defies the purpose of an interview.
What bothers me most is that many times the people asking the questions are either poker players themselves (like Kara Scott) or are deeply entrenched in the poker community (like Matt Savage, a poker tournament director). Therefore, they should be able to think of something more interesting than, “How are you feeling right now?”
Another (closely related) problem is that interviewers often ask leading questions when they talk to players. This is a big no no in Interviewing 101. I was recently watching a show where the interviewer asked, “Did you play your usual aggressive style today?” This is wrong, it informs the player rather than allowing them to elaborate on their own. She should’ve asked, “What was your strategy for playing today?” This is a neutral question that allows the person to give you revealing, interesting information.
Why is asking good questions such a hard concept? I’m absolutely sure the last thing a player recently busted from a tournament wants to be asked is how it feels and be forced to be all, “Well I’m okay, there’s always another tournament,” because what they really want to say is, “It fucking sucks.” Nobody is naturally gracious after a blow like that, especially if you’ve gotten really far.
The main problem with the how does it feel questions and the leading questions is that they can all be answered in few words, if not with a simple yes or no.
“Did you play your usual aggressive style today?”
“Yes.” /end interview
“How does it feel to come in second?”
“Like shit.” /end interview
Maybe these things don’t bother most people because they don’t sit there and watch marathon sessions of poker shows, but I feel like everyone benefits if producers/writers/hosts (whoever decides what questions to ask) work just a little bit harder to learn about their subject and ask an interesting question. It can’t possibly be that hard, especially since most of the time the interviews last all of 2 minutes, maximum.
In any case, I’m putting out a challenge: poker interviewers, ask better questions. Surely if I (who don’t have that much experience) can think of interesting ones, you can, too.