Kara Scott on 888Poker, work-life balance, & when to use the mute button

Kara Scott on 888Poker, work-life balance, & when to use the mute button

Lee Davy sits down with 888Poker Ambassador Kara Scott during 888Live Barcelona to talk about the brands new Taking Back the Game promotion, the difficulty in balancing life on the move, and the importance of helping those in need.

Kara Scott on 888Poker, work-life balance, & when to use the mute buttonIf the poker industry needs someone to stand in front of the microphone and make it look bloody good they usually turn to Kara Scott.

Over the years, Scott has made an impact in a number of different organisations within poker, but it’s her contribution to poker on the whole that’s the most impressive.

And it’s not without sacrifice, as you will read once I stop babbling on about how great she is. It’s easy to see her convey such confidence and irradiate such light and think she has life sussed. But what happens once you and I have turned off the TV set and fired up 10-tables and Scott gets back to life?

I got the opportunity to catch 30-minutes of her precious time during 888Live Barcelona where I tried to take a peek of the whirring and firing underneath the hood, and here the result of that conversation.

It seems that 888Poker is making a concerted effort to improve brand awareness recently, how does it feel from the inside?

“I think there’s definitely been a big push, but it’s not just right now. It’s just more visible right now, and the new tagline shows the renewed focus. 888 wants to take care of the customers they have had for a very long time, and they’ve been thinking about how best to do that. This new focus is the answer to that.

“People who want to enjoy themselves come to 888, both for live and online poker. It’s actually one of the things that drew me to the company – hearing qualifiers at live tournaments talk about how well they were treated.  888 were taking people on day-trips, making sure there were lots for people to do, picking great vacation spots like Barcelona. And online, 888 is known to not be shark-infested waters. It’s serious poker with a fun twist.

“The new strategy of “Taking Back The Game” is about taking care of the players, and making sure poker is fun. Poker has changed over the past ten years, and sometimes it’s evolved in less than satisfactory ways. 888 wants to take steps forward to get away from the buzzkills which take some of the fun out of the game.

“They spent a lot of time listening to their players. Serious poker players are important, and definitely a strong part of the market, but we aren’t the entire market. Sometimes we get a disproportionate amount of the media’s attention, but there are a lot of recreational players out there who play a lot, and it’s important to hear what they need and what they have to say too.”

I recently wrote an article for PokerListings where I interviewed four recreational poker players and the biggest problem for most of them was finding time to play.

“That’s one of the things that came up as a buzzkill that 888 is looking at. They are looking at faster variants. It doesn’t mean we are getting rid of long tournament structures because people love them too. But making sure there are fast variants that people can play online in a short amount of time because they have family commitments or work, is very important.”

I am a recreational poker player, and fast variants are crucial for me because I can’t choose poker when I have children, work and other forms of entertainment grabbing my attention.

“It can be like that for a lot of people, and I think it’s important to make sure it’s not JUST fast but also that the experience is good. If you play for entertainment, and a lot of people do, then you probably have an entertainment budget for the month; for going to the movies, playing some poker, going for dinner, whatever – and you want to enjoy that. Not having a fun experience at the poker table would be like going to a movie, and finding out it’s terrible. Such a waste of time.”

There is a healthy competitive environment in the live tournament scene, what’s your opinion on this?

“I’m excited! It feels like a renaissance right now, especially with the news of the World Series and the live streaming all the way through. People have been asking for this for a while. I love it when we get good news about poker. It gets a little depressing when all we hear about is bad news. There is so much fun to be had, and so when there are all these other live tournament events, and innovative ideas like the MILLIONS – that for me says that poker is healthy, and when it’s healthy it’s good for all of us.”

How do the WSOP changes affect you on a personal level with the work you do for ESPN?

“I think that this is a good time to go back tKara Scott on 888Poker, work-life balance, & when to use the mute buttono the format where the final table is played in the summer. They still get a couple of days off, which is great. It gives us a chance to hype the final with the pre-show while they still get the chance to have a bit of sleep. I like it that the momentum isn’t lost and that there isn’t an enormous amount of coaching happening which changes the flow of the game.

“It will be more work for us in a lot of ways. I usually have three months to gather my information. I spend a lot of time researching to figure out what I am going to ask each player and their friends and family. Normally, I can walk into the final table totally prepped and ready, without needing to talk to the players anymore once the cards are in the air. I loved working that way because it meant I didn’t need to bug the players while they’re focused on winning. Now, I can’t be that prepared! It’s a tiny bit daunting for someone like me (who is a chronic over-planner), but it’s exciting too.

“I like it. No, I love it. Plus, I get to do the Break-Desk for the whole live stream and not just the final table and that’ s awesome. That’s my favourite part of my job – sitting down at the desk and talking through the previous level; looking forward to the next level; talking about the players – that’s my sweet spot, I love it, and I will get to do more of it, so that’s cool by me.”

I interviewed Sofia Lovgren this week and was struck by her confidence both in life and poker. She said it stems from her knowledge of poker, do you feel the same way when it comes to your media work?

“I wish I had her confidence in both poker and my TV job! I still get butterflies for sure, and there is more pressure working live. There is no room for error, and that can be scary. It takes more focus and concentration when you are working with a live camera. To do that for nearly two weeks in a row … that is a long time. To be that focused and present for 12hrs+ a day is a little nerve wracking but I’m nervous in a good way – I’m nervous ‘excited’ not nervous ‘dreading it’.”

The last time we spoke you were learning and Italian and looking to settle in Italy, where are you in life, today?

“Italy was great. I loved it, and we were there for three years before moving to Slovenia a couple of years ago, and that’s been fantastic too. I am still learning Italian. It’s a little harder to do while not living in Italy but it’s coming on okay.

 “My in-laws all speak Italian, which means it’s incredibly important for me to converse with them properly. They meet me halfway and speak in English as well, but I think it’s respectful for me to show them that I am trying hard. Also, when you are in a marriage or a couple where you are very different culturally, and you also have language differences it’s important to meet in the middle there too. Although Giovanni {Rizzo} speaks basically perfect English, it’s still not his first language, and there are things he feels he can’t express with the same depth, that he could with his own words. So, it’s important for me to learn. I have a genuinely amazing husband, and I want to understand him properly.”

How do you find the time to learn a new language, you always seem so busy. How are your time management skills?

“I am getting better at that. I spent years rushing headlong into each next thing without taking the time to breathe. That had to change. I have more energy for others things these days, which is nice, so I am putting some of that into language learning. I would love to take proper classes but can’t because I am always on the road. I use Duolingo every day. If I know I have hit my Duolingo goal for 160 days in a row it makes me feel good. If I break that streak, I feel bad. Gamifying it is working for me.”

You travel a lot, what would be your advice to people who want to travel but fear is keeping them rooted?

“I guess when there are things I am scared of I say to myself: ‘What is the worse that can happen?’ Usually, your mind conjures up the absolute possible nut-worst thing, but then you take it from there, and say, ‘No, what’s the worse thing that could really happen?’

 “Sometimes, making money is less important than spending your life doing what you love. That’s not an option for everyone, so I’m even more aware of how lucky I am to have these choices. For me, my priorities are spending time with people that I love. I decided at the beginning of this year to have better relationships with people. When I am always on the road, I miss out on all the weddings, birthdays, and that one afternoon down the pub that you remember forever  – I miss out on a lot of those things, so I am trying to be more purposeful about people rather than travelling.”

What is it like having family in both Italy and Canada?

“I want to go home and spend more time in Canada. I miss my parents a lot. You’re catching me at a very home-sick time. I haven’t seen my parents for over a year, and that’s a very long time. I couldn’t go back for ages because I didn’t have a Canadian passport, and it took over six months to get one, which meant that I missed my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. It was awful. I can never get that back.

“We spend a lot of time online. My Mum and I Snapchat. I only got Snapchat because she and my sister and her kids all have it. I use it as a family messaging app, and that’s how we do it – it’s a modern world. My strange life means that I move from country to country way too much and that means that I am always leaving people behind.

“It’s not true that a relationship can’t be meaningful if it’s not face to face. I have deep, meaningful relationships with the people I love online because I can’t see them face to face. Our shared history bonds us. I think it’s important not to assume that only ‘traditional’ relationships work because that’s just wrong.”

I have an American wife, and a daughter who has a duel UK, and American passport, but I can’t live in America without going through a very difficult Visa process. With Brexit and Trump, it seems like the world is becoming more divided. What do you see when you look at the world?

“I think a lot of the negativity out there isn’t directed at me and so it would be easy not to look at it. It would be easy for me to turtle right noKara Scott on 888Poker, work-life balance, & when to use the mute buttonw, and take care of myself, and my loved ones because I am not the target of racism. I think it’s even more important for me to see it; to try and say things when people are being hurt by words or deeds because I’m not the target.

 “I feel like it’s my responsibility to speak up, and people get annoyed by that a lot. Even people that I care about sometimes.  If they say something harmful, I bring it up. This doesn’t mean that I’m shouting abuse at people – we need to stop thinking there are only two modes of conversation, complete agreement or hurling abuse. You can call people out and ask them what they mean and have a dialogue about it.

“I think it’s important for the people who aren’t the target of bigotry to call it out. The people who are subjected to that abuse – they have enough going on. They don’t need to be the ones solving the problems. I think that’s on us.”

I got into an argument on immigration with my Mum recently. She was citing newspaper reports complaining about the influx of Polish and Romanians into the UK, and it saddened me, especially because I am half-Chinese, and have an American wife.

“I think we are easily swayed by the media, more than we think we are. There has always been bigotry, and there is bigotry now – we just talk about it in different ways. It’s always been used to divide us and to preserve power structures. It’s still the same thing. The media in the UK is not exactly warm and fuzzy towards immigration, especially towards Polish people and people from Romania. ”

Do you think we have free will?

“Absolutely I think we have free will. We just don’t always exercise it well. It would be easy and comforting to believe that we’re entirely led by the media but I think we are always responsible for our actions and that requires the belief in free will.”

I agree that we are all responsible for our choices, but back to my Mum; sometimes I don’t feel like she is making a choice, and instead is handled like a puppet by the morning paper and BBC news.

“There are always a million small choices each day. None of us makes all the right ones. I would be happy if I made 50% of my choices well. It’s hard to know what the truth is. We grow up sheltered in our own bubble. We all have one. You might live in the bubble of your own country; your neighbourhood; the books you read; the friends you have. But we are still responsible for what we do with that. If we see people being hurt, and we don’t care, it might be because we are brainwashed by the media – but we still let that happen. Or, it could be because we are happier taking the path of least resistance.”

I found myself getting defensive on Twitter the other day. I was so angry and upset, and I thought, ‘How can people do this all the time?’ There are some car wrecks on Twitter right now, but you seem to handle things very well, how?

 “I try to sit back a little and check myself on things, especially when I feel defensive. When people are coming at you with negativity, it’s hard to think, ‘Maybe I need to look at my value system to double check some things’. It’s hard to do this honestly with yourself. To say, ‘Did I step into something there? Is what I did or said harmful, especially to people who have less power than me?’ Often it’s much harder to be quiet and to say, ‘Ok, I hear what you’re saying.’

“I have been really quiet the last couple of months. There has been a lot going on globally, and politically, and the whole thing of seeing a lot of people I care about being targeted by particular political parties has been hard.  I have been trying to listen more to what people are saying. I feel like it can be easy for me to shoot my mouth off, but often other people are saying things better, and I need to amplify their voice. It doesn’t have to be my face or my voice.”

Well, it works. I think you have found the right balance. You aren’t afraid to get into debates on emotive subjects, but at the same time, you handle them very respectfully. If social media presence is important to a brand, I would hire you.

“Maybe that means I am not loud enough. I don’t have a desire to be a safe brand. Honestly, a big part of why I’ve been pretty quiet the past year is that I’ve had a lot going on personally. It was a tough year for me, and I was just a bit too raw to be on social media for a while.

“I don’t get as riled up about personal comments as much anymore. I had a lot of crap thrown at me a few years ago, and that was incredibly stressful. Now, I don’t really care about the general population’s opinion of me. I used to, and that wasn’t super healthy.

“Now, I care about my boss’s opinion of my work or other people that I respect. They’re who I go to for feedback on what I am doing. I don’t really care if strangers send me random angry things online. I mostly just think ‘that’s kind of sad’ and then I mute them and get on with my life.”