What do you do for a living? I feel like this question is going to be an eternal struggle for poker players. Isaac Haxton wrote an excellent post about it earlier this year explaining what different reactions you can expect from people when you say that you’re playing poker for a living.
If poker is your main occupation or if you have read Isaac’s article, then you should be familiar with what reactions you can encounter. More often than not what would have been a 2 minute conversation for most will end up in a half hour debate for you. And the problem remains: every time you hear that question you’re probably thinking “Here we go again” mixed with a feeling of resignation.
Over time I’ve noticed that I recur to some strategies to help deal with this. Some of the things you’re probably doing already but you have never taken the time to consciously think about them. First of all you have to identify the situation you’re in.
Do they need to know?
Ask yourself if the other person really needs to know what your job is. If they’re just attempting small talk, then the answer is no. You being a teacher, an astronaught or a poker player is not important to them. On the other hand, if you’re having an appointment with a doctor and they ask what you do for a living then it’s crucial information. You spending a lot of hours sitting on a chair or looking at a computer screen could be connected to whatever reason took you to the doctor even if you don’t see how. Similarly, if you’re out on a date then it’s probably a good idea to share your occupation. Maybe not on the first date, but somewhere along the way your significant other has to learn what you do.
Once you’ve established whether the person you’re having the conversation with needs to know about your job or not, there are two distinct scenarios. The first one is where they have to know, so you explain what being a poker player is and asnwer all their questions. What I want to focus on is the second scenario, when they don’t need to know.
Avoid the question
There really isn’t a better way to solve a problem than to make sure it doesn’t occur at all. The truth is you can predict when the dreaded question is going to pop up at a conversation. If you’re casually talking with someone you just met, there are a lot of subjects you can talk about. The weather, the place you’re at, the common friend that brought you together, etc. Stir the conversation away from work. And don’t ask first what they do for a living. After they tell you, it’s only natural that they ask back the same thing.
Change the subject
Sometimes no matter how much you try to avoid it by guiding the conversation elsewhere, they will ask what they think is a simple question. This may sound strange, but you can immediately change the subject and not reply at all. The trick here is to do it naturally, like you’re really interested in whatever you say next and not like you’re avoiding the answer. Let’s say, for example, that you’re in a taxi and the driver asks you what you do for a living. You’re not really in the mood of having to explain how poker works to a complete stranger so you reply with another question “Do you think there’s going to be traffic at X street? Maybe there’s a shortcut that we can take…”. It may sound too simple, but you’d be surprised at how often that works. Most likely, the taxi driver is interested in having a friendly conversation with you and doesn’t really care what about. You can talk about how it always gets traffic around that time, about the people coming back from holidays, the nice restaurant that you just drove by. If it works, they almost never go back to asking you again what you do for a living.
Flat out lie
This one I’m not exactly proud of, but I bet that every professional poker player has lied at least once in their career about their occupation. If you haven’t, then you should consider yourself one of the lucky ones. Overall I’m used to dealing with the “Ooohs” and “Aaaahs” and follow up questions after the statement “I play poker for a living”. But let’s just face it, sometimes it’s just better to not reveal the truth. Do I really want to get into details with the 80 year-old neighboor of my grandmother? Nope. I’m all about explaining how I make a living out of poker to people that are open-minded or at least interested about it, but in some cases I know the result beforehand. In the case of the 80 year-old neighbor, I may get away with a few sideway glances but there’s sure to be gossip with the rest of the building: “Have you heard? Her granddaughter is a gambler!”. I just find it simpler to tell them what they want to hear. Some people will just not get it cause they don’t want to, no matter how hard you try.
Stick as close to the truth as possible
When lying, I think it’s better to stick to the truth as much as you can. Just because I’ve decided not to tell someone that I’m a professional poker player doesn’t mean that I’ll say I’m a bailarina at the Bolshoi Academy. I just say I’m an accountant which was my previous job. If they ask any further questions about it, I have all the answers ready. I’m not lying about everything. I’m giving them facts about a job I’ve done, it’s just not what I’m doing at present. Some other times I’ll say the truth but ommit some parts of it. To me that’s still lying, but in a more tactfull manner. “What I do for a living? Oh, I work with computers for an international company”. Cause hey, I play poker online so I do work with a computer all day long. And I’m proudly sponsored by PokerStars which is a big company that operates in many countries. So 100% of what I said is true. Most of the time that gets them uninterested in the conversation and some people like the 80 year-old neighbor are very likely to change the subject themselves at the mention of the word “computer”.
The good thing though is that times are changing. It happens more and more frequently to me to get surprised by people. “You play poker for a living? Cool! I have a friend whose friend also plays full time. I don’t know what he/she does exactly, but I know that poker is his/her only occupation!”. The game is getting more popular each day so it’s normal that there are more people outside of the poker world that hear about it. The more the word gets spread, the closer we get to the point where being a poker player will be an established profession everywhere. So next time someone asks how you make a living, think about what you’re going to reply cause maybe it is worth going into that half hour debate after all!
Katerina Malasidou is member of PokerStars Team Online