"You play poker for a living?"
One of my least favorite things about being a professional poker player is having to deal with people who simply do not understand what being a professional poker player means. There are certain questions like "So, what do you do for a living?" and "Why did you move to Malta?", seemingly casual questions that I hear on a very regular basis, that send a shiver of dread down my spine every time I hear them because I know that the response to my answer will almost never be "oh, cool" and a change of subject.
Granted, not every stranger I talk to about my job is a pain to deal with, even if they know nothing about poker. There are plenty of reasonable and polite people out there. But here are a few examples of the most annoying types of responses I tend to get on a regular basis (and if you're a professional poker player, too, I'm sure you can relate to this):
1. The wide-eyed awe guy
When this guy hears that I'm a professional poker player, his response is something along the lines of, "Woooooooowwwww, you play poker? For a living? You make money doing that? You don't have another job? Wooooooowwwww, that's so cool! Are you famous? Have you been on tv? How many times have you been on tv? Have you won the World Series yet? Are you friends with what's-his-face, the really loud, annoying one? Do you know that other guy, the black guy who wins all the time? Is it like James Bond? Do you wear a tuxedo? Do you ever lose? How much money do you make? Can you teach me how to play?" And on and on and on until the cab ride is over or I find a way to extricate myself from the conversation.
2. The I know better guy
This guy tends to fire off a few follow up questions to make sure he heard me right, like, "You gamble for a living? In casinos? And you think you can make money doing that? How long have you been at it now?" Then the questions get even more pointed: "So how much have you made exactly? And you don't have another job? You must not have a family to support. Do you have rich parents? Where does the money come from? Right, you win sometimes, but I mean when you lose, where does that money come from?" And then I get the lecture. "You know you're going to start losing eventually, right? What are you going to do then? Do you ever think about that? When are you going to stop? You better quit while you're still ahead. I had a cousin who lost all his money gambling and he's in jail now. You don't want to end up like him. What does your wife say? Man, if I quit my job and told my wife I was going to gamble for a living, she'd kill me, or leave me, probably both!" Sometimes they're a little more tactful and say things like, "Haha, well, you never know, I mean, you COULD keep winning, nothing's impossible..." That guy's always a delight to deal with.
3. The I don't get it guy
This guy is someone for whom the words "professional poker player" just do not compute. He asks questions like, "Wait, poker? You play poker? Like, the game? As a job? Really? How do you... what do you... where do you go to work? Like, where do you go in the morning? What kinds of hours do you work? Do you get weekends off? Who pays you to do that?" And he'll keep going like that until he eventually gives up trying to understand, scratches his head, look at me in puzzlement, and then wanders away. That guy isn't so bad. He always gives up after a little while and tends not to lecture.
4. The I played poker once, too guy
This guy hears the word poker and immediately needs to tell me all about his own experiences with the game, like how he goes on a cruise every year where they have poker and one time he won, and this other time he lost, and then there was this one time when he almost won but then he lost... Or there's the guy who loves poker but has the WORST LUCK and has to tell me every single bad beat story he can remember... and he remembers them all. But my favorites out of this category are the conspiracy theorists, the guys who are certain that poker is rigged because they lost a hand once... and it was aces! The dealer was out to get him or the online poker sites are all a scam... it's the only way it makes any sense! I mean, he had aces! How could he lose if it wasn't all a giant conspiracy? That guy's the best.
Since my Team Online video came out last fall, I've received a ton of positive feedback, which is always great to hear, but the one thing that has made me happiest to hear is when other professional poker players tell me that they showed the video to their mom or their uncle or their old friend from school who then comes back to them saying, "Hey, I watched that video you sent me and I think I understand a little better what it is that you do." It brings me such satisfaction to know that a video about my life could help spread the truth and dispel some of the myths about what it means to be a professional poker player.
If any of you other pros out there have that relative or friend who, like my grandmother, starts every conversation with, "So when are you going to get a real job, already?", try showing them my video. It might help them understand a little better what it means to be a professional poker player and show them one good example of what the life of a professional poker player can look like.
And if my video can help any of you get that well-intentioned but annoying friend or relative off your back, not to mention cutting down the number of conversations like the ones I describe above that you have to endure per month, I'll be exceptionally pleased. Or, you know, if the video doesn't work, I guess you can try what I've started doing with my incredibly persistent grandmother: tell her you've applied to business school. Works like a charm.
Isaac Haxton is a member of Team PokerStars Online.