The lovely Kara Scott is arguably one of poker’s most popular paragons (and we know she will appreciate the alliteration to boot).
With a television hosting career that started with a martial arts TV show called “Now Is the Time: Night of Combat” (which put to use her proficiency in Muay Thai martial arts), Scott then moved to “High Stakes Backgammon” in 2005.
Her next broadcasting career moves brought her to the attention of poker aficionados everywhere on “Poker Night Live,” the European Poker Tour (EPT), and as a sideline reporter for the World Series of Poker (WSOP).
More recently, Scott left a five-year stint with partypoker to join up with her Italian husband Giovanni Rizzo at Tilt Events (no connection to that other “Tilt” company) in Venice, Italy, a city she loves so much she has practically written sonnets to it in her blogs on Cardrunners.
CardsChat News Editor-in-Chief Hannah Elisabeth caught up with this charming poker personality to discuss Scott’s new loves, her latest gig, and to get her views on a variety of in-the-news poker topics, all of which we share in the ensuing exclusive interview.
CC: When you last spoke to CardsChat back in 2012, you were adamantly single. Obviously, that’s now changed. Can you give us the Cliff’s Notes version of your love story with Giovanni Rizzo, your now-husband? Was it poker that brought you two together?
KS: Giovanni and I were friends and colleagues for years before we got together, and I’m a firm believer that’s a great recipe for happiness. We were both ambassadors for the same poker team, so we traveled a lot together and met up at poker events. We had always respected each other professionally as well. Let it be said, being respected is one hell of an aphrodisiac!
It wasn’t just a matter of needing to be single at the same time, either. We’d both been on our own for about a year when we realized that there was more between us than just friendship. The great thing is that by the time we got together, we had spent years as friends getting to know each other.
Plus, traveling really shows off a person’s character. What are they like when they’re tired, when things go wrong, when there are delays, when other people make mistakes, when they make mistakes, when people are rude to them?
Are they polite to service people, do they help out strangers, what kind of magazines do they buy in the airport, do they share their snacks? These things are important (especially the snack thing).
After all that time on the road together, we knew each other far beyond the best version of ourselves normally put out there when people are dating. If you can fall in love with your best friend, I’d highly recommend it. It cuts through a lot of the bullshit.
CC: In that last interview with us, you said you consider hosting your job, that you’re not a professional poker player per se. Do you still feel that way?
KS: Oh, absolutely. I think my job is kind of hard to put into words exactly, but I’m not a professional poker player. My TV, web and live-event hosting duties are my career. I hope that I’m a good ambassador for poker, as it’s a game and an industry I feel very strongly about.
My job is more to promote poker. Playing it is something I get to do for fun. I sit down at the table whenever I can and am as much an enthusiast as ever, but I don’t make my living by playing poker and so don’t call myself a professional.
CC: Which leads us to your latest gig as a consultant and brand ambassador for Tilt Events in Italy with your husband. Can you tell us a bit more about exactly what you’ll be doing for them? Is any TV hosting involved?
KS: This is a really cool step for me. Before I started hosting poker shows on television, I was also a TV (and to a lesser extent film) producer. I loved the challenge of having a list of things that HAD to get done, problems to solve, and a creative vision to execute. This new position with Tilt Events tapped into my desire to take on a role like that again .
I’m mainly a brand ambassador for Tilt Events, but I’m also a media consultant and along with Giovanni, we’re helping to plan the nitty gritty of the kind of poker events that we would want to travel to as players.
We’ve only just made the first announcement in what will hopefully be quite a few as we move forward with the project. We have a LOT of big plans and it just remains to be seen whether we have the time to pull it all off this year, or if we need to think a bit longer term.
We’re starting with two smaller events in Italy, both called “The Tilt Cup,” and then culminating with a big poker festival in Venice at the end of the year. It’s going to be a lot of work, but we have some great ideas to really bring value to the players.
CC: Is Tilt Events going to take up all your time now, or will you also be doing reporting or hosting for any other channels?
KS: Tilt Events isn’t a full-time project for me, although I do intend to give it lots of attention.
I genuinely expected to have a slower 2015, but it’s already shaped up to be full of new projects! I’m MC-ing the American and European Poker Awards for the Global Poker Index, and I’ll also be anchoring the coverage of the GPI Masters next month in Malta.
I’m pretty excited by the fact that we’ll be broadcast live on Twitch and be hosted on their home page. An incredible number of potential viewers will be exposed to poker. It’s a whole new way to think about the poker audience.
I’ll be in Vegas again for the World Series of Poker, which has always been the highlight of my year. Working with ESPN on the coverage over the years has been such an incredible experience.
The crew at Poker PROductions and ESPN/WSOP are fantastic. The challenge of working on ESPN to a live audience is exhilarating. And watching as the Main Event field is whittled down to the pure excitement of the final nine, that’s just a feeling that is so hard to explain.
As long as they keep asking me, I’ll keep going back! And I always find time to play an event or two myself while I’m there.
CC: Obviously, you’re very beautiful, a trait that seems to be imperative in general for women in TV. And obviously poker is still largely a male venture, although women’s presence in the game has grown substantially in the past decade. How do you handle being a hot babe in a sometimes crude male universe?
KS: Wow, there is a lot to unpack in that question! First of all, thank you. That’s kind of you to say. I find it really awkward to take such a compliment, especially as attractiveness is very much a “personal preference” thing!
I’m grateful to have had some definite genetic luck, but I’m still not to everyone’s taste. I know this is true because, god help me, I’ve been online and strangers love to give a woman their unsolicited opinions on her appearance.
For every person saying you’re a hot babe on the Internet, there’s someone else complaining about your pointy elbows or crooked nose. In fact, the more people say someone is attractive, usually the bigger the backlash of those desperate to prove that she’s not.
It’s a weird, rather mean phenomenon, and it’s dehumanizing in so many ways. It worries me for a lot of the young women who are starting out. We focus so much on how they look as a big part of their value, not just in their careers, but also as people.
I’m glad that I started in poker when I was a bit older than the usual sideline reporter. I’d already had a career as a teacher and then another in TV production. I wasn’t an inexperienced twenty-something with an easily turned head by the time I picked up a microphone. I was a bit more certain of myself, and so all of the lovely compliments (and complaints) didn’t affect me as much as they might have.
Before I worked in poker, I was involved heavily in Muay Thai and other martial arts. I practiced, but I also hosted and produced a TV show in the UK about them, so I knew that world really well. It was a male-dominated place too, so I’m kind of used to these atmospheres.
I also grew up in a small farming town with way more boys than girls, so I’ve always been comfortable making friends of all genders.
As for poker, there are just so many smart people in this game. It’s not a game that does well in the long run with illogical thinking, so a lot of the people I’ve met have really smart, progressive ideas about equality.
Of course, all sorts of people play poker though, so yes, sometimes I do run into dudes (young and old) who think sexism is funny (or worse, non-existent), or those that think women are just around to bring them drinks and provide eye-candy.
They’re everywhere, but they suck, so you know, whatever.
CC: Speaking of douchebags, let’s talk about something that got a lot of press recently, when a lot of men crashed the Deauville EPT Ladies’ Event and ultimately made up a quarter of the field, and then a guy won.
What are your thoughts on men in ladies events, and on ladies events in general?
KS: I think it’s unbelievably short-sighted and ridiculous for guys to play in ladies events. The idea that these events exist to somehow discriminate against male players is, I’m going to use that word again, ridiculous.
Women make up generally only 3-5% of any live field. That’s a HUGE disparity. Ladies events are one way that tournament organizers are trying to address this disparity, and bring a whole bunch of new players into the game. This is something we clearly need if the industry is to thrive.
At a time when poker tournament fields are getting smaller, and when the industry itself is contracting for many reasons, opening up the doors to women players is one of the keys to revitalizing poker.
A lot of women don’t feel comfortable playing at a poker table full of guys, so ladies events are a more friendly, less daunting way to initiate them into the game. It would be fantastic if open fields felt that welcoming for new women players, but the numbers tell us that they simply don’t.
Ladies events are not the only way (by far) to close the gender gap. I’m not even sure they’re the best way, but they do exist for a reason. They’re filling a demand.
What do I think about the guys who play ladies events? Clearly, they don’t really care about the health of the poker industry, and they certainly don’t care about the women who want to play poker in an atmosphere that feels more comfortable for them. Nice. Really forward-thinking guys. Way to prove your character.
CC: You talk in your blog about your deep and abiding love for Venice. What is it about that city that grips you the most? Is it a poker hubub now?
KS: Venice is a magical place. I think it’s the most beautiful city in the world, and it’s a place that won’t last forever. It’s like stepping back in time, back into a bubble preserved somewhere in a romantic idea of the past. Who knows how long they’ll be able to stop the tide from rising and covering the whole city?
Every building is filled with frescoes, carvings, and statuary that take your breath away. Every corner you turn is something new to see. Instead of being like a museum where everything is perfectly preserved and kept behind velvet ropes, this is very much lived in and loved in, passionately. It’s beautiful in a way that is more immediate and sensual.
I heard a story that every year during Carnevale, Venice sinks an inch under the weight of all the people who flock there to join the party. The Venetians feel that it’s worth sinking the city for the sake of a great party. That speaks to me.
CC: It’s clear reading your blogs that you have a great sense of humor. How important a trait do you think humor is for poker players in general? Do you use it to relieve stress after a bad beat, for example?
KS: A sense of humour is so important! Being able to laugh at yourself is key to a happy life I think, and that goes for poker too. I don’t tend to remember bad beats because they’re just a part of poker, but if you go on a really long bad run it can be incredibly painful.
If you don’t keep a sense of humor and have people around you to help you laugh, it’d be easy to give up the game during a particularly long run of bad luck.
CC: Where do you see yourself in five years? Any bambinis coming down the pike?
KS: Five years is a really long time. One thing I learned years ago is that life has a way of directing itself, no matter what plans we make. I understand how important planning can be for some people, but for me, it tends to blind me to the opportunities that come up.
I mostly live in a way that keeps me open to new things, ready to move (to a new city, to a new country, to a new continent) whenever it’s necessary.
Editor’s note: Our exclusive interview with Kara Scott is the first in what will be a series on Great Women of Poker. Join us next month when we interview Pam Brunson about growing up in the shadow of a poker superstar and carving out her own niche in the poker universe.