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Chutzpah & Hearts: MARTHA FRANKEL,
Author of Hats & Eyeglasses



SS: Learning how to read people, and read tells, as a child playing poker, did that help when you went on to become an interviewer?

MF: I think it was the other way around. I think I was a good poker player because I was a good interviewer. I remember when I was first doing the interviews, I would say, “So how do you feel about that?” And they would say, “I really don’t have any feeling.” And I would believe them. Then later I would think, no, there’s something here. So I would change the way I sat so that I could mirror them. I would breathe the way they did, put my hands down on the table the way they did. And sure enough, within five minutes, they’d start to tell me the stuff that I was most interested in. So when I started playing poker, I would find myself mirroring somebody, just because that’s what I’d been doing so long, and that was fascinating.

SS: So mirroring a person makes them unable to read you because they can’t read themselves?

MF: They can’t read you because you’re acting like them. They think you’re going to do the same thing as them. But then what you can do is start matching them breath for breath and hand for hand. Then you speed up your breath and you move your hand, and they start doing it unconsciously back to you. [Laughs] I mean, it’s a very easy technique, but it is a little bit of hypnosis.

SS: You have a line in your book about “the deeply ingrained pleasing thing in women.” Do you think there’s a difference in the way the genders play?

MF: Women are treated differently everywhere. At the poker table, that’s a place where it can work to your advantage. I don’t play like a girl. Nobody would ever say, “Oh, there’s Martha, she’s one of the guys.” I am definitely a woman. But I’m not afraid to be the most aggressive player at the table anymore. But I used to be. I used to be so embarrassed that I was the one raising the most. Not anymore. And I think I brought my interviewing skills to the poker table and I still bring them everywhere. Watching people and not listening to them. Not what they say but the way they say it. I think tells are overrated. Someone can spend six hours watching for your tell; meanwhile, you’ve beat them for $500.

SS: What about the role of lying, i.e., to bluff, and how accepted that is in poker?

MF: That was something I had a really hard time with when I first started out. We’re brought up to think lying is bad. Then when you start playing poker, it’s not only good, it’s encouraged. I remember the first time I bluffed. I started doing well, right away, at home games, but I never bluffed. If I had a great hand I played it and won. If I didn’t have a great hand I folded. And then one night I had three great hands in a row. And I remembered what my father used to tell me: “Now is the time to bluff.” And I bluffed. And I said, “Oh, I get it.” And then I bluffed the next hand. Then I bluffed the next hand and got killed.

SS: I’ve met players that have mastered the emotional shutdown — that ability to survive big wins and losses without emotion. Do you think there’s blowback in their “real” lives?

MF
: Yes, and I’ll give you a good example. I knew these kids in LA who worked in the porn industry, and I would say to them, “So, how does that affect your life?” And they would say, “Oh, not at all. It’s just work. Well, I haven’t slept with my girlfriend in a year and a half, but ...” [Laughs] Poker players who play that much are addictive gamblers. You’re sitting with your family and you’re thinking, “Hurry up, hurry up, I want to go back to the game.”

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