Poker Jobs: Laura Cornelius Explains How to Become a Poker Presenter
"On my first poker presenting job, I found myself interviewing Gus Hansen!" reminisces Laura Cornelius, an experience she describes as "pretty nerve wracking."
These days, however, the beautiful blonde takes it all in stride, freelancing in front of the camera for numerous employers including Sky Poker and PokerNews.
But what goes on in the life of a poker presenter? From the vaults of Vegas to the rich shores of Monaco, is it all as glamorous as it looks through a TV lens?
"Definitely not!" Cornelius exclaims. "Obviously, it appears like that. But you're working extremely long days on tournaments, and you have to be there about two hours ahead of everyone else to get your hair and makeup done. That's having done a 13-hour day the day before, too!
"Of course, when people see the videos on TV or online, they don't see the hours and hours that we wait around in between. And especially on a poker tour, that doesn't mean we're chilling out. We're sat in the press room for the whole duration. We research, find out who we're going to be interviewing, and what we're going to be interviewing about."
Originally training as an actress, Cornelius spent several years struggling to find work in the infamously cutthroat performing industry. After living in Australia for a year, like a lightning bolt from heaven, she had a revelation: she needed a job. A real job.
But after 10 months working in advertising, a friend brought her to a pub poker game in north London, and everything changed.
"I'm not sure if it was completely legal," she laughs. "But I fell in love with it from that very first game. I ordered a load of poker books and a month later I realized I didn't want to work full time in an office anymore."
Leaving the nine-to-five "real job" behind, Cornelius took a less-real job presenting live roulette. After a few months, she got her break at The Poker Channel, and from there made the leap to PokerNews.
"Every job is completely different," she explains. "On some, you'll know exactly what you're to do — you'll turn up to the studio and you'll read from an auto-cue, and it's as simple as that. Other jobs, I'll produce myself, decide on location, and what we're doing.
"With Sky Poker, I present a live poker show, so I'll be working in their studio for five hours continuously. I'll have an analyst with me and we'll analyze different hands from online poker. Then I have the touring poker jobs, which are very fun because I feel very in control of what I do there."
Bright and quirky, it's not hard to see that being a presenter comes naturally for someone like Cornelius, but it soon becomes clear she is far more than just a pair of kitten eyes and a dazzling smile. The jobs she most favours are ones where she can utilize her talents behind, as well as in front of, the camera.
"I'm the creator of all the content when we go on tour, as we usually have to make four video blogs per day, one of which is a feature," Cornelius explains. "We can decide what that will be about. Normally, it's country specific, so if we're in Italy we'll do pizza making or something like that.
"The European Poker Tour events are really good because over the last season they've started doing more activities outside of poker, so the players get out and about doing things. Video crews usually go along to those, too. Barcelona last year they were hiring out jet skis, and in EPT London they were doing rides on the London Eye. So we get to join in all those things as well."
A life in poker often means a life on the road, and the chance to travel is often a big draw for the job. Was this the case with Cornelius?
"You know what?" she starts off. "We go to so many places that we only really get one day to go out and enjoy where we are, because the rest of the time we're inside the casinos. And after a while, they can all start to look the same. I do try and make a conscious effort to go outside and see what's going on, but I know for a lot of the poker players it doesn't matter what city they're in. Especially if a tournament is being held inside the hotel — they'll literally come down from their room, go to the tournament, and go back to bed."
And when it comes to favourite destinations, Sanremo holds a special place her heart.
"I think everyone enjoys it there because the food is amazing, the shops are amazing, and it's just a very quaint little place," says Cornelius. "In fact, there's a few of those on the EPT especially. Deauville in Normandy is always very quiet when we go, because it's off-season. You can see some amazing places and do some amazing things."
Poker is known for bringing people together, and as an evidently social creature this held as much draw for Cornelius as the chance to pin some exotic locations on the map. Meeting new people, she says, is simply a part of the job.
"I feel like I know a lot of the players now," she comments. "So forming bonds with them and meeting them down the line is great. I'm heading off to Nottingham tomorrow and I'm really looking forward to seeing the same people I met while in Vegas for a month in the summer. You make true friends."
Although an evidently gifted communicator, Cornelius is quick to point out that good presenting goes far beyond a few minutes in front of the camera. A part of the presenter's skill is scouting for interview content at the tournament. This can range from new players who have just played a big hand, to celebrated poker veterans. Although she is always open for new possibilities, she does admit there are certain players she steers clear of, simply because she knows "they don't give a great interview." If you're a player who likes to give one-word responses, you're not going to make the cut.
And Cornelius admits, it is not always a part of the job she relishes.
"Once a company I was working for were said, 'Oh, please and try and get Phil Ivey!' And I just knew he wouldn't, but I said I would try. But because you know he's not, it's even worse! You just anticipate him saying 'no' and walking away. To be fair, most times players will do their part and say yes — some are more enthusiastic about it than others — but some you just know won't give it to you, and nobody likes rejection.
"It's much easier to get interviews from people you know are friendly and will say yes, but you have to challenge yourself sometimes to get those other interviews. It can also be so hard to schedule an interview, especially with poker players, because they are renowned for not showing up on time.
"Not all of them," she adds hastily, "but sometimes you have to get them out of bed! So on a tour, for instance, you have to interview them while they're on a break. That means going up to them while they're playing at the table, and sometimes it's just awful. They've got their headphones on, they're in the zone, and then there's little, annoying me trying to poke them on the arm and asking, 'Can you do an interview with me on the next break?' Of course they've got the whole table looking at them. Which is good, in a way, because it makes them feel like they have to say yes, but I see them so many times look down and they're thinking, 'How can I get out of this?' but then they just look at me with heavy eyes and say 'OK.' So yes, you have to be a bit ballsy and confident sometimes."
But when it comes to the subject of favourites, the charming Mr. Daniel Negreanu sits at the top of her list.
"He's charming, professional... He's just done it so many times so he knows exactly what's expected of him," Cornelius says of Negreanu. "He gives exactly what viewers want, so he's the ideal interview candidate. Unfortunately, I can't interview him four times a day, every day."
But what about the job itself? How does one become a poker presenter?
"Know your stuff" is Cornelius' pearl of wisdom for anyone wishing to take up the microphone, camera, and bunny outfit (if you're Kara Scott) of poker presenting.
"Listen" is her other important piece of advice, as if the conversation on camera doesn't sound natural, no one will believe it. "Always look as in control as you can," she adds with a grin. "Even if that's easier said than done."
But presenting, like any form of performing, becomes something of a circus act once you move behind the illusion.
"The presenting is actually such a short part of it," Cornelius finishes with. "In that sense I'm 'working' for about 13 minutes a day. It's all the things in between that take ages. Most of the time, I just love the general buzz of being at a poker tournament. They'll be that office-y atmosphere in the press room and you get the banter there — we'll have a laugh. I'll be there for three hours just bumping into people I know and talking. I like talking. So, in that sense, this job is perfect for me. And if you can make it look easy, then you're doing a good job, I think."