Survivor's Anna Khait Talks About Budding Poker Career
'Friends Thought I Was Crazy When I Got The Poker Bug'
Anna Khait is the latest in a long string of poker pros who have made appearances on game shows or reality TV. The 26-year-old, who grinds cash games and tournaments in New Jersey, had the chance to compete on Survivor last year, which is currently airing Wednesdays on CBS.
Though she still lives in Brooklyn, Khait spends most of her time in the Garden State, one of three states in the country with regulated real-money online poker. While the chance to be on her favorite TV show has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the drawback was that filming Survivor took time away from her poker game.
“When I went to Survivor last year I pretty much left [home] for five months," Khait told Card Player in an interview. “When I got home, my grandfather was sick and I went to go visit him. Then I went on a little trip. So I wasn’t playing poker for awhile. I still had to pay a lot of bills, so I went into my savings. I’m building my bankroll back up.”
Khait has earned roughly $11,000 lifetime in live tournaments, but she said she is trying to play more live events, especially at this upcoming summer’s World Series of Poker.
“It’s smart to think of poker as a business,” she said of her bankroll management. "You have to be very careful, and there’s a lot of variance. I do try to make most of my money playing cash games.”
Card Player had the chance to ask Khait, who follows in the footsteps of, just to name a few, Vanessa Rousso (Big Brother), Jean-Robert Bellande (Survivor) and Maria Ho (Amazing Race), several questions about Survivor, how she found the game of poker and what she loves about being a East Coast poker pro.
Brian Pempus: How were you able to get a chance to be on Survivor?
Anna Khait: I tried out for Survivor last year. I’m basically a huge fan of the show and always wanted to be on it. I thought it would be a good time for me to try out. I sent in a video but I didn’t think it was good enough…Then one of my good friends told me there was a live casting call at Caesars, and I went, stood in a six-hour line, told the camera why I thought I should be on Survivor. It was a long process, a long wait, and then they flew me out to finals. I got very fortunate. I slipped through the cracks somehow (laughs). It’s pretty amazing.
BP: It seems like poker players are desirable people for reality TV. Can you talk about why you think this is the case?
AK: Poker players definitely have a naturally strategic mindset. They play a game for a living, and Survivor is a game, Big Brother [which had Vanessa Rousso] is a game. I think it is appealing for a game show to have someone who plays a game for a living, because you are often thinking about things on a different level.
BP: Do you think some people associate poker with gambling in the sense that if you are going to be on the show you are going to take chances that other players might not?
AK: Well, that is one of the big reasons why I didn’t want to tell anyone [on Survivor] that I play poker. I didn’t want anything to think, ‘She’s a gambler, she’s a risk-taker, she goes by numbers, she is intuitive.’ I didn’t want to show that I am strategizing too much, but that was the sole purpose of my going out there. The whole point is to go as far as you can. For sure it’s appealing [for the show], because poker players are known to take risks. Poker players think about all the possible situations. You constantly have to evolve and analyze in poker. There are so many things that come into play. I think expressing that to Survivor was definitely helpful.
BP: Obviously in poker sometimes slow playing your hand is beneficial to getting maximum value. Does this concept translate well to Survivor at times?
AK: There are definitely many strategies for getting to the end in Survivor. There is flying under the radar and not making big moves early on but making those big moves in the end when it’s completely unexpected. There is definitely some slow playing involved, but I can’t really talk about specifics. I don’t want to give any hints about what happened to me [on the show], or how far I went. My game plan was to fly under the radar, make some decisions and try to lead some people in certain ways. I wanted to be involved and play the game really hard but as innocuous as I could…A big thing in Survivor and poker is adjusting. You can have a table full of beginners and whales or regulars. You want to play the most optimal game plan against a specific person. It all varies on the opponent.
BP: Can you talk about your poker background and how you found the game?
AK: I found the game when I was 18. I used to live and breath handball, and someone I knew was hosting a poker game. I sat down but didn’t know what the heck I was doing. I had fun though and went home and started binging on online videos of final tables. I noticed there was a huge strategic component to the game, and that was very appealing to me. I started ordering books. All my friends thought I was crazy when I got the poker bug. I was totally obsessed. I was really excited to turn 21 and the first thing I did was buy a really crappy car. I bought that car to play poker in Atlantic City, which is two hours away from Brooklyn. I spent like $2,000 on the car and during the first week in Atlantic City playing $1-$2 [no-limit hold’em] I won $2,000. From there poker helped me pay for school and rent. It was great. I always had many different jobs [before poker]; I was a waitress, a secretary, a tutor. Though, in the beginning I thought I knew what I was doing in poker, but I only realized that wasn’t the case about three years ago when I met some friends who were honest with me and told me I was terrible. They were like, ‘You are a fish,’ and asked me why I was doing certain things. I was like, ‘What?’ I thought I was learning the game by watching videos and reading, but I realized that you have to work on your game and do it properly. It is so important to engage in conversation. I immersed myself in as much knowledge as I could. I had people around me who I trusted. There are a lot of people who think they know how to play, but you don’t want to get bad advice. I have been working on my game as much as I can ever since. I never thought I would end up doing it full-time for a living. I always wanted to be a poker player. The game is tough, though, and you always have to be working on your game and evolving.
BP: Are you excited for PokerStars launching in New Jersey later this month?
AK: Oh my god! Are you kidding? We have been waiting such a long time for PokerStars. I am so happy that they are coming to Jersey. There are so many good games here. People have been talking about PokerStars for a very long time. I thought there was a chance they would never come back [to the U.S.]. I told my parents that I was going to go to Costa Rica, but when I told them PokerStars was coming here they were like, ‘Thank god you are staying here.’ Obviously it’s only in New Jersey for now, but it’s a step in the right direction. I would really like it to be nationwide.
BP: Some people have the debate about whether Las Vegas, San Diego, Florida, L.A. is the place to be if you want to be a poker pro and still remain in the U.S. It sounds like, in your opinion, New Jersey should be up there among those locations.
AK: Yeah, for sure. I think it is underestimated how good it is here. There are actually a bunch of people, including main event winners, playing here and loving it. It’s under the radar in terms of how good it is. There are a lot of players who moved here. New Jersey has to be in the conversation and it’s growing. It’s fun to see a bigger community. That’s the goal: to have more people involved, more people playing poker, and we can all have a job and make money.
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