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Poker News | PokerWorks Op-Ed

To Deal or Not to Deal

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After dealing my third, and most enjoyable World Series of Poker in Vegas last summer, I returned to New York City and my job in midtown Manhattan in August.

So this is how it is, in the post-WSOP, workaday world in NY. I work in an office. The commute, while mercifully short, is nonetheless hellish. Today alone I was nearly burned by a woman’s dangling cigarette ash before descending the steps to subway hell. When I attempted to enter the train, I was blocked by passengers who refused to make way yet would not yield their spots by the doors. After a few stops, I finally managed to squeeze past a few folks to find a place to stand in the relatively empty middle of the train car. (Why do most people only want to stand by the doors?) When I attempted to exit at my stop, I almost got stuck. A heavy black woman simply would not let me pass.

I almost didn’t make it to the subway, to begin with. When I was attempting to cross the street, a woman in a minivan who had blocked the crosswalk in her impatience to get a few feet closer to the next intersection nearly hit me. Fortunately, I had my eye on her and could see she was not paying attention to anything, so I jumped out of her way in time.

I find myself wondering, why is it that if someone on a crowded NYC street is carrying a too-large bag, will they always manage to whack me with it when they pass me from the opposite direction--even when I move aside to avoid them?

Why do people walk along with lit cigarettes? Is it for the express purpose of brushing my clothes with them when I attempt to pass them in order to avoid being downwind of their smoke? Or is it so that they can keep flicking ash into my path? I think cigarette smoking should be banned from NYC streets as it has been from bars and restaurants.

Why is my office a continuous construction site? Why am I required to breathe recycled air from the renovation area on the other side of a thin wall--air that is certain to be full of what the Weather Channel poetically calls “fine particulates”? Is it any coincidence that on the heaviest construction days, the owner of the company is either out of town or attending meetings outside the office?

This is why I wish I could play poker professionally and could learn to multi-task well enough to multi-table. I could spend my days in my smoke-free, asbestos-free, blissfully unrenovated apartment, on PokerStars or FultTilt Poker.

Dealing the World Series is generally entertaining, but one’s level of appreciation for the job only increases in proportion to the daily drudgeries and petty insults of life as a low-level office drone. The only time some of my co-workers treat me like a human being is when they stop by to ask whether I’ve played or dealt any high-stakes poker. For some reason, this offers human interest and perhaps a chuckle to some of them. A few are even impressed that I once played poker in “underground” clubs (before publicity and now violence ruined New York’s poker scene), as if that were something exotic.

I did get to deal the other night. The game took place in an incredible penthouse duplex. The only problem was that it occurred during a dinner party. On a long, long wooden dining table with felt for a tablecloth. Along with cards and chips, the table held a variety of tumblers, stemware, large bowls, and eating utensils. There were twelve dinner guests/players. A dealer friend, my original mentor who guided me through the ins and outs of dealing casino poker, had warned me about gigs like this, but I didn’t listen. Somehow, I managed not to knock anything over, although a player across from me did spill his glass of wine all over me, the felt between us, and the cards. I only dealt one card over the side of the table, before figuring out how to pitch on a table with no rail and plates scattered around everywhere.

There was this one annoying player (of several) who kept looking at his hand UNDER the table, so in all the chaos of dealing to 12 newbies while explaining the game, I never knew if he was in a hand or not. I did try to be nice, but it began driving me crazy when he would suddenly declare, after the action had been checked around and just as I was about to burn the next card, “Wait, it’s my turn! I’m going to raise!”

When the game got shorthanded—about an hour after it had been scheduled to end--I made a point of telling them all that in a casino they should never, ever, hold their cards underneath the table. Mr. Hand-under-the-table wasn’t too happy about that.

I discovered later on that he was the host. We were never formally introduced: the game had been his wife’s idea and she hired me to teach the players, met me at the door, and led me to the table.

My dealer friend, the same one who had warned me about this kind of thing, wrote me a note of consolation: “Unfortunately house gigs can be awful for us "professionals" we have to lay the ground rules and make the rounds shorter. What I do is explain to the host that my way is the way, they are usually impressed with the whole WSOP dealing crap. You tell them a story or two even if it happened to someone else anyway explain that you are there to provide a service and what seems rude to them is actually helping speed the game along, you are not there to deal the Special Olympics of poker. They will come to appreciate or in my case fear you by the end of the night.”

Aside from this experience--and one other night where I played in a lovely small home game--I have not played or dealt a hand of live poker since the end of the World Series. So it was with actual regret that I contemplated skipping the events in Tunica, Mississippi, where the Gold Strike offers the World Poker Tour’s World Poker Open and the Grand Casino hosts the Jack Binion World Series of Poker Circuit Event concurrently in January. As I have detailed in these pages in the past, Tunica presents many challenges to those of us who work the tournaments (and to those who come to play as well). It is fairly isolated, there are many temptations to drink and gamble in one’s off hours as there is little else to do, and the events last for over three weeks. The isolation is perversely compounded by the fact that you are never alone, for the dealers must share rooms to avoid paying exorbitant casino rates. Although Tunica is not far from Memphis, which has a lively nightlife, if you don’t have a car you are basically stuck there the whole time. Tunica was one of the poorest counties in the US before the casinos came in, and it is still a pretty depressing place, especially if you are losing.

Nevertheless, after thinking it over, I decided that I needed a break from the daily New York City subway commute, the petty animosities and squabbles of the office, and the lack of appreciation from co-workers. Besides, after months of office drudgery, the prospect of tossing cards around for 3 weeks was very appealing. So it was that I requested an unpaid leave of absence for the month of January.

My request for leave was denied. So I quit. Which brings me to the question:

Why would anyone in their right mind even consider leaving a decently-paid office job, with health benefits, to deal a 3-week tournament in Mississippi?

With no clue as to an answer, I nonetheless packed my bags and set out for the mid-South. Three weeks later, having returned from a very enjoyable time in Tunica, I have some further insight:

1. Dealing a tournament is hard work, but with the right attitude and a little luck, it can also be a lot of fun.

2. Dealing beats office work all to hell.

3. Dealing pays better than most low-level office jobs.

4. Offices are awful!

5. I may not be a person in her right mind, but I love poker.

For those of you who cannot easily get to a live tournament, I recommend online poker where you can hone your tournament skills on a regular basis:

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