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Poker News | PokerWorks Op-Ed

This One Time... At Dealer Camp...

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Having played poker live countless times and observing the top professionals in the world at the World Series of Poker for the last five years, I have had the opportunity to see hundreds of dealers flicking cards deftly, and not so deftly, to myself and my opponents. I've never been one to blame dealers for the bad cards I've received but at this last year’s WSOP, I was amazed at the number of bad dealers I saw at the most prestigious tournament series in poker. I saw dealers who didn't know how to do simple math, others who didn't know how to read the board properly, and others who didn't even understand the rules of the game they were dealing.

One day I was talking with one of the tournament directors about this and he told me he agreed. “The problem is,” he explained, “is that there aren't that many good dealers available and at an event like this we are almost forced to accept any one that is remotely qualified.”

I'd done pretty much everything in poker and had always thought that dealing might be fun. “You know,” I said to him, “I wouldn't mind trying to deal.”

The tournament director looked at me. “OK, how about this October?”

I laughed and told him he was on.

Fast forward a few months later and I received an e-mail from the tournament director inviting me to deal at a 10 day event. I responded back that I was interested and then started thinking to myself “sh**, I have no clue how to deal.” I wrote back to the tournament director and he told me to practice my shuffle and pitch. Here's the damned thing though. I'd been playing poker live for well over five years and I had no clue what the dealing procedure was. I didn't want to look like too big of an idiot when I got to the tournament so I contacted Linda, my editor at Pokerworks, knowing that she had dealt poker for many years.

Linda set up a impromptu training session with three of her dealer friends. They handed me a deck of cards and I shuffled the cards just like I do at my monthly home game. All four of them started laughing in unison. “What?” I asked. Not sure what I had done wrong. They showed me the proper way to shuffle. My face turned a little red as I realized how truly clueless I was. I had a difficult time getting the shuffle down and Linda patiently guided me until I had mostly figured it out. They showed me all the little intricacies that dealers do that you don't think about like reminding the players to post their blinds and antes, when to collect the antes, moving the button after a hand, and how to put out the flop. The “pitch” – well that was another story and something I was going to have to continue to practice.

A couple weeks later I arrived at the event and I was admittedly a little nervous as I sat down at my first table. The field for the first event was huge... over 1,000 people... and all the dealers were in for a long day. We had arrived at 8 in the morning to fill out paperwork for the host casino and it would be nearly 3 in the morning when the day would end.

I surprised myself with how I did. I was expecting countless errors, floor calls, and stupidity on my part but once I got into a groove, everything seemed to become second nature. Granted, I wasn't the fastest dealer in the world and one player did complain with how slow I dealt. Other than that though, there were no complaints.

There are a number of procedural things that dealers do that I had no clue about. Every time the players get a break, the dealers have to sort and put back together the two decks at their table. I'd always thought they just brought in a new deck and spread it out at the table during break. Every 30 minutes, the dealers rotate to a new table. I'd obviously known about this but I didn't understand why they did it. It's so the dealers can get a break, which after dealing for two to three hours is a much needed thing. The first day, because of the size of the field, breaks were few and far between. I never realized how grueling dealing could be because by the end of the day my back was killing me. I'd sat at a poker table all day countless times and never had experienced pain like that. Fortunately, I was able to figure out that when players were tanking, to lean back and relax my back rather than constantly lean forward.

The break room was the home away from the felt for all the dealers. For 20 to 30 minutes every couple of hours, a group of dealers would collect in this back room stocked with coffee, soft drinks, and food. Most of the dealers knew each other and I could definitely see some small cliques that had formed between various groups but for the most part everyone got along very well and had a good time. I found conversation with the rest of them to come easy. Even though I only knew them for 10 days, by the time it was over I had made some new friends.

For the most part, the players themselves were fantastic. Every once in a while there would be some jerk that you would secretly hope to deal a vicious bad beat to. One I particularly remember was this obnoxious, obviously drunk guy who was berating a player at a table because the guy was wearing a Packers hat and he was a Bears fan. On one hand the drunk threw out an over sized chip without saying anything and then about two seconds later said “I raise.”

I was about to say something when the Packer fan asked, “That's a call right?”

I nodded my head in agreement and explained to the drunk that because he didn't say raise until after the chip had crossed the betting line that it would only be a call.

“The hell it is,” he yelled at me. “I want to raise.”

I knew better than to try and get in a verbal confrontation with him so I immediately called the floor. I explained what happened to the floor and he agreed that it was just a call. The drunk guy wasn't too happy about this and started going off about “f***ing Packer fans!” and how he was going to “bust his ass.” I moved to the next table over shortly after but I was not surprised to see the drunk guy leaving the area while the Packer fan was stacking his chips.

There is a common misconception that poker dealers make a ton of money. Did you know, however, that poker dealers have to pay their own expenses to get to the host venue? Most of the time hotel rooms are not paid for either, although the dealers often do get a discounted rate. The pay wasn't terrible – I ended up averaging a little more than $25 an hour for the time I worked there, but when you factor in expenses like a plane ticket, transportation to and from the airport to the casino, cab fare or rental car fees, it's not as much as you would think. Most of the dealers I talked to had worked the World Series of Poker and had to pay for their own lodging the entire time they were there (no discounted rates) and had to share the tip pool with a huge number of dealers. It's no wonder I saw so many bad dealers there.

The one thing I took away from the experience more than anything is an appreciation for what dealers do. I never realized exactly how much they do. Whenever I sit down at a poker table, I'll never look at a dealer the same way again and if I win money in the tournament I'm playing, I'll make sure they get more than the little extra I used to give them. Will I do it again? Probably. It's not something I can envision doing every day of the year though. I will add that I definitely learned something about how poker players play. Perhaps that will be the subject of a future article.

*Read Strategy and Tournament Reports by Aaron - just type Aaron Hendrix in the search box*

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