The views expressed here are from an ex-poker dealer that could step back into the box at any point in time — or not! Sometimes funny, sometimes cold and cutting, sometimes just tossing out a little bit of wisdom I learned about myself while pitching tickets and playing poker for over 30 years, this is an ongoing walk-through of what it's like to sit in the poker dealer's chair — the box.
How did I decide that I wanted to be a poker dealer? That's a story in itself since I knew nothing about poker, had never played it, or really knew anyone who did — except my dad. But that's another story too because my dad was never around, his choice.
My introduction to poker showed up out of nowhere, like a flash of lightning on a dark, windy night, it lit up the sky and filled the turbulent air around me with a form of insanity that I couldn't walk away from. If you want to read about some of it, read these blog posts: The haze of history; Get ready for the ride One step back.
My first dealing job was at the Oxford in Missoula, Montana, and I started in a 5-card stud game. At the time, it was close to the only game in town that most people that were new at the game understood…you guessed it, because they could see the other player’s cards! Limit Hold'em was just beginning to take over in that corner of the world...although No Limit Hold'em had been played in hide-out games in the basement since back in the 40s. Those hide-out games were long gone by the time I found poker but many of the old timers knew my dad from those games.
I knew nothing about dealing but I did get some advice from any number of the old crusty farts that played poker with my dad. They could give advice because some of them dealt the old hold-out games in the basement years before. Those guys could rape a pot and starve the life out of the game if they sat in the box long enough…the chips would just disappear. I got advice from one gal – Miss P — that dealt only the 5-Card Stud game — and a couple of relief dealers that dealt the game in the back room (no…not the basement…the back room).
The back room was a dealer’s choice poker game that had a menu hanging on the wall naming the games played. Those were: 7-Card Stud High, 7-Card Stud Low (nope, they didn’t call it Razz), 5 Card Draw High, 5 Card Draw Low, and Hold’em. One dealer in particular dealt the game in the back room — Eve. I can remember seeing her tip jar (a one gallon glass jar) setting on the floor by her foot and it always had a ton of yellow chips in it — $5 chips – but that’s also what that game was called, The Yellow Chip game.
Missoula’s population wasn’t big enough to support a lot of live poker but somehow players showed up day after day to play in the Yellow Chip game and the 5-Card Stud game. Missoula is a college town, the hub of five valleys, and the Greyhound Bus Station was just across the parking lot behind the Oxford. People came in to eat at the food counter, drink at the bar, use the toilet, and discovered there were poker games running. In those days machines were not legal and poker was the only game in town. Some of those weary travelers became wearier as they sat and played for 24-40 hours and missed the next bus out — and left with a lot less in their back pocket than they came in with.
I watched the games, I tried to understand the rake…perhaps I should rephrase, I tried to understand what the hell was going on and I was failing badly. I had a deck at home and when I wasn’t tending bar at the Ox, or trying to tend to three boys and a husband, or trying to sleep, I practiced shuffling and dealing. It was pathetic. I sat on the floor with a dishpan about 3 feet in front of me and pitched, and pitched, and pitched. Pathetic! Once I started to semi get the grip of the pitch, I tried dealing up cards. Helicopters that were out of control is a pretty appropriate description of the plastic tickets flip-flopping through the air. But I never gave up.
Then Miss P called me over one night and told me to deal the next hand at the 5-Card Stud table. I didn’t protest, she stood behind me to make sure I didn’t do anything wrong, and I tried to shuffle. Pathetic! The cards were stuck together and once I started the deal, I could barely breathe, and my delivery was, you guessed it…pathetic.
I tried to squeeze the Kem out of the cards and could barely peel them off the deck. But I made it through the first hand, Miss P read the winning hand and told me where to push the pot and let me deal one more, then she was back in and I was moving off to the side with my face flaming hot, feeling embarrassed because I knew it was horrible, but in retrospect, after having dealt a million or so hands, I know none of the players even watched me shuffle or looked at me. They probably didn’t even know someone new was in the box except for the momentary lull in getting the next hand. Back then I was sure they watched everything but now that I know just a teensy bit more about the whole show, I know it just isn’t so.
And yes, I wanted to be a dealer!!!