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.
The poker table is a small part of society that comes together to try and beat the hell out of each other. Literally! Many times you could join a poker game and the only thing you hear is the swish of cards, shuffling chips, the loudspeaker announcing seats open or calling names on the list, or the dealer directing the action. If you have a lazy ass in the box, the game just runs itself because most players know when it’s their turn to act and those that don’t are prodded by other players waiting for the action to start…somewhere…even if it’s across the room.
Sitting in the box gives you a front row seat to all the action – the action that’s going on at the table you’re dealing, and the action happening in various parts of the room. Sometimes it’s enough to make you laugh, other times it’s enough to make you wish you were clocking out for the night and heading for a glass of wine. The sights that made me wish I was clocking out for the night were the ones when one of the ‘dread-freaks’ was coming in to play and they were being seated in my line-up, which meant that sooner or later, I would be dealing to them.
The ‘dread-freaks’ have a category all their own. I’m not the only dealer that felt that way about them, and as a general rule, I had fewer ‘dread-freaks’ in my line-up than most dealers because I seldom ever went into twitch mode when one of them sat in my game. I know how to dummy-up and deal. There were ‘dread-freaks’ in the old Montana games, and in the big tournaments I dealt in Las Vegas, Reno, and Tahoe. But when I helped open the Mirage in 1989, I got the full buffet of sick, twisted, and hateful because within a few short months, the Mirage had all the action. We ended up with all the high limit 7-Card Stud action that Caesars was famous for and we went from 29 tables to 32 to accommodate the growth. The walls were ready to blow apart from the bodies that were lined up on the rail trying to get into the room and join the games.
The line-up for each shift was a draw, our assistant shift supervisor sat down at an empty table (if there was one, otherwise it was done at the page desk) with a deck of plastic cut-cards (the ones that cover the bottom of the deck so if you have a sloppy dealer in the box that can’t manage to hold the deck level with the table, the bottom card isn’t exposed) and these had numbers on them from 1 to 32. A sheet with each dealer’s name in alphabetical order on one side, numbered cut-cards shuffled and upside down on the other, draw the table number and start filling in the blanks to see who started where. When we first opened, the lowly $1-5 7-Card Stud and $3-6 Hold’em tables were where Table 1 started. Then it changed to where the high limit section started Table 1. If you drew anywhere around 25-26-27, you were going to deal high limit for the night once you cleared the first few tables. And if the list for a high limit game was long, the small games were starved out, no new players were seated in them and you could be dealing through a sweet little berry patch of happy tippers, to find a $200-$400 game as your next table. BOO HISS!
If I didn’t know my assistant shift supervisor so well, I’d say he hated me because in one week’s worth of draws, I ended up with Table 7 as my start four times. How is that possible? With 32 tables and around 65 dealers coming in, how can that happen? I still marvel at the insanity. Table 7 was right in the thick of the shit, usually $75-$150 7-Card Stud or some piece of crap where you were never going to make anything other than your hourly wage and it was best to go armed with some type of an invisible force field to keep the hate barbs thrown by losing players’ eyes from piercing
your flesh your mind. And yes, some of them tried to take your fingers off at the knuckle by zinging cards at your hands.
I sat in the box at the Gulf Port Grand in Mississippi and listened to a player tell the table that if he was a dealer, he would never say a word to a player, no matter what they did or said, he would ‘just deal the cards’ because that’s what we were supposed to do and he didn’t like dealers that called the floor on an abusive diptard. Really? He never dealt those games at the Mirage, or even sat in them, or he couldn’t make that statement with a straight face and without crossing his fingers behind his back to hide a lie.
In those days dealers took a lot of heat from players – not all players – but the players that couldn’t deal with themselves or handle their losses and ego, and in general, hated themselves, so why wouldn’t they hate the dealer for pushing their money across the table to someone else? By the time I spent two years dealing major tournaments in Nevada (returning home to Montana during the breaks) I knew which ones I didn’t want to deal to. Unfortunately when the Mirage opened, a lot of them had found their home…and it was right in my workplace.
It took me a number of years to figure out that I had the best seat in the house. I got the education of a lifetime just watching, listening, and feeling what was going on with the energy that popped around the table, and avoiding the black hole that many players try to drag you into with them. By the time I figured out where the best seat in the house was, I also had a pretty good handle on me, and what made me tick…thanks diptards…and all of you players that just came to play poker, I never could have gotten there without you.