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.
After 25 years or so of sitting in the dealer’s box, I managed to fine tune my dexterity and mechanical skills down to one fluid motion; shuffling, cutting the deck, dealing the hand, making chip change, selling chips out of the rack, breaking open a roll of quarters or halves, pushing the pot, moving the button…and the whole nine yards…to where I could no longer slice anything off to improve or speed up my dealing. I mentioned that one time as one player was giving me a compliment on how well I handled the deck and chips while dealing a low-limit game.
First I said, “Thank you!” And then I said, “The first 25 years I always found some way to smooth out an edge or trim a few seconds off of a necessary move until the whole operation became a well-oiled machine, but now I can’t. That’s as good as it gets.”
Another player jumped on me, “Then you aren’t doing your job right. There’s always a way to improve, you have to keep working on it.”
My improvement at that table was to just SHUT UP and deal. But seriously, he has no idea what he’s even talking about. I’ve sat in the player’s chair with many a dealer that had been spinning tickets out for years and believe me, they never improved. They’re still sloppy and clumsy and they don’t care. It’s embarrassing to watch some of them fumble with the deck and chip change.
The key is to make it look easy, and simple, and do it without making any mistakes. A lot of dealers make so many unnecessary moves as they whip chips in and out of the pot and pound on the table to move the action that they look fast, but they aren’t. Some of them will even tell you that they can deal 45-50 hands an hour…I call bullshit on that. If you’re dealing a limit Hold’em game and everyone is paying attention and as soon as the action is at them, they check or put chips in the pot, you might get in 40 hands an hour but the games just don’t run like that because the first thing you have to remember is that poker is a game of people played with cards.
A game of people can get pretty intense at times and it’s not about the cards. People like to showboat, stall until they have everyone looking at them and then Hollywood it up because the spotlight is on them. But included in that mix is the fact that players buy-in and cash out, seat changes take place, the action waits while a player gets his drink from cocktails before he looks at his cards, deck changes, chips are brought to the table, someone spills a drink – and more. So I’ll go out on a limb and say hour after hour, day after day, about 35 hands an hour is average…if you’re dealing Hold’em. Once you step into Mixed games, 7-Card Stud games, Omaha, and a few others, that rate drops. I once played an Omaha game where the dealer put out nine hands in a half hour. Yuppers, I counted. What else was there to do? It’s enough to make you take a walk when someone like that’s in the box.
While working at the Mirage, I listened to a dealer in the break room tell us that when he dealt through a high limit game, if they weren’t tipping, he just slowed his deal way down and as soon as the players saw that, they started tipping. I started laughing. I still laugh when I think of it. What an idiot.
First of all, the old high limit games at the Mirage were some horrible little pieces of the dead-zone to deal through. It was like dealing to a rock pile and a few of the players found ways to punish a dealer they didn’t like; if you slowed down the deal, you were setting yourself up for that punishment. Second, where is your own personal pride on doing your job the way you’re supposed to do it? Sure, tips are wonderful, but dealing isn’t about the tips, it’s about doing your job – then you can get on your knees and beg for the almighty blue chip ($1) that a player MIGHT give you when you push them $40,000 or so during your down. Oh yeah…it happens. And more often than not, you are leaving with an empty pocket when you deal through those games so just dummy up and keep dealing…but don’t slow down and think you are going to accomplish anything other than making yourself look like an idiot.
While dealing a $3/6 Limit Hold’em game at the Mirage one night way back when, two new faces in the 5 and 6 seats were the life of the party. They were fun, pumping up the action, and quite talkative. One of them said they’d heard that dealers made upwards of $3,500 a week in tips at the Mirage and they were thinking about learning to deal. I said, “Where the hell is that job? I want to apply!” That brought a good laugh from the table and especially from two dealers that were in the game, they wanted to apply too.
When I auditioned for my first tournament gig at the Golden Nugget, I did the ‘splat’ flop. Thinking about it makes me laugh, and I’ve seen a few dealers that still do it in small card rooms around Las Vegas. The ‘splat’ flop constitutes dealing off the three cards for the flop in a stack, and then picking them up together, turning them over in the air, and then dropping them on the table. Once they hit the table, the dealer spreads them out. That’s how I learned to deal in Montana.
I got hired at the Golden Nugget but the shift supervisor that I auditioned with told me I had to learn how to put the flop out the right way…one smooth slide from the palm of my hand. I started working on it, every hand I dealt, hour after hour. It took about a week before I had the cards behaving properly, but I did it. Every time I was told to do something a certain way as a dealer by my employer, I did it. And on down the road to becoming a better dealer I went, hell, I used to be a legal secretary but I gave it up to pitch tickets and stay up all night in smoke-filled card rooms.
I am soliciting dealers to join me in this great adventure of writing a history of poker from the dealer’s side of the table. A brief sketch of the details are listed in Table Tango, (my blog) in this post, if you would like to find out more information. I would love to share comments from readers but at this time there is no convenient system installed at PokerWorks to handle this. Send me an email – info(at)pokerworks.com — if you want to be one of the contributors to this section, and in the meantime, I’ll work at finding a way to enable a comment section.