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.
It was a real trip learning to deal the Montana games. I never did do any drugs, even in my early 20s when the rest of the world was burning their bras and standing in defiance of the Vietnam war...yes, I’m that old. But today I only feel about 312 so it evens out somewhere in the mainstream of how many poker hands you can remember.
The Montana games were a challenge, especially figuring out who could bet what when the pot was almost made with numerous callers behind the bettor. In those days Montana had this stoopid pot limit state law that would only allow the pot to reach $100 – if the house charged a 6% rake, the pot could be $106. Perhaps the Montana state gaming regulators were on drugs when they made those laws and laughed their asses off over how ludicrous the whole scene would be when a bunch of old grinders sat at the same table for 50 years fighting over the same $100 bill. Talk about breaking players and never giving them a shot at getting even. It wasn’t only the pot limit law that broke the players, but the horrific rake pulled its share of victims overboard and drowned them in the undertow too.
If you jumped in a game and got buried, say for $100, how many small pots would you have to win to get your money back? You could never win a big one with that limit handicapping your skill set of being able to outdraw everyone else that knew if 10 players put $11 each in the pot and ran it out, one of them was going to scoop a $94 profit. It’s hard to beat a table full of gambleros that are willing to just keep calling.
I learned to take the right amount of rake, and how much a player could bet with $X in the pot with one caller to make sure the pot was right where it should be. And then figure out what it was going to cost the third person calling as I gave change back to the first two…and on, and on, and on. It was when I hit Las Vegas for the Golden Nugget Grand Prix that everything went out the window. If I did do drugs, I would’ve been looking for the local dealer that could hand feed them to me while I sat with a deck growing through what was left of my fingers as I tried to fathom what, exactly, I was doing there.
I pushed a really perky, kind spirit named Barb out of the box when I was going in to deal a ‘time’ game out in the pit where velvet ropes surrounded the 34 poker tables set up for the tournament. I knew it was a time game but that doesn’t mean I knew what I was supposed to do. Barb stopped to do a finger massage on the player next to me as my butt hit the chair and I said, “Time pot.”
“No, we just paid time,” came from several of the players. I looked at Barb. “No they didn’t. Come on you guys, pay the time and don’t give her a hard time.” The boys paid the time, Barb got a green bird for a tip ($25), and I dealt for 20 minutes – there were no green birds waiting for me when I left. I wish I could have followed her through every down of the three weeks of insanity I’d signed up for...when she left the game, everything was in order.
Bob Ciaffone is one of the first players I remember helping me with a time pot at that tournament. He wasn’t overly friendly, just courteous in making sure the pot was right and time was paid. That tournament wasn’t my last experience with him but that’s another story. One other player that helped me was Seymour Leibowitz. As soon as I sat down, Seymour (I had no idea who he was at the time) asked me if I knew how to take time. I said, “Hell no.”
“Stick with me, Doll. I’ll take care of it.” He did. He played a lot of Pot Limit Omaha and the time collection was taken from each player — if a player was walking, it was taken from their stack and the play-overs stack but the additional ‘time’ collected went into the pot instead of going down the drop. I dealt to Seymour many, many more times after that over the years. He went down right behind me one night at the Mirage while I was dealing in the hell hole of high limit and he was playing on Table 1. He died that night. It still makes me sad.
When I dealt in Montana, there was no such animal as a ‘time’ pot…just the rake. And players didn’t throw wads of $100 bills into the pot, and the chips were all in civilized denominations that I had grown accustomed to, like $1 and $5. That first tournament in Vegas left me feeling sick to my stomach every night when I clocked in and sicker to my stomach every night when I clocked out because I knew I had to come back. As I walked the full length of the Golden Nugget in the underground hallway that led to the Help’s Hall, the employees’ cashier, and passed the uniform/wardrobe room, to the employees' entrance and found the cold Vegas air waiting to slap me in the face with reality, I couldn’t believe I had signed up for this. Yeah, it was cold. The tournament ran from November 29th to December 19th.
I never felt competent or comfortable dealing the first few big tournaments; if I hit a sour run with a player, I always ended up feeling like I was somehow responsible for that emotional thread. I got over that, but it took a while; I finally realized that I wasn’t responsible for what was going on with them and I eventually cut that thread right off at the spool and never let it loose again. I’ve seen dealers start crying in the box when a player, or several players, started on them, and the dealer had to be tapped out by another dealer who finished the down. It’s not a pretty sight. If you get one diptard in high limit that has it out for you, they can make you pretty miserable unless you put on your magic energy shield that deflects everything away from you…I learned to do that.
Go ahead and laugh all you want about a magic energy shield. But imagine yourself pulling up a seat at a table that has eight players already seated. There could be half a million or more on the table. Most of them are pissed because their chips are setting in someone else’s stack and they’re on multiple buy-ins trying to get even…although they came in with the idea of winning…now they just want to get their money back and go home. Some of them haven’t brushed their teeth in days, some of them have body odor, some of them have nervous twitches and glitches, and they like to snap orders at you because you are the only thing standing in the way of their winning and you are the only one that has to put up with them. It’s your down (the length of time you sit at each table), and you’re locked in until you get tapped out…unless of course, you start crying. Or get into a fight with a player, I’ve witnessed that also.
While you’re imagining sitting within a foot of the players in the 1 and 8 seat, and the rest of them within reach if you lean across the table, think about keeping your hands up off the surface of the table so you don’t take cards in the knuckles or have to block chips that come flying across the green felt with your arms. And think about the daggers some of them shoot at you while you keep your head down and keep spinning out tickets…tickets that can only make one player per hand happy. Then you also have to think about the things they say about you. Yes, right at the table as they talk to the air around them or another player at the table, acting as if your ears are painted on and you can’t hear their bullshit.
Well…I learned a lot in my first few years of dealing big tournaments. I never left the box in tears. I made a lot of really great friends at the poker table, as a dealer and as a player. I know everything I am going to write about in The View from the Box is going to lean on the dark side of dealing poker. It does have a very dark side…stick around, there’s more to come.
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.