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One Time, Dealer: Washing The Deck

by Dealer Chick |  Published: Sep 12, 2018

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Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a dealer on the circuit grind? Have a question about behavior, etiquette, or anything else related to running a poker game? Do you want to know what dealers really think about while they’re pitching cards? What it takes to become a dealer? How you should treat dealers? Are dealers people, too?

Send your questions for The Dealer Chick (TDC) to editor@cardplayer.com, and read on for more advice, adventures, and real talk about life on the road for a traveling poker dealer.


On Washing The Deck

Question: How do dealers feel when a disgruntled player asks to “wash the deck”?

Signed, Card Dead


Dear Card Dead,

If you spend enough time at the poker table, you’re going to hear two phrases at least once. “I’d rather be lucky, than good,” and “If you look around the table and can’t find the fish, congratulations, you’re it.”

Just like in the ocean, where sharks are dangerous predators and the fish are weak prey, so it is at the poker table. To say one would rather be lucky than good is akin to saying, “I like losing.” If you’re the player shoving 50,000 in chips with ace-rag offsuit preflop into the big stack after he’s three-bet you with less than five thousand in the pot because it’s the best hand you’ve seen in an hour and you’re feeling lucky, you’re a fish and you deserve to lose. Instead, you’ll probably hit your ace on the turn, defeating his pocket kings, then exclaim, “Well, boys, I’d rather be lucky, than good,” while you scoop the pot.

I once spent a lazy Sunday afternoon sitting at a bar with a friend of mine named Josh. We drank draft beer out of frosty mugs while we stuffed our bellies full of chicken wings and nachos. He was there to watch football. He brought his laptop to monitor his sports bets and play online poker. I brought mine to write. As the afternoon wore on, I watched Josh’s mood lift and deflate with the score of the game. He didn’t care who won, but rather would the score end in the digit he needed to cash? Would there be the right number of turnovers for him to win his bets? I began to pick his brain about sports betting, and poker in general. He was a winning player who supported himself on his poker income. A professional grinder.

During half-time, I turned to him, stuck my boot-clad feet between the rungs of his stool and said, “Would you rather be lucky than good?”

Josh took a swig of beer, pushed the mug to the edge of the solid wooden bar to signal the bartender he was ready for another, laughed and said, “Hell, no.”

“Why not? Doesn’t luck play a part?” I dipped a cheesy tortilla in the salsa, popped it into my mouth and waited. Knowing exactly where I was going with this line of questioning, Josh dove into his answer.

“Well, here’s the thing about that: good players make their own luck. Solid players put themselves in the position for luck to go their way. They don’t risk their whole stack until it’s necessary, they protect those chips at all costs. They take calculated risks, not chances. It’s true, you’ve got to win flips to win tournaments, so yeah, the cards have to go your way, but a good player doesn’t put his tournament life on the line for a flip for no reason.”

“But solid players get one-outed by lesser players all the time,” I said.

“Yeah, of course, but a solid player knows that while the move he tried may not have worked this time, over the course of the past month, year, or his whole career, he’s put that move in play ten times and only lost on it once or twice. So, yes, while it sucks to lose a big pot because some fish didn’t fold, I’m making a move in that spot every time because eight or nine times out of ten, it’s worked for me. I’ve made more money on it than I’ve lost, and that adds up to a winning season.”

What does all this have to do with a how a dealer feels about being asked to “wash the deck”? Well, it comes down to why the player is asking. I’ve had this discussion with several dealers, and the answers are all the same. In live/cash games, it annoys a dealer because it wastes time that could be used to get out another hand and therefore, make more tips. In tournament play, most dealers are indifferent because they get paid the same no matter how many hands of poker they produce. Most dealers will give you a cursory wash, dream about rolling their eyes at you and move on. They know it makes no difference.

But some players believe otherwise.

Some players think washing the deck is going to change their luck. If a player asks politely for me to wash the deck, I’m happy to do it. It’s the player that whines about not getting good cards that gets old. I like to remind players that they’re the only one at the table that knows their cards are bad. I can’t count the times I’ve sat down at a table and a player has been animated, smiling and playing every hand. Why? Because they’re pulling in pots. Twenty minutes in, if I haven’t dealt them a winner, they’re shoulders have slumped, they’re frowning, sighing with every fold, and all joking has ended. Once the whining starts, I counter with, “Easy decisions are better than second best.” At that point, most players consider my statement, shrug and relax. They understand what I’m saying: there’s an ebb and flow to tournaments, being card dead beats putting chips in the middle thinking you’re a clear winner only to be second best.

When you ask me for a wash, I’m going to humor you. I know that for most players, it’s only the stress of the moment weighing them down. But if you’re that player focusing on where the dealer cut the deck, if the cards were washed or if that dealer has a history of pushing you pots, it’s time to change your mindset. Start considering what you can do on and off the felt to improve your game. Put more stock in being good, than being lucky. Like Josh said, it’s about having a winning season, not just one hand. Dealers view players like Josh as sharks. Players who consistently ask for deck washes are fish. Don’t be a fish. ♠