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One Time, Dealer: Dealers Who Play

by Dealer Chick |  Published: Aug 14, 2019

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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.


Hey Dealer Chick,

Does working as a poker dealer improve your own game? Does dealing count as studying poker?

- Signed, Student of the Game


Dear Student,

A dear friend once told me that poker players tell stories. Like chapters of a book will reveal the plot, a poker player’s betting patterns will reveal the cards they are holding, but you must pay attention and decide if the story makes sense. Dealers have an advantage when it comes to reading players. Like perpetual witnesses, we watch as stories unfold.

We see the seasoned grinder that runs over a table full of casual players with his aggressive betting style. He pushes and pushes because he knows they’re afraid to confront him, until one does, and he reveals the nuts solidifying what they already knew. He’s too tough to beat. Or, he flips over his bluff, collects his backpack and goes back to buy-in to try his “shove it until you double it” strategy on a new table of victims. The grinder is telling this story to these players because he can get away with it, but if he encounters a table full of other grinders, he will change his story because he knows he must.

And the dealer watches.

The same player on two different tables and everything changes. As the day progresses and the levels get higher, the tournament gets harder and the players play better. Usually. There are always a handful of luck-boxes that make it farther than they should. They play poorly and get rewarded, time and time again.

And the dealer watches.

We see the good, the bad, and the so-damn-ugly it boggles our mind that these idiots ever cash. Dealers go back to the breakroom and discuss what they just witnessed on the table. From the slick moves of a pro who’s able to reel in his fish with painstaking accuracy, to the baffling shoves on the river with ace high, the dealers dissect it all. We know which players we respect, which ones we see struggling but getting better over time, and which ones we wish would just fall off the very earth they probably think is flat.

Then we sit down and tell our own story.

They say those who can’t, teach. In this industry, they say those who can’t, deal. Many dealers are drawn to this profession because it allows them access into the poker community while they perfect their game. They get to travel, socialize with the players who are living the life they want, and stay in touch with what’s going on. It’s a smart strategy—ingratiating oneself in the life he/she wishes to have someday via a “paid internship.”

But, watching isn’t playing. Yes, seeing that much poker helps. But it also might convince you—after you’ve peeled off yet another one outer on the river for another fish who should’ve never been in the hand—that this game can be won, easily.

Dealers see a lot of great poker, but we see exponentially more bad poker. That affects our thinking. How could it not? Good players get tilted when bad play gets rewarded, and they don’t see nearly as much bad play as we do. For a dealer to use their time in the box to study poker correctly, they must decipher what’s worth watching. Poker, now with bigger fields of regular folks who hope to be the next Moneymaker, is saturated with bad players. Smart dealers utilize their time in the box to learn, but with caution. Sometimes the best lessons are the ones that teach us what not to do.

But then it’s restart day. A player once looked around as they began opening their bags for the restart of a main event tournament and noted that the same players made up the top 30 percent of the field on most day twos. That is no coincidence, but it is the time when dealers who are serious about their study of the game pay closer attention. Because while observation doesn’t take the place of putting in the hours playing, or reading, or talking hand strategies with competent players, it can serve to strengthen your game.

Many dealers who play prefer to do so incognito. I know a Tournament Director who sits down to play dressed in all black, jacket zipped to his chin and ballcap pulled down low. No one wishes to be recognized for being in the business. The TD doesn’t want to spend his off-time explaining floor calls he made yesterday. The dealer doesn’t want to be judged by the fact that they deal. And neither of them wants anyone to expect them to help run the game if the dealer in the box isn’t good.

Most dealers hate it when the on-duty dealer says, “Oh, not dealing today?” when they recognize a fellow dealer in plain clothes across the felt. Once they are called-out, lesser players often assume that because they deal and know the game so well, they must be a skilled player. This can work in their favor if they want folds, but it makes it harder to get people to call. Or, it makes it hard to cultivate the table image they’re hoping to achieve. As a woman, I use it to my advantage when players underestimate me, but if they know I’m a dealer, that happens less often.

I don’t play as much poker as I’d like. But dealing has helped improve what little game I do have. When someone tanks, I take that time to watch the table. What stories are these players telling? I watch their body language and make my best guess as to what they’re going to do. I’ve learned that when most players ask how much a bet is, it’s not because they can’t see it, but rather because they intend to raise.

Because I’ve dealt to some players so many times, I’ve learned “tells.” I don’t share that information because it wouldn’t be fair. Part of the skill of the game is learning those things on your own. Also, I hope to use it against them some day. ♠