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One Time Dealer: Talkative Dealers

Traveling Tournament Circuit Dealer Answers Your Questions About The Game

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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 Talkative Dealers

Last weekend, I was in the middle of a deep run in a tournament, but I was short-stacked. I had driven five hours to get there, got into it with my wife on the way out the door because I hoped to be gone all weekend, and now I’m several hours into my grind, fighting for my tournament life, and my dealer won’t shut up. He’s making mistakes. The action is slow. I just want to focus on my game. My last dealer never said a word. What gives?

- Signed, My Ears are Bleeding


Dear Bleeding Ears,

Let me start by saying I hope you took that tournament down, made up with your wife and won a ring. Trifecta. Now let’s get to your question, what gives?

What gives is that you experienced the complete opposite ends of the spectrum concerning dealer styles, and it got in your head. Let’s address the obvious issue you encountered which was that your second dealer’s lack of focus on the task at hand caused mistakes to be made and action to slow down, both unacceptable results of his/her behavior. The truth is this: regardless of a dealer’s approach to how they run their game, if they can’t continue to provide as close to mistake free dealing as possible (they’re human, remember) and keep the action moving at an acceptable pace while talking, then they need to shut up, period. Outside of comments needing said to run the game, they shouldn’t speak.

But there are those dealers who possess the gift of gab and it doesn’t slow them down, or cause mistakes. Are they allowed to join in the table conversation? Yes and no. My first question would be, is this dealer at a live/cash game or a tournament table? If it’s live/cash play, then yes, talk as much as the table allows. Earn those tips. Be friendly, outgoing, funny. Do it all. I would still caution that no one really cares for the dealer who approaches their thirty minutes in the box with the, “This is my live audition for Last Comic Standing!” attitude, but otherwise, have at it.

Your previous dealer, however, never said a word, according to you. On a tournament table, that’s good. But can it be bad? Again, it depends. Was this dealer frowning, not making eye contact, not even greeting players upon pushing into the table? If so, you didn’t get a professional, you got a grumpy butt. Maybe this dealer is on their 12th hour in the box without a break, their back hurts and their head is pounding. As dealers, we’ve all been there. It’s no fun, but the job still requires a certain level of customer service, which translates to, suck it up, buttercup. Do your job the right way, give the players what they’re paying for: a well-run game and a good attitude.

So, what is the answer? Are dealers allowed to talk or not? I once had a floor tell me, “A good dealer is a quiet dealer.” I was new to the circuit grind, with only three years of house dealing under my belt. I had been taught at my home casino to “call out the action”, all the action, which sounds like, “Check, check, fold, check, call, check, fold, call…”, blah, blah, blah, you get the idea. It’s annoying, and unnecessary. As new dealers, we’re taught that to help train us to follow the action. Eventually, one must advance enough in running their game to let that crutch go. When my floor walked by my table, after cringing, he taught me that lesson. What I’ve learned in my years as a dealer is that the level of talking I do at a table, live/cash or tournament play, should correlate to the temperament of that table.

If the players are talking to me, I engage in conversation, to a point. If the action is fast-paced, or there are side pots to calculate or it’s a big hand that requires the conversation to cease so the players involved can concentrate on their next move, I stop responding and focus. To the player that is trying to engage me in conversation, I may offer a smile and a “hold on a sec” gesture to explain why I’ve suddenly dropped my half of the dialogue, but that’s it.

While we’re on the topic of dealer talk, let’s offer up a few words about what dealers should not say. I’m the first to admit that when it comes to appropriate conversations in the box, I err on the side of no holds barred. I’m an outgoing female with the humor of a twelve-year-old boy hiding inside me. I work in a male-dominated industry. I flirt, a lot. If players want to go down the rabbit hole, I will gladly follow. I’ve been known to immediately crack an explicit joke upon pushing into a table to let the men know that my being female doesn’t mean they have to censor themselves, an ice-breaker of sorts. I do not engage in derogatory, racially motivated, political/religious topics or hateful speech. I do not comment on the action, either. The “do not influence the action” rule extends to dealers, too. We are not supposed to announce that we think someone missed their flush, or, “Oh, the river makes a straight!” or anything else of that nature. We serve as unbiased, facilitators of the game.

Years ago, I worked as a sign language interpreter for the deaf/hard of hearing. It was a job that in many ways is like being a poker dealer. We are there, but we’re not. Interpreters facilitate communication, dealers facilitate poker games. We are necessary to the exchange, but we’re not a part of it. If an interpreter is doing their job correctly, it’s easy for both the hearing and the deaf/hard of hearing client to forget the interpreter is even there. Have you ever sat at a table playing, and not even realized the dealers changed out? Exactly.

Whether or not a dealer is sociable is a personal choice on their part, if the game is being run efficiently with a good attitude, mistakes are few and far between and customer service expectations are being met. Part of the challenge of poker is learning how to play your best game with distractions, despite unfortunate turns of fate like bad table changes, green dealers or too much conversation at the table. Put your headphones on, buckle down and play your game. It is, after all, the only thing about poker you can control. ♠