WSOP Diary Day 36: Deal me a winner. Meet the folk with your fate in their hands
Every six-max table at the World Series of Poker always has seven people around it, and when they're ten-handed, there will always be 11 chairs. Even when the November Nine assembles to play down to a Main Event multi-millionaire later this year, the ESPN crew will draw up ten seats to the final table. And when they're heads up for the bracelet, three people will sit silently in front of the crowd.
In many ways, the World Series of Poker owes everything to the "extra" man or woman in that additional seat, and yet we rarely hear anything from them. Discretion is all part of the most crucial job at the World Series and yet the dealers - yep, the dealers - have the fate of thousands of poker players right there in their hands.
"I'm not emotionally involved," said Doug Schertz, 63, a retired high school math teacher from Crystal Lake, Ill., who has dealt at the World Series for four years. "You're just trying to do the best possible job you can without making mistakes. And make sure the right person wins what he's supposed to win... I don't have any aspirations to be a poker star, but I just enjoy being a part of it."
Players demand professionalism, accuracy and impartiality from the army of men and women in the distinctive black waistcoats and white shirts of the dealing staff. And invariably they get it. But this is not just luck. Organising the dealers for the World Series takes months of hard work, and years of experience.
"I start working on this in January," said Kim Smith, the Dealer Manager at the World Series. "Jack (Effel) will start calling in about January and start shipping me projections, numbers, so I can start doing my figuring to tell him how many dealers we're going to need."
This year, the target was 1,000 dealers, meaning staff was sourced from card rooms across the whole of the United States. Some dealers come to town for the whole seven weeks, finding accommodation across the city, while others are locals, occasionally balancing more than one job to deal at the biggest poker event in the world.
"It's a lengthy process, but I've figured it out over the years," said Smith, who started as a dealer in 2005 and 2006, then went on to be a supervisor in the next couple of years, before finding herself in the top job. "It's just grown, grown, grown. Over the previous five years, I seen a lot of really, really positive changes in the World Series. The quality of dealer has improved immensely. "
Certainly players seem very happy with the quality of dealers - and it's important not to underestimate the difficulty of the job. There is huge diversity in the games, meaning a dealer can hotfoot from hold 'em to Omaha to stud and back again, all during an eight-hour shift. Many have passed through a dealer school and then attended "auditions" held every spring ahead of the World Series, but there's a different kind of pressure involved with doing it for real, with millions of dollars on the line.
"I kind of thrive on pressure," said Jamie Moss, 30, who is dealing his second World Series. "I dealt a final table for the first time this year and it was fun just to be part of the action of someone getting a bracelet and everyone's winning a couple of hundred grand."
Moss is a self-confessed poker obsessive, who hopes to trade his current employment in customer service for a job in the poker boom in Florida. But he also holds aspirations of being on the other side of the table at the World Series one day; dealing has taken him one step closer to the top action than his couch at home. "It's great to be able to sit with people I've seen on TV...Just to be in the middle of all the action that I've seen for the last five, six years. I definitely want to be playing in it one day, but it's cool to start and deal for a few years and maybe by 2012 I'll be here playing for myself."
Like some of the top players, dealers will often be away from home for the full seven weeks - exchanging the comfort of family and friends and their own bed for a couple of months in the stifling heat of Vegas. Moss has a 12-year-old daughter, Raelle, and a six-month old son, Dante, and said: "That's the hard part, with him being so little, kind of missing out on the new things he's doing. That's a little hard. Seven weeks have been going by quite quick, but I can't wait to be getting home."
The work itself demands flexibility: a shift could begin at any of nine different start times. Dealers come in at 8am, 9.30am, 11am (for the daily bracelet event), 1.30pm for the day two and three restarts, 4pm, 6pm, 8pm, 11pm and 1am. "It's a 24 hour operation so we have to make sure we have the proper number of dealers here for all of what's going on at all the times of the day," Smith said.
In addition to shuffling cards and counting chips, dealers are also required to have a very thick skin. Sometimes thoughtless players blow off steam by heaping their misery on the dealers. "Some players aren't very nice when they lose, and usually the person that they're going to take it out on is the dealer," Smith said. "I always tell dealers, don't take it personally. Because if they're hollering at you...they're not yelling at Kim, they're yelling at 'the dealer'. They're just yelling at 'a dealer'. You just toss it away."
At the online tables, players are accustomed to receiving their cards instantly and mechanically; they take the 'dealers' for granted because they don't exist. But they'd be foolish to ignore the humans sitting in front of them around the World Series tables. "If any kind of character exists, we've got one among the dealers," said Smith. "Probably two."
And dealers remember. They know the obnoxious individuals, the bad players, the graceless winners, the hygenically challenged - and you wouldn't want to be the subject of the spirited conversations in the dealers rest area at the back of the Amazon Room.
There, beneath rosters pinned to the wall that stretch for yards, the dealers take their breaks, seeing out their free-time munching on chips or ice-cream, reading books and magazines, taking forty winks, or chattering. A smokers' tent outside is also a hotbed of gossip; top buttons are unfastened to exchange a few stories from the day beneath the heat and a fine spray of cooling water.
At the start of a shift, a long barcode of dealers (all dressed in black and white) assembles in the breakroom and learns their assignment for the day. From a lectern in the corner of an L-shaped room, the dealer supervisor reads out names and table numbers as if calling bingo--a process that can take about 20 minutes at the start of a busy shift.
When their name is called, the dealers peel off, grabbing a Coke or a water, sharing a quick fist pump then sometimes asking: "What tournament is it today anyways?" Caps, bags, coats are hanged on hooks or stowed in lockers and the dealers then collect a white table card (on which to list the players' names). Then it's out onto the floor through a back entrance into the Pavilion or Amazon Room.
Taking this walk down the unfurnished back corridors and then emerging into the crowded tournament arenas, bathed in artificial light, feels a little like being in a rock band walking onto stage. But only a little. Instead of picking up guitar or drumsticks, the dealers head to four plastic buckets and pick up a dealer button, a cut-card, a strip of player wristbands and a pen; the tools of the trade. Then they'll take a seat and begin dealing, waiting for a tap on the shoulder from a colleague to "push" them onto the next table, or out the door for a hard-earned break and the chance to catch up with new buddies.
"When you're here for seven weeks, you make friends with people," Schertz said. "Each year you make friends with new people you never worked with before. You hang around together and have a good time; try to make good decisions. Not everyone does."
The camaraderie among the dealers is crucial. Experienced vets raise the spirits of the newbies; the newcomers bring fresh enthusiasm and more stories from the furthest-flung districts. The dealers have seen pretty much everything poker has to offer: the worst beats both on and off the table, one-outers and heart-attacks. But the pros seem in most cases to outweigh the cons, and there's the chance to be part of history.
"I just enjoy doing it," said Schertz. "It's the greatest spectacle in poker."
AROUND THE TABLES
There were plenty of dealers in action across both tournament rooms yesterday (how do you like that for a link?) as the $25,000 six max no limit hold 'em continued through day two.
As has been noted, this tournament attracted the very finest field, paying the second-highest buy in of the Series, and the six-max dimension added an extra twist. It was a tournament tailor-made for the likes of Daniel Negreanu--and Kid Poker prospered.
He began the day fourth in chips but soon went on a charge that took him to the very summit. He eliminated Mclean Karr, with jacks against sevens, then Philippe D'Auteuil with big slick against a smaller ace.
Then he flopped top two pair with J♦[10c] to oust Jess Yawitz, and then outdrew Thomas Bentham when they got it all in pre-flop with A♦J♣ (Negreanu) against Bentham's A♠Q♥. The J♥ rivered, and Negreanu broke through a million.
Negreanu then sent Hoyt Corkins packing, and only a slight slide in the late stages pegged Negreanu back to 860,000. That puts him in sixth spot overnight, with only 18 players remaining.
As for the others: the Team PokerStars Pro John Duthie wound up on the ESPN feature table pretty quickly, alongside Justin Bonomo and Isaac Haxton; Ivan Demidov faced off against Phil Ivey; and Vanessa Rousso was under the media's beady eyes on the second feature stage. Barry Greenstein, meanwhile, continued a war of attrition in this year's World Series. (Be prepared for a horror.)
So, Duthie. Despite putting the fear of God into the production crew, many of whom are friends of Duthie's from the EPT, with the frequency of his raising, everything seemed to be going well on the TV table despite such exalted company. However, a slight accident with pocket tens against Bonomo's jacks soon sent him packing. No cash this time for poker's first tournament millionaire.
I watched Demidov cross swords with Ivey a couple of times on an outer table, conflicts in which the Russian Team Pro seemed to have the edge. In one hand, Demidov raised to 7,000 from the cut off and Ivey bumped it to 22,000 from the small blind. Demidov went deep into the tank--one of those pauses that if it happened in a $2-$4 game, you'd think the player had forgotten they had cards.
But having pondered his options, Demidov emerged with a four bet to 45,000 and Ivey's eyes now shot out on stalks. Demidov sat absolutely motionless, save for a heaving chest beneath his T-shirt. He had a small stack of chips still in his fingers, as if daring Ivey to raise again. Ivey stared deep into Demidov's Russian soul, but eventually he folded and Demidov raked the pot. It might have ended there, but it was notable that Ivey continued the stare-down long after the cards were mucked, like a golfer worrying as much about the follow through as the shot, and fixing his stance even as the ball disappears down the fairway.
This intriguing battle had the potential to grip all day, but soon it was chilled with the following cooler: Ivey raised to 11,000 from early position and picked up one caller, plus Demidov in the small blind and Eugene Katchalov in the big.
The three of them went to a flop of 7♦5♥2♣ and Demidov and Ivey got involved in a raising battle until all of Demidov's 140,000 were in the middle. Demidov's pocket twos had flopped bottom set; Ivey's pocket sevens had flopped top set. Demidov was dust.
Rousso has made a habit of mixing it with the big boys in the highest buy in tournaments - and making it deeper than most of them. But this time, she departed midway through the afternoon, missing out on her third cash of the Series. "Out in 29th" Rousso tweeted. "I played the best I could with absolutely NO cards. Got short. m of 4, 5 handed it folds 2me @button w KcJc I shove SB has AT."
As for Greenstein, well, this was not a tournament he is going to want to remember. Showing his usual style under pressure, Greenstein had built a stack of more than half a million, comfortably in the pack, when he ran into Frank Kassela, the WSOP's only double bracelet winner this year.
Kassela raised to 25,000 from the button and Greenstein three bet to 60,000 from the big blind. Kassela called and the flop came Q♦[10d]5♠. Greenstein bet, Kassela shoved for 498,000 and Greenstein called.
So, Kassela was on a flush draw to beat Greenstein's aces, and although the turn was a blank, the river was the 6♦. Kassela raked in a massive pot, leaving Greenstein short stacked and out soon after.
The final three tables - all now in the money - restart this afternoon to play to a winner.
It was also day two of the $1,500 limit shootout, and Marcel Luske and Team Online's Sebastian Sabic were on the same table. That made it impossible for them both to proceed - a shootout means that each table plays to a winner, who progresses through to the next round. In the event, neither of them progressed.
Sabic went early, Luske had aces cracked during a slower demise that ended in third. They both won $4,135 for reaching the second round.
Two other tournaments began yesterday: the final $1,000 no limit hold 'em event before the Main Event, in which a starting field of 2,340 was sliced to 331, as well as the last Championship event before the big dance - the $10,000 Pot-Limit Omaha.
We'll pick up coverage of those tomorrow, but Thierry van den Berg is going well in the $1,000 in what is his first tournament of the Series, and his countryman Noah Boeken leads the Team PokerStars charge in the PLO. William Thorson, Vanessa Selbst, Thomas Bichon, Jason Mercier, Humberto Brenes , Greg Raymer, Rino Mathis and Alex Kravchenko will also bring chips back for day two.
TWEETS OF THE DAY
@downtownchad (Chad Brown) on the wrong side of a good run:
Tweet 1: "Playing plo championship. Just lost a 30k pot to 1 out on river. I still have 23k."
Tweet 2: "Busted in the plo. The guy who made quads the 1st time, made it again."
@RaSZi (Lex Velduis) thinks his options through aloud:
Tweet 1: "How sick is it that everyday you wake up, you feeling like playing a tournament, no matter how demotivating day before was. Hm 10k PLO?"
Tweet 2: "Decided to skip the 10k PLO. If I'd have lost 1 pot I would have wondered wtf im doing playing again. Thats not good in 10k tourneys."
Previous WSOP Diary entries
WSOP Diary Day 35: Williams and Selbst sign on the line for Team PokerStars Pro
WSOP Diary Day 34: The De Meulders and the Hachems. Team Pro's band of brothers
WSOP Diary Day 33: World Series Rio style
WSOP Diary: Day 32: Bracelets only for Tournament of Champions
WSOP Diary: Day 31: Soccer sickness infects the Rio as WSOP pauses for World Cup
WSOP Diary: Day 30: Climbing the cash ladder with Humberto Brenes
WSOP Diary: Day 29: Mandy "roxy24" Thomas mixes it with the big boys
WSOP Diary: Day 28: Barry Greenstein eyes final as shark attacks the Rio
WSOP Diary: Day 27: PokerStars party goes Dogg style
WSOP Diary Day 26: Bill Chen: Poker player, wedding planner, bridesmaid
WSOP Diary Day 25: Cutting through the throngs