I was introduced to the world of poker a few years after the man with the perfect name and perfect story became the 2003 WSOP Main Event champion. Having never deposited any money of my own, I started the journey with a free bankroll offered by an affiliate site that I found randomly while browsing the internet.

What happened thereafter was a classic case of serendipity and it took a couple of years before I was tossed in the cold water. A friend of mine had signed up for a poker site that was looking for an enthusiastic poker player to provide updates on the sponsored pros during live events in Europe. My friend suggested me as a candidate and while I did not have any experience in that specific niche of journalism I did have a lot of enthusiasm for poker itself.

One of the first lessons I learned is how pivotal professional dealers are to ensuring a smooth environment. They are the most visible staff for any of the players to see, always in plain sight and often get blamed for anything that goes wrong (like a bad beat), yet they rarely get praised for doing a stellar job. In a nutshell, dealers tend to be taken for granted the entire time they are dealing.

Their work hours can be incredibly tedious and challenging. During busy live poker festivals, with a ton of players, breaks are few and stretched far and thin. The best case scenario would be a push every half an hour, but that happens very infrequently. More often than not, the next brief spell to relax is when the players go on their scheduled break, after two hours at the tables.

And even then, they will still need to perform table maintenance tasks, such as chip races, before grabbing a snack or finding a washroom. But, the more work, the better the pay when all is done and the dust is settled. Those operators and organizers that care about their dealers make sure fresh coffee and fruits are always available, with pushes done on a reliable basis. 

Sunny places, like the Caribbean, or popular tourist/holiday destinations are in high demand for dealers because they provide the opportunity to relax and enjoy their time off. Marrakech, Barcelona, Punta Cana, Saint Martin, and The Bahamas come to mind. During one of these trips a few weeks ago, something magical happened.

One of the French dealers I knew from the live poker circuit for several years, Jerome (not his real name), got to take part in a five-figure buy-in tournament after qualifying online in some low-stakes competitions. Having survived one day after the other, he managed to reach the final three tables and secured a six-figure payday while being surrounded and cheered upon by many of his long-time colleagues.

The dedication to their job certainly also provides dealers with a very close view of some of the best poker players in the world along with priceless strategy lessons that they don’t have to pay anything for. Being focused over a long period comes as a natural work requirement, and Jerome was in his natural habitat, knowing the environment from years of pitching cards all over the world.

The names Heather Alcorn and Andy Tillman may also ring a bell to some poker enthusiasts out there. Both were named World Series of Poker (WSOP) Dealer of the Year and it changed both of their paths. Alcorn started teaching courses for new dealers and now dabbles at the poker tables herself, while Tillman made the leap to Tournament Director (TD) for the WSOP and World Poker Tour.

Many of the international TDs started their journey as a dealer before their quality efforts, and potential saw them promoted, using their years of experience at the tables to become an even bigger role model within the poker industry. Just imagine it from your own point of view, moving up in stakes to participate in nosebleed games and the most iconic tournaments all over the world.

Only a few are able to achieve that leap of faith and only with a lot of dedication, just like in any other industry. For the time being, poker remains a small niche market with a lot of potential rewards available to be grabbed, no matter which part of the equation you are attempting.

The traveling dealers in particular represent a close-knit family, in which life-long friendships are formed. Fresh blood is coming in while veterans move on to other ventures due to family commitments or various other reasons. The global COVID-19 pandemic posed a threat to these crucial workers as live poker went on an extended hiatus.

Some countries continued to host events but those getting hired to pitch the cards were mostly local. Many long-time dealers had to find a regular 9-5 job, some were given the opportunity to help poker operators in support during a time in which the online traffic exploded. Now that the tables have once again turned – quite literally – it is good to see many friends back at their usual duties.

Many of the traveling dealers particularly in Europe have become a second family to me and it’s always nice to exchange some stories, small talk, and get life updates during the festivals. It‘s very encouraging to see that live poker is thriving again and producing record numbers, as the dull period during the pandemic is finally part of history.

The family is back together and ready to write more stories than most players would be aware of, which is perfectly fine. Just keep in mind that dealers, floor managers, and staff play a crucial role in running every event. Without them, record-breaking numbers and seven-figure prizes would be hard to come by.

About the Author: zedmaster84 is a freelance poker journalist, writer, translator and semi-professional photographer. He has been covering major live poker events all over the world since 2011 and specializes in mixed games with a certain affinity to PLO. He is also heavily addicted to travel, seeing the world and discovering new cultures.