What’s the Deal with Poker Dealers?

One may think dealing cards is easy. There is something fascinating about the way dealers shuffle cards, pitching them one by one with well-practiced techniques. There is grace in the way dealers maintain their professional appearance, overlooking the game with self-controlled calmness. Yes, the reason people might consider dealing cards at the poker table an easy job is probably because it the act appears to be so effortless, the movements so natural and refined.

But being a poker dealer is not as easy as it looks. The job remains a mystery to most, players and spectators alike. What does it take to become a poker dealer? What qualifications does one need? What are the chances of a dealer being selected to deal the famous tournaments? How does it work with tipping?

Andy Tillman

In short, what is the deal with poker dealers? In this article, we will take a closer look at the profession answering a few questions from the list of many that you never even thought of asking.

 “Talk to Andy Tillman,” I was urged when chatting to Linda Goldmanova, a friend of mine and a freelance poker dealer. “He is the man, the legend.”

And so I did.


The narrative of a dealer

The journey to become a poker dealer usually starts similarly to that taken by players eager to develop a career in the game. There is a bunch of friends at school, a deck of cards, a piece of felt, and a card room involved. What begins as a simple pastime evolves into a lifestyle, a direction, a career, and for some dedicated to the craft, can transform into something way bigger. It can last a lifetime or fade away when another opportunity comes along offering better prospects of career satisfaction and income.

For Andy Tillman, 2014 WSOP Dealer of the Year, the job is a keeper. Andy started dealing in 2002 when he was “talked into it by a couple of poker friends in the casino”, and what typically began as a university job, “has grown since then.” From Deadwood, South Dakota he dealt his way to Las Vegas in no time. Soon enough he worked his first summer for the World Series of Poker and subsequently started travelling the US circuit.

Meeting more and more people from the community led him to the tables of the Old Continent, when he“came over to do his first tournament in Europe in 2009. It was WPT Bratislava in Slovakia.” Tillman has become one of the best travelling dealers on the circuit. Throughout the years, he has dealt all the big events you can imagine and he is in position to choose where to deal, although “there are some I always work for when they ask, but I still decide where I go and when.”

And then there is Linda Goldmanova and her “dealer story.” She completed her croupier course in 1997. After two years’ experience working in Hilton and Marriot hotel casinos in Prague, she decided to take off, literally, in a different direction. At the age of 20 she flew to Jericho in the Palestinian territories, to work for a casino on the shores of the Dead Sea - the only legal casino of the area at that time. However, the casino was bombed and shut down after six months. Yes, so much for a safe dealer’s job. But that apparently was not a turn off for Linda. Together with her colleagues, she started dealing illegal games, and she stayed in Jericho for another four years. For her, it was almost certainly an exciting time. While you may think of good money, there were often police raids involved on top of that, and dealers working in small casinos in someone’s living room were more often than not facing interrogation and deportation.

Linda Goldmanova

After gaining her licence in Europe, Linda spent several years working as a poker dealer in London, in the Caribbean, and in Dublin. Since then, she has been a regular member of teams dealing the cards at major tournaments around the world.


Climbing up the ladder

To sit at the poker table with the biggest names in the game is quite an exciting image for anyone loving the game of poker. But what does it take to get there? Tillman, who also works as a supervisor, explains how to kick off your career at the WSOP: “You start from the bottom dealing various tournaments, and you try to get noticed by DCs – the dealer coordinators; so they know who you are. Then most of the dealers who get recognized, work on shifts where they get chances to deal final tables and Day 2s and when the tournaments are in the money.”

According to Andy, this is how you work your way up. The dealers are actually scored by DCs on“ability, proficiency, on how they handle customers, how they deal overall and how good employees they are, whether they are coming to work on time, not missing work, not being trouble at work, and all those things.” The scoring system determines not only the best dealer of the year, but also members of the team working at the WSOP Main Event final table.

“The days of requiring Dealer School or previous work experience are kind of gone,”admits Andy. But it is surely not the same for all tours around the globe. One thing is for certain. Even though you may have attended poker dealer school, gained a licence, and became a certified dealer, it still doesn’t guarantee you a chair at the final table of any major events. The status of a true professional dealer is achieved only with practise and effort.

As mentioned by Tillman, you can actually launch your career at the WSOP: “They take in so many dealers now, roughly 1400 every summer. They need people who can work for two months in the middle of summer, who can come to Vegas and work, or are already in Vegas and do not mind working a second job. It turns out to be easy to become a part of the team.”

Job opening alert: Apparently, the WSOP will hire around 200 dealers from outside the US – most of them from Europe. But not so fast, dear job applicants! There is still the audition you must attend. There you will deal for members of the team working for the World Series year around. They test and score the aspiring poker dealers on different things, and those who pass their test become a part of the team. There are poker dealer jobs in London, in Vegas - you just need to keep your eyes open for the casinos and rooms looking to hire a poker dealer.

Slightly different from the WSOP, the European Poker Tour (EPT) crew is very select about the dealers it employs and uses a stable group of professionals. This I learned from the discussion with Linda, and also by talking with Teresa Nousiainen – a freelance tournament director with extensive work experience on the EPT circuit. The EPT crew is rather select and a stable group of professionals.

“They require training or certification. You can hardly become a poker dealer for EPT without previous experience at international poker events,”Linda says. Although it seems it is quite hard to become part of the elite EPT team, there is always a chance. When fresh blood is needed, staff is hired via Global Poker Tours Ltd., “a full service poker production company” – as stated on its website. According to Teresa “there is not much sense in changing good quality employees, but of course, there will always be openings, as EPT has grown so big over the last couple of years. More people are needed all the time.”

There are poker dealers online as well - try out our tables. Click to find out why.


Knowledge, experience and thick skin

What doesn’t differ between the tours, are the general skills and characteristics required, which ensure that the dealer is a good one. “Pleasant personality, an eye for the game and good social skills,” are the most important, Nousiainen suggests. Goldmanova adds “control over the table, knowledge of the game, and a technique, mainly ability to deal cards in an aesthetic way.”

At the top of the list are also toughness and tolerance. As Tillman explains, “There is always going to be someone who has a comment for you, or is emotional about the game. You must have thick skin. There is money involved. Some people obviously have issues. Not that they would have any reason for it, but they like to take it out on a dealer. In poker – we have no control over it, we are not taking their money.” On the other hand, Linda thinks, dealing to a field of sophisticated regulars has its advantages: “Most of the top professionals usually try to help the dealer in difficult situations; when they fail, for example. And everyone can make a mistake, it happens, even though you have been dealing for many years.”

The good thing is, there is no gender bias at play in this job. “There is no such thing. Same as with playing poker, skills are not depending on gender. You either have it, or you don’t,” says Teresa. Andy notes, that in a male-dominated poker environment, girls are favoured and make more money when dealing cash games, “but that is only because they are dealing for their own tips. As for the overall dealing, it doesn’t really matter. It is completely individual. There are great dealers among both.”

poker delaer


Tipping: from a dollar to 50k

“It has become customary to tip at the cash game, and it is completely up to the player,”Andy says, describing tipping etiquette. “The amount varies. In the US, we hope for a dollar for a hand. It is always nice to get more, but in your mind while you are dealing, if you get that much per hand, it is a good day and it adds up after a week. It turns it into a decent job that way.”

Tournaments are obviously different. Usually there is a percentage withheld, on average 3% of the tournament prize pool, but the amount may vary depending on the buy-in size. On top of that, players in the money can tip if they liked the service. The tournament tips are split or chopped among all the staff working throughout the specific event or festival.

The golden era of dealers in terms of making big money is apparently gone. Tillman remembers the crazy poker boom in the United States: “It was really big at first. Everyone played, everyone was still learning, everyone was tipping well, it was a combination of everything. More players, maybe 80%, were playing recreational. It was just fun for them. People were playing small, trying to win hundred dollars, lose only hundred… It has become something else. More people are trying to make money, and less people are trying to have fun with it.”

Still, there are good times even for poker dealers. Like the occasion when Victoria Coren Mitchell won her second Main Event EPT title and tipped the crew with €50,000. Or, when Tillman received a single tip (actually a whole pot) of $1,200 at the $100/200 No Limit game in Vegas.

The best dealers are not compensated only financially. There is the Dealer of the Year award presented to the best dealer of the World Series every year. And as I mentioned above, Andy Tillman was the award winner for 2014. EPT has no such thing, although the European Poker Awards (EPA) have made up for it by the Industry Person of the Year Award, which can be presented to any staff member in poker business. Above all, the 13th edition of EPA 2014 put poker dealers in the limelight, when the special Jury Prize was presented to all European poker dealers.

card shuffle


Two sides of a poker table

Dealers are strongly attracted to the other side of the felt. Many of them tend to flirt with the game of poker, and with the idea of becoming a professional poker player. It is no wonder. Seeing winning players at the table, a couple of hundred hands a day, the sight of big money. And they do not only stick to a live game, but also play and learn online. There is an impressive list of dealers who actually had some success playing cards themselves. The list includes legendary Mike Matusow, Scotty Nguyen, six-time WSOP bracelet winner Layne Flack and 2014 November Niner Billy Pappas, who used to work as a full time poker dealer for a little poker room in New Hampshire.

So here is the deal with poker dealers: The industry has gone through a lot, but dealing cards is still as fun as ever. Travelling, seeing the world, freedom to work freelance, a chance to sit next to the biggest names in the game - these things surely make the job special. The poker community feels almost like a second family and dealing cards opens doors to this world. And last, but not least, the opportunity to learn poker by observing the best players in action is a priceless advantage to those who decide to take a seat at the other side of the poker table.

There are poker dealers online as well - try out our tables. Click to find out why.


Author’s note: A special thanks goes to Teresa Nousiainen, Linda Goldmanova and Andy Tillman for taking the time to talk to me about their experience.

Photo credits: Andy Tillman image is screenshot from WSOP video. Linda Goldmanova image credit Loïc Sabatte, histoire2poker, used with permission. Poker dealer image, Rob Watkins/Paf, flickr, CC-BY-SA-2.0. Card shuffling image - U.S. Air Force photo by Charles Haymond.

Liba FoordLiba Foord is a freelance writer and journalist from the Czech Republic. Liba started working in the poker industry in 2011 and has participated in numerous projects providing live coverage, translation and consultancy services. Liba also serves as the chief editor for Czech & Slovak edition of Card Player magazine.


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