Three Poker Dealer Stories

Spending the night "in the box"

Poker Dealing"Any man forgets his number spends the night in the box...
Any man loses his spoon spends a night in the box...
Any man not in his bunk at 8:00 spends a night in the box...
Any man loud-talkin' spends a night in the box...
Any man don't keep order spends a night in the box." -- Cool Hand Luke

About a thousand years ago, back in the 1980s, I dealt two nights a week in a one-table cardroom. Two shifts were perfect for me. I never wanted to work more. In fact, if the boss wanted to rake me over the coals, instead of threatening to fire me, he'd threaten to give me more hours! The way it usually worked was, I'd start working at 7pm and deal until the game broke. I'd deal 50-55 minutes an hour and get a quick break from the floorman or a railbird who would deal a few hands.

You see some weird things when dealing. You see weird things while playing too, but as a player you are voluntarily playing in a game. As a dealer, it's more like the players are holding you hostage -- but tipping you to watch them behave like lunatics. Here are three stories from my time in the box.

The Chopper. I used to play with a guy named Dan. In one club he was known as Disco Danny. In another, since his income came from collecting fallen timber to sell as firewood, they called him Woodchopper Dan, or "Chopper" for short. In either club he was also: "Wow, what-a-liveone!" Chopper never met a hand he couldn't play, or raise, or cap it with.

So are you thinking of some "any two will do" player you've played with? Lots of liveones in the world, right? Well, Chopper was not a mere "any two will do" sort of player.

One night the game was on fire. I would have loved to play, but I was doing great on tips, so I wasn't complaining. Chopper was raising and capping every pot on every street, and people were chasing along. Multiway action Limit Hold'em pots capped on fourth street were the norm.

It was 4am when I got up to take my hourly five minutes. One of the railbirds sat down to deal a couple hands. I went to use the restroom. When I came out, I passed Chopper going in. I stopped and talked to the floorman about the rake the house was getting. This was a 3-6 game -- with a 5% rake, and an $8 cap! Pots were often $200+ before the turn, so I was raking $8 almost every hand.

After chatting with the floorman a bit, I go behind the railbird to push him out and get back in the dealer box. But they were still only on the flop this hand, and the pot is particularly huge. All nine players are in, the board is coordinated, something like J♠9♠8♣, with Chopper capping the betting. The turn card comes the king of clubs, making two black flush draws. I'm thinking I'd like to have the Q♠T♠ or Q♣T♣.

The action gets fast and furious again. One player bets, a bunch of calls, Chopper raises, people call two bets, the original bettor reraises, nobody folds. It gets back to Chopper who says he'll cap it. And that's when I notice. That's when I can't believe my eyes that...

Chopper has no cards!!! I look in front of him -- no cards. I look in his left hand -- no cards. I look in his right hand -- no cards. I look at the muck, maybe they were accidentally pulled in -- but there is no muck! Everyone is in! Just the two burn cards are there.

I can't believe it. I remember not even being able to speak for a second. Finally I blurt out: "Chopper! Where are your cards????"

It's like the air goes out of the room. Everyone looks, including Chopper. He has no cards. The players next to him examine their cards. Yes, just two apiece.

Slowly the laughter starts building. Everybody begins to see how this is the ultimate Chopper story. The railbird apparently saw Chopper go into the restroom and dealt him out (never deal out the liveone). But when Chopper came out of the restroom, he didn't trifle with the minor technicality of bothering to look at his cards, or even see if he had cards! Noooooo, not Chopper. He just raised and reraised. And raised and raised and raised! Which brings us to a very important poker principle: Be sure you have been dealt in before you cap it on every street!

When Hold'em-style games came to Los Angeles in the 1980s, for over a year no other county in California played flop games except in Santa Cruz county (due to some deal with the Sheriff). There were two cardrooms, usually with one game each. Both played dealer's choice -- Hold'em, Omaha8, Omaha High, and Crazy Pineapple.

About 5am one day, I was very tired because the floorman was in the game and stuck (and not wanting to deal) and there was no railbird around who could handle the deck. So except for single hand bathroom breaks I had been dealing for nine hours solid, and was more than a bit on autopilot.

Everybody was playing Omaha this night. When you are dealing Omaha to a full table, it is very easy for a dealer to "feel" the deck and know when to stop -- a twenty-two card stub is too thick to stop, a twelve card stub is too thin to keep dealing. But this particular hand, two players had gotten up at the same time. I made a mistake and accidentally dealt five cards.

The floorman (let's give him a name to protect his anonymity, call him Jesse Rodgers) was buried in the game. As I started to deal the fifth card to the second player, Jesse explodes out of his seat -- his chair flips over, chips splash, he almost falls down. My goodness, look at that, Jesse has AsAd2s3d. Heavens to Betsy, what bad luck. Once he regains his senses, Jesse tells me that in the year he and I had been working together, he never saw me misdeal. Not once. Oops, bad timing.

Of course, I did misdeal at least one other time, in a similar situation, 4am, no breaks. In walks a stranger. Since we were the only place in the state playing such games outside LA, many strangers were rounders, looking to feast on the locals. Naturally, some strangers are clueless newbies. This guy buys a rack of chips and aggressively plays both his blinds all the way to the river, losing both and buying another rack of chips. On his button he calls Crazy Pineapple (as did the previous player). This seems like a tell, no newbie calls Pineapple. So I deal, but apparently somehow I manage to only deal him two cards (instead of three). The pot is capped before the flop. Now everybody including Mr. Newbie discards a card -- which means Mr. Newbie is left with only one card! Still, that doesn't stop him. He caps the betting on the turn and river.

Crazy Pineapple is played High-Low and this is a huge pot, so I'm stacking the chips because the board has come A8742, with two running spades for a flush. Finally it comes time to show hands. Remember, Mr. Newbie only has one card. What do you think that card is?


He shows down the ten of diamonds!

And then there is silence. We look for his other card. We look on the floor. I look at the boss. Oops. (Actually I may have dealt him three cards and he discarded two.) Mr. Newbie doesn't say anything. Apparently he thinks the ten of diamonds is a good hand! The cardroom owner finally says that you need two cards to win, so he has a dead hand, but since it was a dealer error, the house would refund his money... from the pot. No other player complains, probably because they are too busy licking their lips. Mr. Newbie played three more hands, lost the rest of his chips, and silently left, never to be seen again.

See also Life's Rich Pageant, Bad Beats, Suck Outs and The Hazards of Being a Poker Role Model