Tourney dealers feel heat of the spotlight

April 16, 2001 3:55 AM
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Lights, camera, action!

Actors aren’t the only ones who must abide by those commands. Dealers also will feel the heat from the klieg lights at Binion’s 32nd Annual World Series of Poker (WSOP) that began Monday and ends May 18.

How poker dealers handle the pressure will determine how long they work the tournament. Poker is poker, but a special type of dealer is needed for the $1.5 million (or $2 million if there are at least 625 players) Championship Event, which closes out the WSOP May 14-18.

"A lot of first-timers (to the WSOP) never dealt high limit, so there is some breaking in to do," said Binion’s supervisor John Sheffield, who hires the dealers, cashiers, chip runners, time drop clerks and data processors. "It’s actually interesting (to watch) because so many of them have never seen that much money. If you’ve never dealt high-limit before, it gets you nervous to see all that money on the table."

Not only can $4 to $5 million be in the pot at one time, but TV cameras and the lights that go along with them are taping all the action.

"It’s like a foreign country when you are constantly dealing with $25 to $100 chips," Sheffield said, "and you’re used to always seeing $1 or $5 chips."

During his 23 years working as either a dealer or supervisor at the WSOP, Sheffield has seen experienced dealers crack under the pressure.

Some dealers take it out on the players, acting too aggressively. Others have been caught stealing money and showing up to work too drunk to deal cards. But one dealer once created a unique situation.

"I had a girl dealing at one of the final three tables, and over $1 million was in the pot," Sheffield said. "All of a sudden, I see the girl’s eyes roll back. Then, she began fainting right in the box. I had to take the last card off of the top of the deck for her. And when I asked her what was wrong she said, ‘Do you know how much money that is!’"

In order to find dealers with the right stuff, Sheffield relies on a regular core of veterans who work the WSOP each year. But about 180 dealers will be needed to man 74 tables this year, so Sheffield will be hiring from some of Las Vegas’ other poker rooms, like The Mirage and the Bellagio. He’ll also be relying on some help from out-of-state.

Most new dealers are put through auditions.

"I put them through 7-card Stud or Omaha 8 or better," Sheffield said. "I’m looking at their procedure and how they handle the chips. There are a lot of big chips that they’ll be dealing with."

Some out-of-town dealers don’t get auditioned because "I tell them on the phone that if they can’t handle the work they’ll only be here for one shift," said Sheffield. "So, if they come a long distance to get here to work, they must be confident in their own dealing skills."

Sheffield also gets some help weeding out the bad dealers once the tournament begins.

"The players police the dealers real good," Sheffield said. "If a dealer makes bad moves or phony moves, they catch it."

Overall, Sheffield said he has seen more good dealers than bad ones since 1978 at the WSOP. Sheffield has had dealers Lequitta Langston and Diane Lable work the final table for the last five and four years, respectively. Another veteran dealer, Carl Alcorn, has worked at least six different finals.

"(In the championship event) they are all seasoned dealers whom I’ve used before at these events," Sheffield said. "They look good on camera and they handle the games well."

Dealers working the final table are clad in a special vest during the championship event, see more than cameras and lights (it was filmed on a tape-delay basis by the Discovery Channel last year). They see bigger tips at the tournament than they see at other times of the year. In the main games, the dealers keep their own tips. At the final table of each day, the tips are divided up between the tournament staff. And at the end of each satellite, the tips are divided among those dealers.

"Big money means bigger tips," Sheffield said. "But it gets divided up among so many people that nobody gets wealthy. The tips are bigger than usual, so it’s an incentive to do the best job you can."

Hopefully, without fainting under the pressure.

World Series Schedule

Events start at noon
April events only

16-19:

Satellites begin.

20:

Casino Employees Texas Hold’em (limit), $500 buy-in, $50 entry fee.

21:

Texas Hold’em (limit), $2,000, $100.

22:

Omaha Hi-Lo Split, $1,500, $90.

23:

Seven-Card Stud, $1,500, $90.

24:

Texas Hold’em (no limit), $2,000, $100.

25:

Omaha (limit), $1,500, $90.

26:

Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo Split, $1,500, $90.

27:

Omaha (pot limit and rebuys first two hours), $1,500, $90.

28:

S.H.O.E. (Seven Card Stud, Hold’em, Omaha 8/B, Stud 8/B), $2,000, $100.

29:

Texas Hold’em (limit), $3,000, $120.

30: Seven Card Stud, $2,500, $100.