To be a good poker dealer, you need to have excellent knowledge of poker rules, and keep the game at a steady pace — the more hands per hour, the happier the players. A good poker dealer will be calm but confident, and know how to adapt to different tables.
It all comes down to technical skills, attitude, knowledge of the game, and psychology.
Technical skills and knowledge allow you to deal faster, and make the correct decisions when there is a mistake or anything that stops the game.
The right attitude helps you deal with the players, and show assertiveness when needed.
I’ve been dealing poker for a while — here’s what I’ve learned…
How to be a good poker dealer
1. Track the pot
If you’re dealing no-limit poker tournaments, then you don’t really need to remember how much is in the pot.
But in general, a good dealer will need to track the pot and know the exact amount.
Once you know how to do it, it’s relatively easy. But it takes time, so don’t be discouraged if you struggle at first (when I first started dealing, I definitely did struggle).
Tracking the pot is vital as it allows poker dealers to:
- Work out the rake instantly
- Check the pot is right in case a player isn’t sure
- Manage both the main pot and side pots
2. Be impartial
This is a mistake I’ve seen many times, and it has nothing to do with technical skills.
Let’s say there is a regular at the table, or even a dealer’s friend. It may be spontaneous for the dealer to say “nice hand” or tap the table when they win a big pot.
But they shouldn’t. At least not in a casino.
Basically, the dealer is the referee of the game and this means they must be impartial at all costs.
It’s okay to be friendlier with certain players, but when it gets to the point where it affects the game and potentially bothers the other players, then it shouldn’t be done.
Even though some players are really nice, and some seem to make the whole table miserable — a good dealer must be impartial, and act professionally at all times.
3. Focus on the game
As a (good) poker dealer, you should never lose focus.
You shouldn’t get distracted because a player is talkative, or because of a funny ad on TV, or because you’re thinking of something else.
Easier said than done, right? But all it takes is good concentration skills, and these can be learned.
Poker dealers must pay attention to everything, because the tiniest mistake or detail can make all the difference in case of a dispute.
Or in case a player doesn’t agree with a dealer’s decision, and challenges them.
Whatever the case, a good poker dealer knows how to focus for long periods of time.
4. Pitch like a pro
One of the fundamental skills of poker dealers is the pitch — dealing the cards at the start of the hand.
It’s also one of the first things they learn during their training.
There are three main things to keep in mind when dealing the cards in poker, and good dealers must be aware of these:
- The cards must be kept low. No casual throws, and definitely no “helicoptering”. By keeping the cards low, the cards won’t be exposed (even if they hit a player’s hand) and will slide better.
- The pitch must be accurate. Meaning, the dealer shouldn’t throw player A’s card in front of player B’s stack. Besides looking unprofessional, a player could grab someone else’s card by mistake, and that would almost always be a misdeal.
- The pitch must be fast. Accuracy should be prioritized, but considering that the pitch will be done at every hand, it should also be fast. Poker players tend to be impatient, especially when it’s time to play a new hand.
5. Be calm but assertive
Poker dealers are in charge of the game.
A dealer who’s nervous and looks like a control freak may communicate to the players that he or she isn’t confident enough.
On the other hand, a dealer who is lazy and doesn’t really control the game will probably slow the game down.
So the goal is to be both calm and assertive — communicate to the table that although you are friendly and polite, you are also able to enforce the rules when required.
Again, I’m aware this is easier said than done. As a dealer, I know it can be totally unnerving to have the players stare at you.
But with experience, it becomes easier to deal with that and just keep your cool.
6. Learn to make side pots
This belongs more to the technical side.
Although side pots are rare, a good poker dealer must know how to manage them correctly.
Two or more side pots are very rare, but it does happen from time to time and the dealer cannot spend minutes trying to figure which pot belongs to who.
There are basically two ways to work out how much to put in the side pot:
- Count the smaller stack then take that amount from each player who’s still in the hand. The main pot will be the smallest stack times the number of players (plus the blinds, or any other additional bets).
- Work out the difference between the smallest stack and the other bet, then put that amount (times the number of players remaining) in the side pot. Example: player A goes all-in for $40. Player B raises to $100, C and D call. The side pot will be $60 times three — $180.
7. Play poker, live
As a dealer who works for a casino or a poker room, you may need to travel to play live — you may not be allowed to play in your area.
But it could be as simple as a home game with a bunch of friends, or perhaps with your coworkers.
Unless you’ve been playing already, actually playing the game (rather than just dealing) will make it possible to understand a lot of the rules and sub-rules.
Moreover, a poker dealer who plays the game will be more aware of things like play strategy, common player mistakes, and the psychology of the game and how the game affects our emotions.
For example, you need to go through tilt (e.g. after a really bad beat), or the frustration that comes with being “card dead” for hours, to really understand it.
You don’t need to gamble any money, by the way. Just play from time to time to better understand the game.
8. Use your peripheral vision
As mentioned, good poker dealers will focus on the game at all time.
Sometimes this involves staring at the player who’s supposed to act.
You don’t need to actually stare at them — it shouldn’t be awkward. But you do need to watch them.
When you do, there may be something else going on at the table that you need to be aware of, for example a player that gestures to the person who’s about to act even though they’re not supposed to do so.
If this happens on the opposite side of the table, how do you notice?
Good poker dealers have learnt to use their peripheral vision, and that’s why they’re able to (more or less) see and control the whole table rather than just the side they’re facing.
9. Don’t stop, don’t panic
The faster the game, and the more hands per hour, the better.
This can be said for virtually all casino games, but especially poker games.
This is because poker players tend to be impatient. Moreover, a good player, or a professional player, will naturally win more if they play more hands, at least in the long run.
With that in mind, it’s essential that a good poker dealer keeps the game going.
It doesn’t need to be the fastest game ever (that would annoy the players too, by the way) — you just need to be smooth and control the game so it never stops.
- A player doesn’t realize it’s their turn to act. A good dealer must let them know, verbally or by looking or pointing at them, as soon as possible.
- When you make a mistake as a dealer, don’t panic, and don’t let it affect the game. If you’re not 100 percent sure what to do, call the floor.
- If there’s a heated argument at the table, or just a conversation that slows down the game, the dealer should encourage the players to just keep playing (provided the players are not being aggressive: if that’s the case, a supervisor must come over).
- When a player does know it’s on them, but they are taking too long (usually because they’ve just started playing), a good dealer should let them know. No need to be rude, but the game can’t be too slow.
- Occasionally, a player may find it difficult to follow the action, not because they’re distracted, but because of a disability. In this case, the dealer may need to clearly announce everything to make it easier for them to understand what’s going on.
Now, sometimes the players are just too slow, and there’s nothing you can do as a dealer.
But in general, a good dealer will know how to keep the game going and it will result in more hands per hour.
10. Learn all the rules
Finally, do your homework and actually learn all the rules of the game. Especially the less obvious ones.
For instance, if the winning hand is mucked, should the winner be awarded the pot anyway?
It’s impossible to know or remember everything of course, and whenever the dealer is not sure what to do, it’s the supervisor’s job to tell them.
But the better your overall knowledge of the game, and rules, the easier it’ll be to become a good poker dealer.
Tips to practice dealing
- If you don’t want to play, or don’t feel like playing, you can still observe the game by watching videos. Pay attention to what the players, and the dealer, do at the table.
- You can practice your chip handling skills at home (cutting down stacks is probably the most important skill). Similarly, you can buy a deck of plastic cards and practice the pitch.
- If there’s anything you struggle with, then practice until it becomes second nature. If you find side pots confusing, learn that. If you panic whenever there’s a side pot and it gets split between two players, learn that. And so on.
- Think of the last time you dealt at a live table. Was there anything you could have done better? Any mistakes that could be avoided? This also applies to playing, by the way.
How to spot a good poker dealer
Typically, you know the dealer is good because the game is just smooth. Not necessarily the fastest game, but smooth.
A good poker dealer will also enjoy dealing, and you can usually tell if they do, or don’t.
Good dealers will have a calm but confident attitude, and will know how to adapt to the table.
Some tables, they may need to be more strict and impersonal. Tables where no one takes the game seriously, and players just want to have a laugh, they may be more relaxed.
How long does it take to become a good dealer?
I’d say one year would be the minimum. That is, if you dealt regularly, as a job.
If you dealt poker sporadically, and not professionally, then it’d obviously take much longer.
Poker players will have a big advantage as they’ll already know all or almost all the rules, but still.
It took me over a year to become confident and get to the point where the game was smooth.
But I’m still learning, and I’m improving every day. You never stop learning, really.
The good news is, if you like dealing poker, you’ll be happy to keep learning. And you’ll have a job that pays well and that doesn’t really feel like a job.
Shuffle up and deal!
Thanks for reading! If you want, you can leave a comment below 👇