Handling dealer errors in poker
If you’ve ever played poker in a casino or public cardroom, you’ve played in a game with a “professional” dealer – someone whose job it is to distribute the cards fairly and honestly, and to run the game properly.
Like members of any profession, poker dealers vary greatly in their abilities, in the amount of pride they take in their work, and in their styles. One area where all dealers have to excel is an ability to handle abuse, because sadly many players abuse dealers when there is no cause to do so.
Poker players like to blame everyone but themselves for their results, and heaven help the dealer whose perfect random dealing of a river card fails to help some players connect on their draws. Cursing, throwing cards and verbal abuses are pretty common, probably because the players doing the abusing can’t get away with acting that way anywhere else.
Two categories of dealer errors
I’m not one of the abusers. I’ve never thrown cards at a dealer, never cursed at a dealer, and never blamed a dealer for a run of bad cards. Yet even for a well-behaved person like me, situations arise where something other than a smile or a tip is called for. Generally, these situations fall into one of two categories:
1) A dealer who is capable of dealing well isn’t concentrating, and makes a mistake that potentially affects or does affect the outcome of a hand; or,
2) A relatively new dealer is in over his or her head, and makes error after error.
When a Category One error costs me a pot, I’m not happy, but I still don’t explode, because I realise I don’t always perform every work function perfectly either. Usually I just explain to the dealer what he or she did wrong, and ask that they try not to make that error again.
If the dealer reacts professionally, I consider the incident closed. If the dealer starts giving me “attitude” when I’ve been polite and professional, I don’t get into an argument I can’t win. I call for a floorperson, explain what just occurred, and that the dealer does not seem to be interested in constructive criticism.
Cool, rational complaints are more credible
Floorpeople have to listen to complaints about dealers all the time.
Another thing you can do to increase your credibility with floorpeople is to comment sometimes when a dealer does a great job. It’s always a pleasure when you strike a dealer who stands out from the usual, someone who has ultimate control over the table. Although friendly with the players, they seem a consummate professional, running the game the way a dealer is supposed to run a game, enforcing the rules without getting on to a power trip.
You can easily brush over the good dealer and leave the casino, but in our experience if you have built a strong relationship with the staff at a casino you can then complain about something. So in essence when a dealer does a good job, give them a compliment or let the pit boss know.
Positive feedback yields positive results
I’m not saying you should offer insincere compliments just to establish a reputation, but you will probably find that if you occasionally open your mouth to do something other than bitch and complain, you will be taken more seriously than a habitual whiner.
Category Two situations are less common, because dealers who are new gain experience and those who don’t usually don’t stay dealing for very long. I ran into a difficult one when playing in a no-limit hold’em tournament recently, so difficult that it was new territory for me, and I don’t think I handled it well. I hope you can benefit from what I figured out in the aftermath.
We had gotten fairly deep into the tournament. Roughly two-thirds of the players had been eliminated, and we were now at a point where in addition to blinds, we were also using antes, when a new dealer rotated into the game.
I’m not exaggerating when I say this dealer made a reasonably serious error at least once every four hands. Most commonly it was in handling the pot, but there were misdeals, failure to announce actions, premature actions (once while I was on the button he dealt the river card as soon as my opponent checked, before I had even a moment to consider whether or not I wanted to bet) … just about every kind of mistake imaginable.
Each time an error occurred, I corrected the dealer, and I got a bit less polite each time. I never got nasty, but eventually I dropped the “Excuse me’s” and the “Wait just a moment please’s” and went directly to the problem.
What to do?
I didn’t know what to do. With one exception, none of the mistakes required a floorperson to correct, but the mistakes were happening so often, I found my concentration slipping away from the game and towards making sure the dealer didn’t do something else wrong.
What could I say? “Pay more attention, please?” The dealer seemed like he was trying to pay attention: he was just inexperienced and pretty obviously flustered. “Are you having a bad day?” or “Is this your first day?” would just have been insulting without really accomplishing anything. So I wound up waiting until the dealer rotated out, and on a break, told the floor that the dealer had been the worst I’d ever seen, a true statement.
The floorperson apologised, explained he was a relatively new dealer who probably had never dealt no limit before, said they usually didn’t use new dealers in tournaments, etc. The apology was fine, but the damage had already been done.
The correct move
What I should have done, once it was clear that this dealer was incapable of running this particular game, was one of two things. Either I should have ignored the errors and just focused on my own play, or (my choice as the correct move) I should have called a floorperson over right in the middle of the down, politely explained that the dealer had made an inordinate number of mistakes, and requested the floorperson to watch the game to make sure it was run correctly.
Yes, calling attention to the dealer’s difficulties in this fashion could create problems for the dealer, but if I was going to complain afterwards, I might as well have done it promptly, so that the floor could have had the opportunity to see what I was talking about (and to see if my assessment was accurate, or if I were just another hothead), and so I could keep my concentration on the game instead of the dealer.
Casinos hear complaints about their dealers all the time
If you do as I suggest and the dealer keeps making errors, the floor now knows about a situation that needs fixing, and will also make sure your game is run correctly.
If the errors cease when the floorperson is watching, then you have a smoothly running game, and you also know the dealer was perfectly capable of running the game properly, but his/her mind was elsewhere. If that happens, you might ask one or more of the other players to confirm your opinion of what had been happening, so you don’t lose credibility you might need another time.
Remember, this is advice about a Category Two situation. In Category One, try to remember that you aren’t perfect every day either, and for goodness sake, don’t blame a dealer who has done his or her job correctly for failing to deliver the cards you want. If you do, you’ll look like an amateur, a hothead, or a buffoon, and that’s not the impression most of us are trying to create in a cardroom.