The Ghosts of the WSOP


Lee Davy shares his experience of the treatment of the dealers of the World Series of Poker, noted after playing in three of the first 10-events.

The Ghosts of the WSOPHe looks like Donald Sutherland, not the Kelly’s Heroes Sutherland, but The Hunger Games Sutherland. The grey hair reminds me of my grandfather. I can see him struggling up the hill, his cane in one hand, and his dog in the other. He was like a small elephant, each step so deliberate. Each breath sounding like his last. I never knew why he lived at the top of that hill. He said the workout would extend his life. It ended up killing him.

Back to the dealer sat at our table; Mr. Sutherland. Or ‘Ron’ as his name tag implies. I wonder how many World Series of Poker’s (WSOP) Ron has dealt? He must be in his seventies. I bet he knew Johnny Moss. I bet he dealt hands to Stu Ungar.

I look at his eyes. They have seen it all. He reminds me of an Ent, a wise old tree, and an integral part of the world. I imagine there are roots beneath his feet. He is connected to the core. It’s what lights his fire. But today that fire is out. The dampness emerges from his voice. He seems fed up. I think he wants to go home, put his feet up and watch black and white movies.

Nobody talks to him. Nobody acknowledges him. He is a ghost.

Brad sits down.

“How is everyone doing today?”

“Hi Brad, how are you doing today?” I ask.

It startles him.

“I am very well. Thank you for asking.”

I am not skilled enough to describe his enthusiasm in words. He was generally shocked that anyone responded. Being polite to people had become a habit, as had being ignored.

Brad is another ghost.

The next ghost kept falling to sleep. I won’t embarrass him by mentioning his name. I once knew a man who would fall asleep standing up. I thought that was impressive. This guy was sleeping whilst dealing cards. I tried talking to him to keep him awake. He was dipping in and out of micro sleeps whilst responding. He wasn’t ashamed. He wasn’t hiding it. In fact, he delighted in telling us all that he had been working a shift in excess of 12-hours. He wasn’t the only one, that day. Fortunately, nobody listened to him. He is a ghost.

A portly female dealer sat down. She said hi. She was ignored. She couldn’t reach the outer realms of the table. The good old-fashioned American diet saw to that. She told everyone she had little arms. She asked if people could move the chips closer to her. Everyone ignored her. As each hand passed she struggled to grab chips that were centimeters from a players grasp. They only had to reach out a finger and flick. But they didn’t know she needed their help. She was a ghost.

It cannot be money. If it is, then it’s a crying shame. We need to figure out what makes us happy and then spend our lives doing it. When I look at the ghosts they don’t look happy. They look harassed, ignored, and soulless. You would imagine there is enjoyment to be derived from watching a wonderful hand between two of the greatest players in the world. I don’t see that flicker of excitement. I don’t see much of a flicker of anything. Get in, do your job and get the hell out. They are ghosts.

During the break, the player’s leave, the doors are shut. The silence is unnerving. The ghosts guard their tables. Some of them pick the dirty green filth from their fingernails; others swirl around in their chairs whilst staring at the ceiling. I wonder if they are hoping that money will fall from the sky? But most of them sit there motionless. They stare at nothing. They are ghosts.

I heard that dealers are encouraged not to have relationships with players. I heard they are not allowed to talk to them at the table. It’s all about the integrity of the game. It’s sad and mean. It turns a living into a dying.

A card hits the dealer button. When it lands we all see the ace of spades. The recipient looks at the ghost and grunts. At the end of the hand, the recipient loses a big pot. He would have had pocket aces. Apparently, it’s the ghost’s fault. He flings his cards angrily at the muck. Not the outer edges of the muck, but the inner sanctum; the place where cards are flung when they are aimed at the ghosts.

It’s the new dead that I feel sorry for. I can see their bones shake. Beads of sweat appear on their forehead. They tremble. They are so scared. They look out into the world and see 10-players all waiting for their turn to be a champion. 10-critics of the highest order – 10-people who will abuse you, ignore you, and treat you like you are…a ghost.

I see them.

That’s why I wrote this.

Poker is a machine. It only works when all of the pieces in that machine complete the role intended for them. People like Ron have been at the heart of this game for decades. Show them your respect. They are not ghosts. They are human beings. Treat them as such.


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