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Dealers have a bad rap for being poor players. So when a “white shirt” joins the game, players figure they've spotted a mark. Beware . . . that may not be the case.
Take Las Vegas Strip dealers Jackson Young and John “The Snowman” Snowden. According to Young, “Dealing lets you develop a feel for the game and see how other players react.” Snowden agrees, saying he “sizes up players” whenever he deals. That, they feel, heightens their intuitiveness and experience, giving them an extra edge at the table when playing.
Of course, not all dealers seize the opportunity, which could explain why “good” playing dealers are in the minority. Young suggests another reason. “Many dealers make the mistake of playing in the same house, where they work. Since customers take care of you, you don't want to run over them in a game, then turn around and deal to them later. So you hold back.”
Snowden agrees to a point, but doesn't let it stop his game. “If a player underestimates me, all the better. That works in my favor.”
Dichotomy of playing dealers. There are no immediate tells distinguishing a decent playing dealer from a poor one--a good reason to observe and evaluate opponents, based on actions and play. “Banking on generalization could cost you money,” Snowden warns.
The truth is playing dealers are as varied as any poker player. Young--an aggressive, semi-loose player--hails from Hong Kong. He has played poker for 15 years and been dealing the game for the past 5, making his way to Vegas via California and Washington.
Snowden is a different story. An upstate New Yorker, he first came to Vegas in 1970, meeting Benny Binion and landing his first dealing job from Johnny Moss at the Aladdin. Moss taught him the finesse, subtleties and angles of the game, which Snowden believes helped him become a good dealer and better player.
“I learned by getting into the fire, ” Snowden recalls. “I made good money and dealt to other poker giants like Chip Reese, Eric Drake, Doyle Brunson, Sarge Ferris and Puggy Pearson.”
Both dealers like the structure of a $20/$40 Hold'em game, yet Young enjoys parlaying his winnings into a No Limit session. He doesn't, however, “get extreme” on tracking details. Snowden does, claiming thorough record keeping, good money management and aggression work for him. What also works for Snowden is keeping a dealing job at a casino with higher limits. “It gives me more stability, playing within a set time frame.” Young agrees.
And both playing dealers say their games are relatively consistent and have attained some accomplishments. Young was the No. seven chip leader three times in the Lucky Chances Gold Rush tournament, two years ago in California. Snowden's game has received sporadic press over the years: Sports Forum (1984/1985), reporting his Snowden Invitational a bit hit; Poker Player (1985).
Game within the game. Young and Snowden thrive on the game's fusion of strategy, logic, luck and psychology. But it's Snowden who puts the spin on the latter. Back in the 80s, poker regulars observed he played with “ice water in his veins” and tagged him “The Snowman.” It caught on. Ever since Snowden has played it up, perching his two-inch mascot on his chips--a snowman figurine, donning a poker visor, two aces and dice. He even has monogrammed the icy icon on his shirts and passes out Snowman business cards and pins.
Snowden says it's about game. “If people have a good time, they give up money freely and stick around longer. It's like this guy who bought into a $10/$20 game for $500, winning $369. He thought of leaving, so I said, ‘If you call this bet and I win, I'll buy you some ice cream.’ The guy put $20 in to call the bet and got out on the flop. I won the pot and bought him ice cream. Now he's feeling like a family member, playing and eating his ice cream. So he stuck around, laughed and joked with us--until he not only lost his $369, but his entire buy-in of $500.”
So maybe the next time a suspected “white shirt” joins the game, you'll keep one eye on the cards--and the other on that playing dealer. And to any scoffers out there, Young and Snowden have this to say: “We'll just get even at the table.” Bring it on!
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