Like a kid with Christmas or a fanboy with Comic Con, each year I hope upon hope that the World Series of Poker will get here just a little bit sooner than the year before.
Same goes with me writing about my infatuation, make that obsession, with this festival of flops, flushes and folded bluffs. Each year I wish for a chance to write about my favorite event earlier than last time.
If I thought I could get away with doing a column every month about poker, I would ... which is why (shameless plug) I contribute to Ante Up magazine. Find it at your favorite local poker room!
But now, with the 45th annual World Series of Poker set to begin next Tuesday, May 27, at the Rio in Las Vegas, there's no better time to talk about a seven-week event that has a surprisingly large number of connections to Southern Arizona.
Tucson's better-than-you'd-think poker community flocks to the WSOP every summer, present company included, looking for a chance to splash around in a variety of tournaments featuring far more versions of poker than you'd find at an Indian casino. There are also cash games—lots and lots of cash games—as the Rio's sizable convention center is stuffed with close to 500 poker tables spread among several rooms.
And if you play your cards right, you might have your hands dealt by a Tucson resident who has made the WSOP his summer job for the past few years.
Christopher Kingman, 29, heads to Vegas this weekend for the start of nearly two months' worth of shuffling, pot-pushing and witty banter as an official WSOP dealer. This will be the fifth time in six years he's done it, a gig that more or less fell into his lap after moving from Hawaii to Phoenix following a divorce.
Kingman was a full-time dealer for a few months long ago at a small casino in Washington state. That gave him the experience required to deal at the Series, which pulls dealers from poker rooms throughout the world to help fill a staff of 1,800. After seeing the job listing on the website for Caesars Entertainment (owner of the WSOP), he figured he'd give it a whirl.
"After a month or so, I had forgotten about the application but got a call from Caesars to come audition in a month," said Kingman, who drives cabs during the rest of the year. "I passed the audition, and once you finish your first year you have a job for life with them if you so desire."
He's one of two locals dealing this year. The other is Levette McEaddy, a school counselor who went for the first time last year.
A poker player himself, Kingman admits that "the game has passed me by and I'm nowhere near as skilled as I was five years ago." But by dealing at the Series, he gets to immerse himself in the game without having to be stressed about maybe losing his life savings in one pot.
"It's really like a summer camp for adults," Kingman said. "I go there each year and see old friends and make new ones. It really is the most fun two months of my year."
As with any job, there is stress. Most of it comes from the players, who, depending on the stakes in the game (or the egos of the rounders), can get snippy and sometimes downright belligerent to a dealer if the dealer makes a mistake, doesn't go fast enough or—egads!—doesn't put the right card down on the river, thus preventing the player from winning the hand.
But Kingman, whose nickname is Goofy (as his nametag will say), doesn't let the customers get to him. He just keeps on smiling, keeps on dealing.
"The great thing about the WSOP is, if I don't like a player, for the most part I deal with them for 30 minutes and then the rooms and fields are so large, I probably will never see them again," he said. "There are definitely dealers who take the insults more seriously and personally than I do, but I can understand some of the people getting emotional about it."
At the WSOP, Kingman will spend five or six nights a week from 4 p.m. to midnight dealing to hundreds of players in the same night. Last year's series had more than 76,000 entrants in the 61 main tournaments, and that's not including players who only participated in side tourneys and cash games. The number should go up again this year, as it has pretty much every year, with 65 tourneys on the schedule.
Kingman could either be dealing a cash game, with stakes as low as $1 or 2 or as high as $1,000 or $2,000, or he could be working tournaments. In most tourneys he'd switch tables every 30 minutes, but if dealing a single-table satellite (which usually awards one seat to a bigger tourney) he runs the show the entire time.
That's his favorite because it allows him to get to know everyone and let his charm and personality create a relaxing atmosphere ... one that's great for tips.
"Satellites will always be my favorite," he said. "I'm a people person, so watching a tournament where I'm the only dealer from start to finish is exciting for me. Also, sats (satellites) is where I make the most money because I'm probably one of the best when it comes to customer service. The first thing I do when dealing sats is to make sure I memorize all 10 players' names, and it really just makes it a more enjoyable time for me and the players."
It will also serve as the perfect forum for him to share the latest anecdote that has warranted his "Goofy" nickname: the infamous Denver Broncos Super Bowl tattoo.
Yup, Kingman is that guy, the one who went out and permanently marked his shoulder with the Broncos' logo and the declaration that they'd beat Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII ... the one Denver lost 43-8.
"I'm absolutely telling every player I deal a satellite to," he said. "Whatever makes me memorable and helps with tips but isn't hustling for them is good for me."