Antonio Esfandiari sprang from his seat in the 2012 Big One for One Drop. With only two players left in the $1,000,000 buy-in tournament, Sam Trickett was all in with a diamond flush draw against Esfandiari’s trip fives. Who would win? Their fates rested in the hands of Tim Louie, the WSOP Dealer of the Year who sat quietly as a boisterous crowd called for cards.
“Diamond, one time!”
Louie patted the table and, his hand trembling slightly, dealt the river. It was the two of hearts. Esfandiari, spinning like a top and swarmed by family and friends, was now the One Drop champ. And Tim Louie had dealt the final hand of the biggest payout in WSOP history — a staggering $18,346,673.
I spoke with Louie last week in New Orleans, where he works as a full-time Harrah’s dealer. In the four years since he dealt that historic One Drop hand, the Louisiana local and first-generation Chinese-American has also been working as a WSOP Tournament Supervisor. We discussed life as a floorman, taking the LSATs, the 2015 film Mississippi Grind, and highlights from the 2016 World Series of Poker.
Ben Saxton: How did you end up as a poker dealer and a tournament supervisor?
Tim Louie: I grew up in Houma, Louisiana and got a scholarship to Regents College in Denver, where I majored in sports management and interned with the Colorado Rockies. Working for an MLB teams sounds prestigious, but I wasn’t making much money. So I came back to New Orleans and studied for the LSATs. Studying for and taking that exam was the worst experience of my life. Everyone was really stressed — the test was at Loyola [University] — and at one point a girl broke into tears and ran out of the room. I was mentally shocked and ended up canceling my scores. The moment I got outside and fresh oxygen hit my lungs, I threw up.
So that experience turned you off from the prospect of a law career.
Yeah. I realized that it wasn’t for me. I heard that Coca-Cola was hiring, got into their bulk sales department, and took dealing classes on the side. Because why not? I just wanted to learn something new. My poker teacher asked me if I wanted to deal at the 2008 Winter Bayou Poker Challenge. I dealt for ten days, had a blast, and made great money too. The rest is history, pretty much. I traveled around the WSOP Circuit for two years and landed a permanent job at Harrah’s New Orleans. I deal there most of the year and go to Las Vegas in the summer.
What are some highlights from working in Las Vegas?
I dealt at the first November Nine final table [in 2009], when Joe Cada won and Phil Ivey finished seventh. 2012, when I won Dealer of the Year, was amazing. I dealt the final hand of the One Drop, which was my three seconds of fame — I was literally on SportsCenter. Then, at the end of that summer, Jack [Effel] offered me a job on the floor.
Was it a no-brainer to take that position?
It was actually kinda tough. I wanted to go back-to-back as Dealer of the Year. But Jack said, “Well, look. You can keep dealing, but this position will never be offered to you again.” So I took it. Now that poker is my career, I have to look long-term.
What’s the hierarchy among the WSOP floor staff?
At the top there’s Jack, who’s Tournament Director. Dennis Jones and Tyler Piper are Jack’s right and left-hand men. Then there are six or seven Tournament Managers. They supervise the Tournament Supervisors — there are about forty or fifty of us — and we’re split into three areas: the Live Action cash game area in the Pavilion; the satellites and the Daily Deepstacks in the Pavilion; and the WSOP bracelet events in the Pavilion, Brasilia, and Amazon rooms. Most supervisors start with cash games or the Daily Deepstacks. For whatever reason I was assigned to the Daily Deepstacks for three summers — from 2013 to 2015 — which was a great learning experience. Last year I ran the big 3 p.m. Daily Deepstack.
How many entrants did that tournament usually get?
About 1,400 runners. I had one day off a week, and I ran that tournament every day for the whole summer. I had a really good support staff, and I was constantly learning from my mistakes.
When you’re working the floor, what would be considered a big mistake?
Since the Daily Deepstacks are all reentry tournaments, and we allow preregistration through the first four levels, people often preregister and don’t show up — but their chips are in play. We call that “a dead stack.” Not removing these stacks is a big mistake because it messes up the player count, the chip counts, and the prizepool. When you’re walking around, you have to keep track of the dead stacks.
This year you transitioned to the WSOP bracelet events. What jumps out from that experience?
This was the most enjoyable summer that I’ve had on the floor. We all worked as a cohesive team. Kevin Ferguson, my direct supervisor, really wanted me to succeed. He was kind of a tough love, he told me: “I want you to be the best supervisor that you can possibly be.”
One highlight was the $565 pot-limit Omaha with unlimited reentries: that tournament was absolutely crazy! We started with only 400 players and we ended with over 4,000 entries. We sold the entire Brasilia Room twice. It was freakin’ nuts! I also enjoyed the Senior’s Event. A few of us had a prop bet for how long Oklahoma Johnny [Hale]’s speech would last before he said “shuffle-up-and-deal.” The line was set at fourteen minutes. I think he talked for eighteen.
What can dealers or players do to make your job easier as a floorman?
Dealer-wise, don’t try to fix a problem yourself. If you make a mistake, just stop and call the floor. Players-wise, don’t shoot angles. I know it’s part of the game, but don’t push it.
Do you have a lot of interaction with players?
All the time. People will ask me: Hey, is this reentry? What kind? When’s the next break? How long is dinner break? What do you mean, I’m not sitting here? Can you get this dealer out of the box? Can I get cocktails? Some of the questions can be nit-picky. For the most part, though, the players are great.
You recently appeared in the 2015 film Mississippi Grind. How did you land that gig?
Tony [filmmaker Anthony Howard] was approached by the directors to be a consultant, and they needed three dealers. He said to me, “Hey, you’ve been on TV. Want to be in a movie?” And I said, Absolutely! It was so much fun.
I remember doing a double-take when I spotted you. You were dealing in the scene where Ben Mendelsohn’s character picks off a bluff.
Yeah. We must have shot that scene thirty times from all different angles. The crew rented out the Riverboat Natchez and transformed the whole boat. Meeting Ben was the coolest thing. He’s a really down-to-earth guy. I didn’t realize how many movies he’s been in. For about a month straight, Ben came to Harrah’s [New Orleans] and played in the $2/5 game.
How’d he do?
It was a learning experience for a while. But then he started winning some money — he picked up poker really well.
You mentioned that, although you love dealing, you’re also keeping long-term goals in mind. Like what?
I want to run WSOP Asia. I’m first-generation Chinese-American; my parents are from Hong Kong. I know Lloyd [Fontillas], who runs the Asia Poker Tour, and he got started with the WSOP in Las Vegas. So that’s my goal.
Is WSOP Asia on the horizon?
I’d like to think that it is. It seems like the next logical step. There’s only, like, four billion Asians who want to gamble.
*originally published in the September 2016 issue of Two Plus Two Magazine