How to Play Poker Without a Dealer: The Complete Guide


Poker, with all of its variations, always needs four things: cards, chips or money, players, and a dealer. Can you imagine playing the most popular card game without these? The first three are easy to find, but what if you’re planning to have a game and don’t have a dealer who can distribute cards?

If you don’t have a dealer, you can still play poker by assigning each player to play as a dealer after each round. It’ll ensure parity and transparency throughout the game because one player can’t manipulate the outcome. You can also assign the most experienced card shuffler to play as the dealer.

Rotating the dealer or choosing a player who will play as the dealer is not as simple as it sounds, though. There are many things that you need to consider to ensure parity in the game, and we’ll cover all of them in great detail. Stick around to find out how you can play poker without a dealer.

Playing poker without a dedicated dealer requires you to have something to represent a dealer button.
When we say without a dealer, we actually mean without a dedicated person that deals the cards. You will need something to represent the dealer position and that person will be the dealer for the hand. Small blind and big blind will be immediately after the dealer’s left side.

Why Do You Need a Dealer When Playing Poker?

Referee, arbiter, maven, moderator, and umpire—you can find these people in many games and communities where people interact. They serve as the facilitator to ensure parity and that an event, competition, or community works as intended. That’s also the purpose of having a dealer in poker.

It’s even more important to have a dealer in poker because players are playing with real money.

Dealers ensure that every player is playing by the rules, and the game gets as seamless as possible.

Aside from that, here are other reasons why you need a dealer when playing poker:

  • Cheating or mere suspicion of such can ruin the game. It’s okay to play without a dealer when you’re playing with friends, but even that doesn’t guarantee no one would cheat. That’s the reason why dealers aren’t allowed to play in the game that they facilitate.
  • Poker requires focus, and it’s not possible when playing as a dealer as well. In high-stakes tables, losing focus could mean losing tens or even hundreds of thousands. If you have a dealer on the table, players can focus on playing the game, and they can be sure that the dealer will facilitate everything for them.
  • Fouls and illegal plays also happen when you’re playing. You don’t want another player to keep their focus on monitoring everything that everyone makes just to be sure that they follow the rules. Dealers do that, and they immediately call all the fouls and violations that players make while in the game.
  • Dealers are responsible for counting chips and making sure that everyone bets the right amount when playing. It’s counterintuitive to have the players do it by themselves, and it’ll have a massive impact on the amount of time spent on the game.

To sum all of these up, dealers make poker games more convenient. It allows the players to focus on the game they’re playing and not worry about the menial tasks that ensure parity. That’s why it’s hard to imagine playing a poker game without a dealer.

The Dealers When Playing in Casinos

When you’re playing at a casino, the dealer is the one responsible for dealing. If the casino doesn’t have a built-in dedicated shuffler, dealers also shuffle the cards. Besides that, they facilitate the rotation and ensure that every bet is in place before moving to another street.

Dealers make the game more straightforward, more organized, and fair for everyone.

Casinos hire dealers who facilitate their games. They’re not part of the game, so there’s no conflict for them and no reason to be manipulating the outcome. These dealers are professionals, and they make money through the casino’s hourly rate, combined with the tips that you hand to them after winning a pot, and they make a very decent income themselves.

Dealers are 3rd-party entities in any poker game, and they don’t care who wins. As long as the game is organized and fair for everyone, they make money. That’s why casinos can offer the smoothest and most seamless poker experience to every player.

However, since most of the games we play are outside casinos and card rooms, a more important topic that we should discuss is what happens when you don’t have a professional dealer?

Professional poker deals earn a good income.
It is often more lucrative to be a dealer than a poker player. There are different ways how dealers earn the money, but if they are good at it, their income is decent.

Playing Casual Poker Games Without a Dealer

The majority of people playing poker don’t have access to a professional dealer. Although poker games need a dealer, it wouldn’t make sense for you to hire a dealer to play casual games. It’s one of the challenges you’ll have to go through when playing with friends.

Playing without a dealer may sound hard, but it’s so common that even manufacturers of poker sets include what you’ll need to play poker without a dealer.

It’s what we call the “dealer button.” There are two ways to play casual games without a dealer, and one of them will require you to have it at the table.

Playing Poker Using the Dealer Button

If you want to play poker without a dealer, you need to have a dealer button. Almost every poker set that you’ll find in the market will include a “button” that explicitly states “dealer.” If you already have poker chips, but you’re missing the button, you can use any small object.

If you don’t have chips then you will need to improvise. And I have a great article for you on how to play poker without money or chips and still have plenty of fun.

The dealer button will only serve as a marker for who should play as the dealer, so it doesn’t really have to look as fancy as your chips. However, if you want to have the best poker gaming accessories or looking for the best poker set that you can buy, we recommend the Fat Cat Clay Poker Chip Set.

This poker set has everything you need to play games, including 500 striped chips, this should be enough for a poker game with six players (to know exactly how many chips you will need, click here). Moreover, the set has two decks of cards, and the blinds and dealer buttons. Each chip weighs 11.5 grams, which is the closest representation of casino chips. These are also unmarked chips, giving you the flexibility of assigning value to each of them whenever you’re playing with friends.

Before You Start a Poker Game Without a Dealer

As mentioned, there are two ways to play poker games without a dealer. However, if you’re planning to use the button, you’ll need to consider one crucial factor: is every player capable of being a dealer?

Playing with the button has a huge advantage that we’ll cover in this article. Even if most players on the table can deal, and one player can’t, you won’t be able to use this method. Aside from that, if your games aren’t as serious or don’t involve money, and you want to simplify the rules, then you can skip this part.

If every player on the table can shuffle and deal cards, you can form a consensus that every player will get a chance to play as the dealer. You’ll use the button to rotate the dealer after every game.

How to Start a Poker Game Without a Dealer

When you decide to use the dealer button, one player will distribute one card to each player. The player with the highest card gets to play as the first dealer. You’ll place that button in front of the player with the highest card. It also means that the players next to him will be the small and big blinds.

When you’re using the dealer button, you can skip using the blind buttons because the players after the dealer will automatically put up forced bets as the big and small blind. We can also refer to the player who plays the dealer as being “on the button” because the dealer button is literally in front of him.

It’s how you’ll handle dealers and blinds throughout the game, and it ensures parity whenever you’re playing with friends. The player on the button will be responsible for shuffling the cards, distributing them, and facilitating the game.

Since being on the button requires additional work—playing and facilitating the game simultaneously—they also get advantages, such as having the most ideal position postflop and least risky position pre-flop.

Advantages of Being on the Button

Being the dealer gives you the best position pre-flop because you get to see the action before joining the pot. Dealers are almost last to act pre-flop because the big blind ends the round.

You may think that it’s not as valuable, but being in a late position without playing the blinds has a massive advantage. It allows the player to see action on the table before joining the pot, and he can do this without putting up forced bets.

The best example is when the player on the button gets a playable card, say a 10 king offsuit, in a table that sees a lot of action pre-flop. The player can just fold this hand without taking any risk. When he’s in an early position, KTo could be good enough to join the pot, but it puts him in a lot of risk post-flop. Players in late position have a better advantage, but being on the button automatically gives you this privilege.

In post-flop—flop, turn, and river—the dealer is always the last to act. It means that, unless the dealer folds pre-flop, he will have the advantage of seeing action on the table before he does anything. It’s less risky for a dealer to play because he has the best position throughout the game, allowing him to assess everything before making his move.

Sure, it has more work than a player who only places his bets, but it provides the dealer with a huge advantage when playing. In fact, professionals consider being on the button as the most valuable position in casual games.

Dealer button should be rotated clockwise after every hand.
It is common that the dealer button gets rotated clockwise after every finished hand.

How to Rotate the Dealer Button

The crucial part of playing the button is that it moves across the table after each game. Since players on the button always get a huge advantage, it should move across the table to keep the game fair for everyone.

Rotating the button is simple; it always goes to the player who played the small blinds in the previous game. The players after the button will play as the game’s small blind and big blind, putting up forced bets for the game.

This rotation rule ensures that the player on the button can’t have so much advantage that he can alter the game. It also gives every player the same position, given that they last long enough for their turn to play as the dealer.

The Dealer Late in Game

Poker games don’t last forever, and as you progress, one player will lose all of his chips. When it happens, you can assign him to be the dealer to get rid of the “button advantage,” and you can replace the dealer button with the blinds button. It simplifies the game and speeds up the distribution of cards. However, you can still keep using the button if the other players want to maintain parity in the game.

As players lose, the faster each round gets, and when you reach the heads up match, it would only make sense to have someone play as a dealer. When you reach this round, the dealer will still be the first player who lost all of his chips.

When you’re using the dealer button, the rules are pretty straightforward, but sometimes, it makes the game complicated. Also, you need to ensure that every player on the table has experience playing as the dealer. If these aren’t an option for the game you want to play, you can still play with only one dealer.

Playing Poker With Only One Dealer

In a perfect poker world, everyone knows how to play as the dealer. However, it’s not always the case, and there are several reasons why some players can’t be the dealer. It can’t stop you from playing poker, though, because it’s still possible even if you only have one player as the dealer.

When Should You Play Poker With Only One Dealer?

Of course, playing with only one dealer isn’t the ideal setup because one dealer, who has a stake in the game, can affect the outcome. Here are some instances where you can play poker with only one dealer:

  • You’re not playing with real money.
  • You’re playing with family and friends.
  • The game isn’t serious enough to bother about advantages.
  • One or more players don’t have experience in playing as a dealer.
  • You want to make the game faster and simpler.

How to Play Poker With Only One Dealer

If you decide to proceed with only one dealer, you don’t need the dealer button. Instead, what you’ll need are the blind buttons that will rotate across the table to mark the blinds on the hand.

Since there are no button players, the last player to act throughout the game will be the big blind. It’ll be the advantage that he gets for putting up a forced bet, and similarly, the big blind rotates across the table after each game. All of the benefits that the player on the button gets will be on the big blind.

Ideally, the dealer shouldn’t have any stake on the table to make sure that it won’t affect the game’s outcome. However, if you’re playing with only one dealer and follow the conditions we discussed above, then it shouldn’t be an issue with your games. 

It’ll also be simpler and faster because you don’t have to move the button around, and the deck stays in the hands of the one who’s playing the dealer.

Can You Play Cash Games With Only One Dealer?

Playing with only one dealer is the easiest way to start your poker games, but it should only be for casual games.

Although it’s possible to play cash games with only one dealer who also has a stake in the game, parity will always be an issue, even when you’re playing with friends.

If you’re playing cash games, it would be better to use the dealer button. Since a player should be confident with his poker skills to join a cash game, it’s most likely that everyone on the table knows how to deal.

Aside from this, cash games can get so serious that even the slightest advantage can have a massive impact on the game’s outcome. That’s why we always recommend using the dealer button when you’re playing a game that doesn’t fall in the conditions that we mentioned. 

It’s not hard to play as a dealer, as long as you know how to shuffle cards, everything that a dealer does is fundamental for many poker players.

Conclusion

Poker games need dealers to help facilitate the table, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t start one without a dealer. In fact, most of the games that we play, especially when we’re with friends, don’t have a dealer.

You can use the dealer button to change dealers after every round, but it needs to fall under certain conditions to be an effective way to play poker. Being on the button gives so much advantage that everyone should get a chance to play as the dealer to keep the game fair. If you’re only playing casual games with friends, then you can also assign someone who can play as the dealer throughout the game.

Primoz

I have played poker professionally for more than 10 years. I was a winner at every poker format that I played - from tournaments to cash games, both in NL Holdem and PLO. Now my biggest satisfaction is to provide enthusiastic but new poker players with answers to all of their questions.

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