Meet Nathan DeLand – the dealer who broke poker’s unspoken TV rule

Paul Oresteen
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Posted on: November 27, 2023 5:35 pm EST

Nathan DeLand had the deck stacked against him to ever deal the WSOP Main Event final table. He was adopted from South Korea without knowing his real age, grew up in the sprawling cornfields of central Illinois and put off being a dealer for years, but that’s not what held him back. He has the fatal flaw of being left-handed.

Poker, as it is, is designed for righties. Playing cards are manufactured with suits and pips in the top left corner and bottom right corner, so when fanned by right-handed player all suits are exposed. When lefties fan, they see nothing but white; even when peeking at cards on the table, nothing is visible to a natural, left-handed peel.

Lefties also spread a flop out “backwards” – something that was the bane of ESPN producers. A left-handed dealer blocks the flop when they fan the board. For years, there was an informal ban on left-handed dealers working televised final tables, forget about ever working the Main Event.

Historic deal at the feature table

But DeLand overcame the odds and was the first left-handed dealer to pitch cards at the WSOP Main Event Final Table in 2016. “I was really nervous actually. I had dealt TV tables before nothing like on that stage,” he said. “There were nine people playing for millions of dollars. My nerves were up there, but once I got settled in everything turned out pretty good.”

Many dealers before him tried training themselves to fan the board like a righty. “I tried training myself to do it, but it felt very unnatural for me,” DeLand said. “The way I was turning my hand didn’t feel comfortable.”

He was on the biggest stage in poker because in just two summers of dealing for the WSOP he was voted Dealer of the Year. “I was one vote away from winning Dealer of the Year in 2015 and then won it in 2016. I got moved up to flooring in 2017 and I’ve been doing that ever since.”

Nathan DeLand never stays in one spot too long

Hitting the road

But joining the road was something that took DeLand a long time to do. “I had a friend that tried to get me on the road for a few years and I put it off,” he said. “I finally got on the road in 2010 and haven’t looked back since.”

He was hired by noted tournament directors Jessica Hudson and Dennis Jones. He worked for their crew on the WSOP Circuit in 2015 and credits them for their support. “I had a lot of people supporting me that I worked with,” he said. “They pulled for me; a lot of people had my back.”

DeLand circles poker tables like a shark, he never stops moving and in one day on the floor of the World Poker Tour Seminole Rock ‘N’ Roll Poker Open he walked 12.3 miles. His role supervising a world-class tournament came from humble beginnings.

Family support

“I started dealing underground poker games and found my way out of it,” he said. The decision to live a life on the road didn’t go over well with his family. “My family did not understand it for quite a few years until I sat down and explained to them that I’m making legit money with legit companies.”

“It took a couple years for them to get used to it and once they learned I was doing well with it, they accepted it,” he said. When he was adopted, officials didn’t have a birth date for him. “Back in those days they kind of guessed my age. So, they assumed I was born in 1983 and I was about 3.5 or 4 years-old at that point.”

He wears his work ethic like a tattoo on his neck. “Moving up the ladder has been my goal. I’m just waiting for my next shot or chance,” said DeLand. “Obviously, becoming a floor to a lead, that’s a pretty huge step for me. I think I can handle it.”

Images courtesy of Lizzy Ramirez