If you read the recaps of big live poker tournaments, you'll notice it's all about the poker players. This player wins another big title, that player is in an excellent position for his next bracelet, and another player got knocked out in cruel fashion. Rightfully so, as players are front and center in live poker tournaments, but there are equally important people working hard behind the scenes.
A tournament room is crowded with people with all sorts of jobs and from all walks of life. First and foremost, you have the dealers. You also have floor staff, tournament directors, masseuses, poker reporters, technicians, camera operators, producers, people that man the information desk when you enter, and plenty more.
In PokerNews' Behind the Scenes series, we want to take a look at some of these people involved in the poker world that are, well, more "behind the scenes."
First up is Kate Badurek, a member of the floor staff on the European Poker Tour. Anyone who has played an EPT main event or high roller over the last two years will certainly recognize her. The 30-year-old from Poland has been working on the tour for eight years, but her first contact with poker came more than 11 years ago.
Hardly anyone envisioned working in poker when they were young. Badurek was no exception. An actress was what she wanted to become, and that was basically it. She had no big interests outside of acting, no big life goals. An actress is what she wanted to be.
Right after high school she handed in her application for an acting academy but was sadly turned down. Her parents insisted she would continue to study, so she had to come up with something new now that a career in acting had fallen through. With some knowledge of Russian already in hand thanks to classes in high school, she decided to go study Russian philology at the University of her hometown Olsztyn, Poland. "Mostly, to be honest, to please my parents."
With her first year of studying at her University almost behind her, Badurek visited a party with friends where the group spun ideas for the approaching summer. They all intended on going to Dublin for the summer, which was the cool thing to do for students from Poland at the time. Badurek joined them. All on impulse really; "It was so random; I had never been to Ireland, I had never really traveled a whole lot to begin with really."
This was not just a holiday, they intended on getting themselves summer jobs there as the minimum wage in Dublin was already a lot more than what they would be able to make in Poland. Though Badurek hardly knew any English, that didn't hold her back. She went to Dublin and left her resume in hotels, bars, restaurants, and by coincidence at the Merrion Casino Club, a small poker club in one of those old beautiful buildings on Merrion Square - though Badurek didn't know that at the time; "I didn't even realize it was a poker club, I thought it was like a bar or something.
She got a call back soon after, and despite barely understanding what they were saying, she was able to understand that they wanted to meet for an interview. She was hired as a waitress on the spot, something that would turn out to be a life-changing experience.
"It was obviously all very new to me. I had no idea about waiting, let alone poker, and I could hardly understand what people were trying to order. It was a mess really." But soon enough she picked up on basic English and got really interested in poker and good at being a waitress.
The EPT Talent Scouts
Minimum wage was already decent for Badurek, but it was the tips from patrons that really prompted Badurek to stay longer in Dublin. Soon she moved to the Sporting Emporium, a far larger casino in Dublin, where she was hired before the casino had even opened. It was there where Badurek applied to become a poker dealer, and she got the job.
It all may sound like a calculated move, but it really wasn't; "It was super random, like most of the things in my life. I didn't make a big plan before."
It turned out she was pretty good at dealing. In fact, it was the first time in her life someone told her she was good at something. "That felt great as a 19-year old, and I decided to take an extended break from University and I stayed in Ireland for two years as a poker dealer."
While she enjoyed her work as a dealer and loved her time in Dublin, poker wasn't her main interest. She wasn't really into poker yet, it was just a job at the time. Poker hadn't "consumed" her yet, and the poker world outside her local poker room was unknown territory. When the European Poker Tour came to Dublin in 2006, she had no idea what it was all about.
One night, as the EPT was in town, a group of players came into the Emporium and complimented Badurek on her skills as a dealer. They turned out to be members of the EPT staff and asked if she was interested in joining the circuit. Though she wasn't really sure what it was all about, and even in doubt about being a poker dealer in the first place, she went ahead and have her email address.
Shortly after meeting them, Badurek decided to leave Dublin and return to Poland to finish her degree in Russian philology. She was already back, studying when an email came that would change her life once again. Thomas Kremser, who, at the time was in charge as Tournament Director at the European Poker Tour, asked her to join his team for the Caribbean Poker Classic in St. Kitts.
"I was overwhelmed and wasn't sure what to think of it at first. On one hand, there was a job in the Caribbean that would pay well, on the other hand, I had just gotten back to studying and had left my job as a poker dealer behind me. It felt like a big gamble, but in the end, I felt it was an opportunity I couldn't pass on."
Not yet accustomed to booking flights and looking for good deals, Badurek ended up paying a lot to get to St Kitts, and on top of it, it took her 36 hours to get there. It was in the Caribbean at Thomas Kremser's event where she got into contact with a lot of key people in the industry and got her job on the European Poker Tour.
This time around she didn't quit school, though. She turned to the head master and asked for special privileges to combine studying and working as a dealer all over the world. It turned out that the headmaster was a huge fan of poker, and was quick to allow her proposed plan. If Badurek had any problem she would talk to her professors and things would be taken care of. It was the perfect combination; "So there I was, studying Russian philology and dealing in exotic places simultaneously. I was getting back with a tan in the middle of January, people must have hated me!"
From Dealer to Floor
Badurek started as a dealer on the European Poker Tour and was soon enough chosen by Thomas Kremser to deal her first EPT Main Event final table at the Prague stop in season 4, back in 2007. "It was a disaster. Even though I was an experienced dealer, I still didn't feel confident enough. I had never dealt with such big denomination chips and with such huge stacks. I don't think I had even seen a 25,000-value chip in my life before. I was getting some compliments on being fast, so I tried to do everything even faster. The cards were everywhere." Her first experience as a final table dealer wasn't a huge success, but she was a quick learner and soon enough was one of the go-to dealers for final tables.
Kate Badurek makes her first appearance as a final table dealer on the European Poker Tour,
taking over from current PokerStars Head of Live Poker Operations Neil Johnson (1:12 in).
When Thomas Kremser made his departure from the tour after Season 7, Badurek took a short break from dealing poker at the European Poker Tour as well. With her boyfriend at the time, they invested all their money in setting up a clothing shop in Poland. But, unfortunately, people weren't really coming into their store, something they hadn't even considered a possibility when they set up shop. "Looking back on it, the entire idea wasn't thought through well enough. We opened shop and waited for people to flock the store, but they never came. With no marketing or anything else to turn things around, we closed shop after just three months as rent was due and there was no cash in the register."
Toby Stone and Thomas Lamatsch took over as tournament directors for the European Poker Tour at the start of season 8 and Badurek was contacted to get back on the tour. She said yes right away.
Stone and Lamatsch created a position of senior poker dealer, to prepare dealers for the difficult tasks of being a floor person during an event. Dealers start learning how to break and balance tables amongst other things. They learned all the procedures step-by-step and shadowed a floor person to pick up as much knowledge as possible.
Badurek was a senior dealer for a little over a year when she became a floor person for the first time at the EPT London season 9. All the senior dealers were given floor shifts half of the festival, while they remained senior dealers the other half. "That was such an exciting day! I remember being quite nervous."
Getting the position of floor person didn't mean she was running main events and high roller events right away. At the EPT you start with smaller events; like late night turbos where you can learn a lot in a short amount of time as it all goes so fast. Breaking tables, but at the same time, you also need to keep seats open for late registrants. "It's hectic, but you'll learn all the situations real fast as well."
Through hard work Badurek worked from being a floor person during late night turbos that end well after midnight, to being the floor on main Events and (super) high rollers. It's been eight years now for her in the poker industry, and she feels she has built respect amongst the players. "Once you get to know the players a bit better, it gets easier. The players see your face all the time. It takes time, and its still tough sometimes. Not everyone handles getting a penalty as well as others for example."
Badurek used to play poker herself occasionally when she was still working in Dublin. In fact, she used to frequent the Sporting Emporium to grind live poker as they were only allowed to play in their own casino, not anywhere else. And she did well, well enough that they had to change that rule of just being able to play in the Emporium. "I was making the final table every week basically, and players were starting to get on tilt because of it. The next day I would come back and have to deal cards to those very same guys, while sometimes they were still fuming from the hands the night before."
That's all in the past now. These days she plays $16.50 turbos on PokerStars occasionally but doesn't play too much. "I'm happy to be just part of the organization, I don't strive to be a poker pro myself."
While Badurek's constantly surrounded by the best players in the world, there's no time to learn from them all that much. "You do see the best players and you see a lot of hands with the exact amounts they're betting and such. Of course, I pay attention to the hands but I pay more attention to technical stuff. There are so many things to pay attention to; spectators getting too close, the upcoming chip race, the table I have to break as soon as one more player busts, chip counts during the break, organizing redraws, bagging, and on top of that I have to answer people asking all sorts of questions. You're at 100% focus at all times. It's not the skills of the poker players that I focus on, I just don't have time for that."
Away From Home
The European Poker Tour festivals take up almost two weeks these days and Badurek's away from home quite frequently because of it. She's used to it by now, and her friends and family know she can't stay in touch from time to time. "My family is used to seeing me online all the time on Whatsapp but ignoring them. I just don't even have a moment during the day to send them messages back."
There are no days off for a floor person during an EPT, and sometimes one won't get much sleep and waking up extremely tired in the morning is pretty standard. Luckily there's a morning routine to get the blood flowing and pump you up for a long day; "Someone plugs in their phone and puts on music while we prepare tables. That start of the day is so great! It really gets you going, it really works on your mood. We always play happy songs. We sing while we're numbering tables, and dance while we put the redraw on the screen. It's quite the sight really."
In between events, Badurek has a lot of time off. She becomes the go-to babysitter for her sister and friends, and she watches a lot of movies and reads. During the last year, Badurek has been living in Prague with her boyfriend. So on top of all the traveling, she wasn't in her home country when she wasn't working an event. "That was a bit too much, I must say. I felt a bit home sick and decided to move back to Poland with my boyfriend. I just moved to Warsaw."
Badurek sees herself as working for the EPT for the foreseeable future; "It's hard to imagine what else I would do. When I was a young dealer I was told I was good at it. Now I feel I'm good as a floor person. That's a great feeling."
While she has aspirations for even bigger roles within the organization, she also understands it takes time. "I admire and respect my colleagues a great deal and I learn a great deal from them and the rest of the EPT team. It’s a real pleasure to work with such great professionals and be able to draw on their experience."
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All photos by Danny Maxwell, PokerNews.com