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Deaf Poker:

Brad Zimmerman
April 22, 2008

The deaf community and poker

For many years now I have enjoyed playing poker and I strive more and more everyday to become a better player. It's a means to expand my pocket, on the good months, but also a means of socializing with good friends. I'm a 28 year old business major at California State University of Sacramento. I am currently taking American Sign Language and find it absolutely fascinating. I was born hearing, although four years in the military around running jet engines has resulted in 20% hearing loss in my left ear. Never the less I can still hear. My love for all poker games and curiosity towards the deaf and their culture, made me wonder if the two were compatible. There is something mystic about poker. Ironically enough not much talking is required. Don't get me wrong talking isn't necessarily condoned, but it isn't necessary between players to successfully carry out a particular hand. To be a successful player many attributes are required: extreme concentration, focus, simple math, gut instinct, persistence, and determination to name a few. As you can see you don't need to be able to hear in order to posses these attributes.

On the surface it would seem that poker and the deaf are in fact compatible. Unfortunately I still had my doubts however. There are certain times when communication between the dealer and the player take place. In a poker tournament the blinds raise in certain timed increments. Usually they are visually available on a screen somewhere depending where you're playing. But what if your table is to far away to see this information or your not looking at the screen when the blind change occurs? The dealer makes everyone at the table aware of the blind increase as it happens verbally. For a deaf person this could pose a problem. This is only one example but it shows the gap in communication. I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this. The dealer himself would have to be capable of signing or a fluent interpreter is required to relay all verbal announcements. This example would hold true in a mixed event (hearing and deaf players).

I watch plenty of poker on television and play on many circuits throughout California. Never once have I seen or heard of a deaf poker player playing with hearing players. Maybe I'm wrong and maybe this is because I attend the same casino's and the same card clubs. Hopefully one day if the proverbial poker God's grant me a significant cash placing I can spread my wings a little bit! My runaround in the poker world has never shown me the compatibility between the hearing and the deaf. This to me is extremely unfortunate. If particular folks within the deaf community love and appreciate the game of poker as much as I do, which I'm certain that they do, why can't we bridge this gap so both parties can enjoy this exciting game together.

Much to my surprise, through research I've found that the deaf community is beginning to take the steps in the right direction. In 2006, six founders joined forces and established what is known today as the NDPT (National Deaf Poker Tour). They began hosting tournaments all over the United States. Some were reserved solely for the deaf, where participants are required to sign a legal document stating that hearing loss is a minimum of 55dB. While other tournaments allow hearing people who are fluent in American Sign Language, including interpreters and friends of the deaf community. (Newell) Certain casinos that are hosting these events are working together to come up with creative ways to bridge the gap of communication between staff and the deaf. These ideas include, making certain signs with particular tournament information written on them and having pads of paper and pens readily available at each and every table. (Feldman)

I'm glad to see that casinos all over the U.S are being more understanding and excepting of the deaf and their love for a very exciting game. What's next for the NDPT? In 2008, the World Series of Poker admitted a legally blind man who had a seeing man telling him all the cards that fall as well as what he's holding. The team preformed well and showed the poker community that anyone is capable of playing poker. To my knowledge the World Series of Poker has not yet admitted a deaf player, I could very well be wrong. This much is true anyway, that a large number of deaf poker players have unfortunately not yet been formally integrated into the world's most prestigious poker tournament. In my opinion there just as much capable and willing as any hearing person and minor communication barriers shouldn't keep them from fulfilling their poker dreams and goals. It is reassuring to know that the deaf and hearing are working together to make the game of poker more accessible for the deaf and hard of hearing. Hopefully a professional poker player or sponsor will step up in the near future in order to speed up this process. (Feldman)


Feldman, Andrew. (2006, March. 26) "National Deaf Poker Tour makes its first stop" espn. Retrieved 20, Apr. 2008:

Newell, Jennifer. (2007, November.08) "National Deaf Poker Tour".Poker Works.NDPT. Retrieved 20, Apr. 2008:


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