Earlier, the house “rake” was described for the standard (for this essay) $3-6 hold’em game. This amounts to a fair amount of money, and you need to consider it when deciding how to approach the game.
One clarification: the house deserves to make money while running a poker game. The rake pays for the building, the table, the dealer, the floor and podium people, and the security. There are a lot of advantages over the old-time private games.
That being said, you will be surprised how much the rake (plus jackpot drop, plus dealer tip) costs YOU per hour, if you have never calculated this.
Calculation of Cost Per Hour
Let’s calculate how much it costs per hour to sit in this casino poker game. For each hand, it is dependent upon pot size: for a pot of less than $10, only the $1 jackpot drop is taken, and you may or may not tip with such a small pot. From $10 to $20, a total of $3 plus a $1 dealer tip goes away. Over $20, it’s $5 for rake plus tip. In this very loose game, the pot is rarely less than $20; as a conservative (low) estimate I will use an average of $4.50 per hand.
There are about 30 hands dealt per hour. Multiply this by $4.50 and the table contributes about $135 per hour to the casino plus the dealer. Divide this by 9 and the average amount “down the slot” (From now on, “down the slot” means the sum of jackpot drop, rake, and dealer tip) is $15 per person per hour. You should calculate this amount for your game; if you live where there are no jackpots or where there is more competition, this might be a little less.
Stop and consider this figure. The average player loses $15 per hour! This is not some fancy theoretical number; this is the number of your $1 chips the guards take away in those drop boxes every few hours. Sit there at the table and count it yourself for an hour. In the $3-6 game, this is two and a half big bets. If you hope to win Slot Gacor at the rate of one big bet per hour, that will be after you have already beaten the game by two and a half BB per hour just to break even with the house. (Actually, not quite – you are going to win fewer pots than average and therefore pay less rake personally – see “Strategy Adjustments” below.)
Don’t Be Average
The average player loses $15 per hour. What lesson can we get from this immediately? It’s obvious. Don’t be average!
If you played in a home game with the same structure but no rake or tip, and if all of you played every hand before the flop, and then, you personally were a little better than the others at playing after the flop, you would come out ahead. This is actually a good example, because many low limit hold’em games are populated with players who play almost every hand pre-flop. In the casino game, if you get in there and mix it up with them, you will not beat them by that much after the flop, and you will be close enough to average that you will lose about $15 per hour. Budget for it.
“Don’t be average” means don’t play like the other players at your table. I personally play starting hands just about “by the book” (I use HEPFAP21 hand categories and general pre-flop strategy), not extremely tight, and I have never played anyone at the table who played as tight as I do! Never! I have also never played against anyone at these limits who I thought was truly better than I am. (No false modesty in my own essay! There are a few fellow 2+2 “posters” in my local game that I consider my equals.) The important point is that, as a beginner, you should not look to the game you are sitting in for role models. There aren’t any.
How do we beat this high rake? When you don’t have a starting hand with real solid positive Expected Value (EV), you must fold and let the other players push the money around the table and down the slot, without it being your money. Without a hand of Category 4 or better (from HEPFAP21) you should usually fold. You will find that, miraculously, after you have folded 15 hands in a row, when you limp in or even raise, the other players in a $3-6 game will give you plenty of action anyway.
The concept is that whenever you enter a hand, your expected gain (because of the quality of the hand; trust the research done by the experts) is great enough that you expect to make a profit even after paying the slot.
In addition to the Cat. 4+ hands, there is one more group of hands you should start with. These are the “high implied odds hands.” The strategic idea is that you want to win fewer pots, but have them be bigger. This category includes Ax suited (x = 2-9), all small pairs, and the no-gap suited connectors 87s, 76s, 65s, and 54s. Optionally, carefully, you can also play Kx suited, but it is definitely lower quality (below Cat. 6). Most of the time you play these, you will fold on the flop when you don’t make your hand or a good draw. But when you do make your straight or flush or set, you can win a monster pot and still pay just one pot’s rake.
Game Selection – Some Games Just Can’t Be Beaten
Most games have plenty of loose players who stay in on almost any two cards; and this feeds plenty of money into the pot for those times when you stay in. But what if today’s game isn’t like that? Suppose you show up, sit down, and soon realize that everyone in the game is playing “by the book” just like you are, playing tight. Because of the slot, you can’t win! You can not gain enough advantage over a crowd like this to overcome the rake and come out ahead, on average. In this extreme example, the best thing you can do is come up with some excuse and leave. ( The good news is that this almost never happens. In 400 hours of 3-6 and 4-8 hold’em, I can think of only two times that I really thought the game was too tight to beat. )
Some games can’t be beaten just due to their structure. In some Arizona casinos, the $3-6 stud game has a $.50 ante per hand. I personally think that I cannot beat this game, because if I follow my usual tight strategy of only entering pots when I have a high EV, then I spend far too much on antes that go to other players and the slot. And if I depart from the tight strategy, start aggressively trying to steal antes and bully my way into winning some more pots (thereby getting my antes back on a regular basis), then that makes me close enough to the table “average” (there is that dirty word again) so that I lose the $15 per hour.
This is again a case where you have to do your own thinking. If you do not have a specific plan for winning enough to overcome the house rake, then you should go home and think about your plan until you do have one. Program the rake into your computer program and try it there first.