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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

Never Underestimate the "Rake" in Poker

5 February 2006

Live poker is the only casino game in which you play against the other players rather than against the house. Poker also involves more skill than any other casino game. These two conditions make live poker a "beatable" game – if you know what you're doing.

That "if" however, is a huge one. The thing that makes it so big is not necessarily your opponents. The "rake" can be an even larger factor in many games. Remember, the house doesn't run poker games out of the goodness of its heart. The casino "rakes" a certain amount of money out of each pot. In my local area, most pots are raked $5 each. So let me give you an idea of just how much that rake can affect your chances to win.

Suppose 10 players sit down at a low stakes $3/$6 Hold'em table and buy in for $100 apiece. That puts $1000 in chips on the table. For the sake of illustration, let's say nobody quits the game for six hours.

Hold'em is a fast game. Even with 10 players, the dealer will crank out about 35 hands per hour. So after six hours of play, how many winners do you think there might be? Answer? There will probably be none!

Why is that? Because $5 per pot x 35 hands per hour x 6 hours is $1050 in rake. If nobody buys more chips and no new blood comes into the game, the house will have raked all the money off the table. Scary, isn't it?

So how can you beat it? There are two basic ways, and you'll need to use both of them.

1) Don't play too small: First, understand that the rake is usually the same in a $3/$6 game as at $20/$40 – often $5 per pot. But to be adequately bankrolled in a $20/$40 game, players need to sit down with around $600. That would put $6000 in chips on the table.

This time, if the house rakes $1050 after six hours, there's still almost $5000 left in the players' chip stacks. The "average" chipholder will have only $495 left, but a few players, probably the better ones, will have more than $600. That's how the impact of the rake diminishes as the stakes go up. It's tough, even for very good players, to beat the low stakes games long term because of the proportionally humongous rake.

2) Play tight: For fundamental reasons, most good players are on the tight side anyway. But the rake gives you an additional reason to play "close to the vest". You see, the more pots you win, the more rake you pay. Yet, the more hands you play, the lower your batting average will be on pots played vs. pots won because you'll be playing a lot of junk.

If you play lots of hands, it's not unreasonable to win five pots per hour. Then you'll be paying the house $25 per hour to play poker -- plus, your batting average will be low. But if you tighten up substantially, you might win only two pots an hour. Then you'll be paying just $10 per hour to play poker. Yet, you'll win a higher percentage of the hands you do play because you'll only be getting in there with premium hands.

Summary: Look at both ends of the spectrum. If you play loose in a $3/$6 game, you win five pots an hour and pay $150 to the house after six hours. You have to beat your opponents out of 25 six-dollar bets just to break even. You'd essentially have to "run over" the game.

If you play tight in a $20/$40 game and win two pots an hour, you pay the house $60 after the same six hours. At these stakes you only need to beat the other players out of 1.5 forty-dollar bets to break even. Anything beyond that and you're a winner. Here, it nearly boils down to just your skill against theirs.

Caution: I'd be remiss if I didn't advise you that there's a caveat in "stepping up" your stakes to minimize the effects of the rake. It's that the $20/$40 players will be a lot tougher than at $3/$6. You're going to have to know what you're doing to survive.

Still and all, I think serious beginners should break themselves in at the $5/$10 tables, then before long, move it up to $10/$20 where the rake won't eat you alive. But remember, play very tight or don't play! A loose player who plays one weekly six-hour session can pay $8000 per year in rake. How you gonna' beat eight grand out of the other players in a $3/$6 or $5/$10 game? And that's just to break even!

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

Blackjack Bluebook II

> More Books By Fred Renzey

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

Blackjack Bluebook II

> More Books By Fred Renzey