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Playing poker in a casino, most of us find it difficult to go home a winner — even highly skilled players. If you can eke out wins more than 50 percent of the time, you are doing remarkably well. 

The majority of players are destined to “donate” some of their money (chips). To a significant extent, that’s because of the Cost-to-Play (CtP), most of which goes to the casino. 

The casino needs to gain money to pay its many expenses — salaries, maintenance, supplies, taxes, fees, etc., and still show a profit. Without a profit, there would be no casinos. 

Cost-to-Play (CtP)

In a typical $4-8 limit hold’em game, simply add up the rake ($5), the bad-beat jackpot drop ($1), and the tip ($1) to the dealer by the winner of that hand (it could be more if it’s a big pot); that adds up to $7 per hand — chips that “disappear” from the players’ stacks. Then multiply by 30, the average number of hands played per hour; then divide the total ($210) by the number of players dealt into the hand (9). That will be the average cost per hour for each player — about $25. 

It’s more in a short-handed game, and if your table plays more than 30 hands per hour. Some dealers speed up the game to get more tips, and increase the casino’s take. In that game, that $25-per-hour figure is the approximate average cost per player with nine players at the table and 30 hands dealt per hour.  

But you don’t have to be average. You can figure your own CtP. Simply track these cost items ($7) only for the hands you win. That will give you a more accurate figure.  

Cut your CtP

How can you reduce your Cost-to-Play? That could make the game more profitable for you.  

With that as your goal, be more choosy in your starting-hand selection. Selecting the better starting hands, say, 1 or 2 points higher in value than the Poker Algorithm criteria as published, and mucking the weaker hands, you will play fewer hands. 

Sure, you may miss out on a few marginal hands that would have improved enough to win the pot; but overall, your ratio of winning hands to losers will increase. That in itself is a more profitable situation. 

Meanwhile, the additional hands that you could have won had you played those weaker starting hands would have added to your total CtP. The hands you lose don’t count in your CtP calculation — only the winners.  

Go for bigger pots

The Cost-to-Play is essentially the same no matter how big the pot grows. For example, the CtP is whether whether the pot contains 20 big blinds or only five. So it makes good sense to try to build the pots you are favored to win. 

Toward that end, appropriate strategies include value-betting and using deception — slow-playing, trapping, and check-raising.  

To recap, to figure your own CtP, use only those hands you play and win. The smart player will try to keep his CtP as low as possible. You can do that by investing your chips in fewer starting hands. Just be more choosy in starting-hand selection. As a result, you will play fewer hands. Of those you play, you will win a larger percentage, and your total CtP will be lower.  

Rules of the road

Starting with this column, we will occasionally share our “Rules of the Road” — how best to increase your winnings. 

Caution: If you play only made hands preflop (A-A, K-K, and Q-Q), you are almost certain to be a loser in the long run. Your pots will be smaller; the Cost-to-Play won’t go away; and the blinds will still cost. Don’t be too tight. 

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At Gaming Today we are dedicated to providing valuable up-to-date information on the casino industry and pari-mutuel race wagering. With news and features, plus expanded coverage in key areas – race and sports analysis, picks, tips, and handicapping.

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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