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“Can You Beat the Rake?” That is the title of a recent column by poker expert Ed Miller. He is the author of many books and columns about the game of poker.

Without any doubt, Miller is brilliant. An accomplished scholar during his education, he graduated from MIT in 2000 (also my alma mater – M.S. in 1952). Today he is one of the world’s leading authorities on the game of poker. I certainly respect any poker advice he offers, but in this case, I do not fully agree with his opinion:

“The rake is never the thing that’s standing in the way of achieving your poker goals.”

My primary poker goal is to go home a winner. I trust that’s also the case for just about every other poker player, including the experts and pros, of course. (For those pros who rely on their poker income to support their families and themselves, that goal is absolutely a must.)

For sure, there are many factors that influence your results at the poker table. Specifically, Miller cites “the quality of your hand and soft poker skills.” That certainly is true. And then he adds the following words expressing his opinion:

“You should spend all the time worried about those (the quality of your hand and poker skills) and none of the time worried about the rake.”

Well, to the extent you have no say whatsoever as to the casino’s rake, there is no purpose in worrying about it. Either accept it or go elsewhere to play – like many home games where there is no rake. Nevertheless, the fact remains: The rake is, indeed, a very significant factor in determining whether or not you go home a winner – whether you achieve your goal. Let me explain.

Just look at the math. In the $4-$8 limit hold’em games I play at my favorite casino (Larry Flynt’s Hustler Casino in Gardena, Calif.) the rake is $5 per hand played (assuming the hand is not chopped) with 30-35 hands on average dealt each hour – sometimes more if the dealer is expert at speeding up the game. (That makes it more profitable for both the casino and the dealer.)

That adds up to $150-$175 per hour of play. With nine players at the table, each player’s share of the rake is about $17 to $19 per hour – more if the table is short-handed. Let’s call it $18. That’s a lot more than Miller suggests.

Assuming you play for eight hours, that adds up to $144 for your poker session every such day. What does that mean to you? Answer: You must win more than that amount to go home a winner – your goal.

In actuality, there are additional costs to play that game. As I have explained in a previous column, there is the Bad Beat Jackpot drop and tips to the dealers – in addition to the rake. Include those and your cost is even more than $144 per eight-hour session.

Discounting all these costs – the rake, Jackpot drop and dealer tips – and using all your poker skills (including starting-hand selection, reading your opponents, using the pot odds vs. your card odds for a Positive Expectation, building the pot with a monster hand, bluffing, and folding when you “know” that your hand is beat) if you are a better player than most of your opponents, you might expect to win an average of about $100 per session.

Net result: You go home with $44 less than you started with ($144 – $100). So, to overcome that rake, you will need to become even more skilled – and some good luck would help. Bottom line: The rake does stand in your way of achieving your poker goal. Can you beat the rake?

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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