Ways of cutting costs while playing poker

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The casino rakes every hand by taking several chips out of each pot. The rake often is called a “drop” because the house dealer drops those chips through a slot on the table, into a box (the “drop box”) under the table.

The casino relies on the rake to be profitable; that’s why it is in business. You might argue over the size of the rake, but that’s another issue. (Note: If the minimum wage is increased another $1 chip may be added to the rake in many casinos.)

The rake and other player costs at the table are the “cost-to-play.” The amount can be significant, especially in low-limit games. Typically, the rake is $4 in chips; the Bad Beat Jackpot is $1; and tip, $1, totaling $6 per hand.

With 30-35 hands dealt each hour, that amounts to about $200 for each 60-minute session. On average, that costs each of the nine or 10 players at a full table approximately $20 per hour. (More, if the table is not full.) Say you bought in for $100 in chips. In five hours of play, this “cost-to-play” will add up to your entire buy-in.

That cost-to-play comes right off the top. To go home a winner, you must win enough chips to cover it – plus. It’s more important to win sizable pots rather than a few more small pots. Big pot, small pot – the cost-to-play is the same. To reduce your cost, your opponents must pay a bigger share than you.

How? Remember, your goal is to win as much money as possible each session. By being more selective of starting-hands, you will play fewer, and win a greater percentage of those you do play.

Then, too, there are ways to increase the size of those pots. In that case your net, after deducting the cost-to-play, is greater for the hands in which you decide to invest. Here are some ways to achieve that goal:

• Play only those hands that have the best chance of becoming the best hand at the showdown. The Hold’em Algorithm makes it so easy to select those hands. (See ad at left.)

• Constantly study your opponents to learn their playing traits. Then, when your hand improves markedly, you can judge better whether to pursue a particular strategy or tactic. For example, it is best to check-raise an aggressive opponent when building “your” pot; and consider folding to a raise by a tight player.

• With a “maniac” at your table, try to be seated to his left, then take advantage of him to control your other opponents and the hand as it is played out.

• When making a key decision, don’t let anyone rush you (as long as you don’t abuse the privilege).

• Focus on the game. Don’t allow the big-screen TV to distract you. Don’t eat your dinner while playing; turn away and take a break from the action.

• Always look for your opponent’s tells. Think of their meaning; apply that information to reading his hand.

• Develop skills in such tactics as slow-playing, trapping, and check-raising to build pots you expect to win.

• Bet for value when you believe you hold the best hand on the river; but check when you are concerned an opponent likely has a stronger hand.

• Understand the pot odds vs. the card odds to get a Positive Expectation. An educated estimate is okay.

• Never chase; it is bound to cost you chips in the long run.

• Don’t play when tired or harried.

Bottom Line: Understand and use this advice to reduce your cost-to-play, and if you want to win more/lose less.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].

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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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