Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Poker rakes, house edge, thoughts

I posted this in response to a question on house edge on the Vegas Messageboard and ended up feeling it was worth saving in a more permanent location.
This is it.

Kind of a late comment here, but

When you use the term "house edge" in gambling, it really does not apply to live poker. In all other casino games your opponent is the house and mathematically they have the advantage and the casino will grind you down at different rates over the long run.

In live poker, the house does not have or need any edge. You pay them a fee for the service of offering the game, dealing, enforcing the rules, etc. The "edge" is developed by the player who is your opponent. 
If your opponents are drunk and poor players, then you have the edge. 
If they are skillful and patient and read the cards, odds and players well, then they have an edge. 
Of course the person with the edge is not always perceived as winning. As in all gambling, in the short run anyone can win. The slot house edge does not mean the casino walks away all the time with the money because you hit a jackpot and go to lunch. 
A good player's house edge does not mean s/he walks away rich either. At my last game the "fish" kept pulling trips on the river.
The house gets the rake regardless.

However, if you play very low limit poker (say 2-4) at a table which is raked aggressively and full of very tight players, it can be impossible for your winnings to overcome the grinding of the rake. 
If the pots are all small and the players equally matched so the money just is passed around from person to person, then the only winner at the table will be the house. 
This is particularly a problem because a limit poker game puts a limit on the size of the pots, so the house rake is a high percentage, while no limit can see pots of hundreds of dollars with the same rake and tip as a game that sees pots of under a hundred dollars. 
And in no limit, you might win one hand an hour and triple your money. That one pot was raked once. In limit it might take you four hands to make that much money. So the same winnings would be raked and the dealer tipped four times. While the rake might be presented as the same 10% it is hugely different.

There are some people who feel that it is nearly impossible in the long run to make money at a 2-4 limit game because the rake just grinds out any possible profit.

This can be one reason to search out 4-8 or higher games because the size of the pots (given the same kind of players) double while the capped rake and tip stays the same. 
On the other hand, I have been in casinos where the 2-4 pots are a good bit larger than the 4-8 simply because folks stay in and bet second best cards. In a tight 4-8, the house may more often take more dollars out of your winnings than in a very loose 2-4 game.

And here is where your question becomes very complicated. In all other gambling the information you get from those who have played the game will be useful when you sit down at the same game in the same place. 

In live poker the effect that the rake has on your chance of winning money changes everytime the player's change and that is a continuous change. So if I tell you that XX casino was good for me because of XXX condition, you may not find that at all when you arrive because the opponents will have completely changed.

Here is another complication. You can find out ahead of time which place gives the best rake. I used to think that was the best bet for me. I avoide Harrah's because Harrah's rakes more than many other venues. 
But if that means that the tighter and better players avoid those games and flock to games that charge the lowest rake, then you don't gain advantage by seeking out those games only to find that your opponents are all Vegas regulars who not only play poker every day, but play at the low raking casino with players they know like a book.
This is especially true if you are a beginner. For the expert player, the lower rake adds to money won. For the beginner, if the lower raked games fill the table with all expert opponents then what is saved in the slight lowering of the house rake is lost in the playing against opponents with a huge "player's edge."
And perhaps at higher raked games there is an automatic self selection of players who can't do math or won't. If they don't do the math of the rake, they probably can't count outs and compare that to pot odds either.

Table selection is seen as a key element in playing limit poker.

The best advice is to watch a game a while before you join. This is often impractical as we don't go to Vegas to watch and we often can't pick the table when it is our turn to take a seat. However, we can play tight, watch how the game develops, and then leave if it seems that it will be unlikely that the pots will be large enough to overcome the house rake.

Of course, then supper time comes and half the table changes to other players. Frustrating.

On the other hand, if everyone is in every hand every time and forever calling (no foldem holdem) then we will overcome the rake, but we can expect to lose hands that we play well against crap cards that suck out wins against us.

I like a game where there are up to three loose but not too aggressive players and the rest of the table are predictable folks who are only in hands when they have good cards. That gives me the best balance. It offers me enough action to offset the rake and yet not so much that luck determines the winning hands more than poker skill.

In these games I may have pocket Aces and get called by a couple people chasing crap cards as well as some good players with other high pairs. However, my Aces won't face seven opponents who all have crap cards but will draw to anything. 
In the totally loose games the rake is offset by the size of the pots, but one of those seven maniac chasers will beat my Aces more often than I will beat all seven of them.

Another rake consideration is in how many players need to be at a table for you to continue playing. Playing five people if the rake stays the same is not worth the game, and you should not do it for long. Ask for a rake reduction, and if it does not come quickly, walk. Sometimes, with just five players, the house will take no rake for a while except maybe a dollar for a bad beat or high hand bonus. 
This is a good five person game and often a time to start playing more hands more aggressively. 
When the table fills, the house will start raking again, and if it shrinks again you may have to ask again for a rake reduction. Remember to do that.

Sometimes it is frustrating to play in a casino where you are on a list waiting for a seat, but that may be the better venue.
I played at Foxwoods last week and had a dramatic example of this in 2-4 play. I waited for a seat for ten or fifteen minutes and spent the time getting a flavor for all the 2-4 tables. 
I got a seat at a new game I could not watch, and within the first 8 deals had pocket Aces, pocket kings, A-K, A-J, and two other sets of playable cards. I won most of those pots, but when I looked down at my chip stack I saw I had practically no profit because I was at a tight table. 
I saw a seat at a loose table I had checked out earlier and was allowed to move, and on my very first hand played a 6-9 off suit (had to post to join the game) that caught the nut straight and won an $80 pot. This table called around, even (with third best hands) called raises that screamed out we raisers held straights.

I was lucky, but more than that, my table selection meant I got paid. 

Sorry this is so long. Hope it was helpful.



Best updated rake information.

Monday, June 21, 2010

American Casino Guide note on Ellis Island

One of the posters on the ACG board wrote Ellis to clarify how their coupon policy has been evolving.  Here is what she got back:

I did write to Ellis Island and got the following response:

Hello Mary,

We did experience some fraudulent coupon use and worked with ACG and did get everything resolved 

We are accepting all ACG coupons as printed in the ACG book

Thank you and hope to see you soon. 

Marcus G. Zavala
General Manager 
Ellis Island Casino & Brewery