Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2006) in Poker Player newspaper.
Your bankroll is precious. One way to preserve it is to understand how the casino makes money from spreading poker games.
Poker is unlike casino games where you’re gambling against the house. In poker, the casino has no financial interest in who wins the pots. Management and owners aren’t gambling against you. It’s you against the other players.
So, how does the cardroom or casino make money? Two ways. One is rake. The dealer, acting on the house’s behalf, takes money from the pots. Usually, this is a percentage – often five or 10 percent up to a ceiling, such as $4. Beyond that, in most public cardrooms, no more rake is taken from large pots.
The other is rent. With rent, you’re buying your seat, typically by the hour or half-hour, and nothing is extracted from the pots you win.
Does it matter which method is used? Definitely. And you need to be aware of whether you’re paying rent or having your pots raked. And you must adjust your strategy accordingly. This is a lecture I gave years ago, teaching how to make those adjustments.
Rent versus rake
No matter what level of poker you play, if you hang around a public poker room long enough, you’re sure to hear someone complain that you can’t beat the small-limit games because the rake is too much to overcome and the players are too loose.
The concepts I’m going to tell you about today are very important, even if you never play in those small-limit games. If you expect to win money overall in your poker career, or if you want to be a professional player, you’re going to need to know the difference between poker games where the house rakes the pots and poker games where you rent your seat.
Games where you rent your seat, usually by the half hour or hour are often called “time” games or “collection” games. By the way, there is another kind of rent game that most players confuse with a rake game. That’s where the dealer position puts aside a certain amount of money each hand, say $4, and that goes to the house in advance of the deal.
That may seem like a rake, but it isn’t. It’s just rent by the hand, instead of by the hour or half hour. If it’s actually taken from the blinds or antes before the deals, then there will be less money in the pot to begin with, and that will mean less incentive and you’ll play tighter overall. But, if that fee is the result of extra money everyone pays, while the blinds and antes (if any) remain intact, it shouldn’t affect your decisions whatsoever.
Why is that important? It’s important because you must play a different strategy in rake games than you do in rent games.
Money is gone
The reason your strategy must differ between rake games and rent games is because in rent games, it’s just as if you had paid years ago or someone else had paid for you. That money is gone and it should have no influence on the way you play your hands.
Rent will influence your profit in the long run, of course, but you should play your hands the same way you would in a game in your own house where you were charged nothing. Rent is independent of your strategy, so you play the same.
But rake games are much different. In a rake game, money is taken directly from the pot. So, if you never win a pot, you don’t personally pay anything to the house. But when you win pots, you pay, because that rake came out of your pot and diminished your winnings.
So, you see, there’s a penalty for winning pots in a rake game. Because of this penalty, you need to be more selective about the hands you play than you would in a rent game, where winning pots is not penalized. This is especially true of all those marginal, borderline hands you would have been able to play as break even or for a small profit without the rake.
Add the rake and you can’t play them anymore – and they account for a great deal of the hands you’d be tempted to play. So, against the same opponents who are playing the same way, you must play tighter in a rake game than you would in a rent game.
But, wait! The big complaint against small-limit rake games is that you can’t win, because players are too loose. You’re apt to get called down to the river by too many opponents trying to draw out on you, and usually someone does. Yes, players tell you that you can’t win in these games. But they lie!
You see, in real-world casinos the rakes are often the same in smaller limits like $3/$6 games as they are at twice the limits. This means that the rake penalty in proportion to the amount you bet is much higher and harder to overcome. That’s important and I’ll repeat it.
In the smallest limits, the rake is usually about as large as at somewhat larger limits, because the casino’s costs are pretty much the same, no matter what you play. So, in smaller limits, the rake penalty is larger in proportion to the amount you bet and harder to overcome in smaller games.
But those frustrated players that tell you they can’t win because opponents are too loose are terribly mistaken about that notion. Often, the only way you’ll be able to beat a low-limit rake game is if your opponents are loose. Otherwise, you might be able to outplay more sensible opponents, but you won’t be able to overcome the rake.
No rent at all
So, we’ve learned that in rent games, where you pay by the hour, the half hour, or even by the hand, you can play as if there were no rent at all. Marginally good hands are okay for entering pots.
But in rake games, where the winner of the pot is penalized, you need to be much more selective about the hands you choose to play. And we’ve learned that it’s silly to complain about small-limit rake games being too loose to beat. The only way you’re going to overcome the rake is if they are loose.
This is “The Mad Genius of Poker” Mike Caro and that’s my secret today. — MC