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Tightening Up More Loose Ends

Before, I discussed Texas hold ‘em starting-hand requirements, playing too predictably and overcalling requirements. Participating in fewer hands, especially when we are in early position, should pave the way to better results. Injecting a wee bit of unpredictability into your play will derive residual benefits when opponents fail to correctly read your motives. And, establishing proper overcalling standards will lead to decreased chip drainage. In this article, I’ll expand our efforts to streamline our limit hold ‘em play by examining how to best cope with the effect of the house rake. We’ll also delve into risk/reward, the foundation of poker decision-making.

The Relentless Rake

Casinos and online gaming sites are in business to make money. In exchange for dealing, providing competitors and overseeing proceedings, these establishments either rake each cash game pot on a percentage basis or they collect a time charge for each half-hour of play. In brick-and-mortar casinos, the percentage of pot rake typically applies to lower limit games while high-limit players pay the time charge. When playing online, the per-pot deduction almost always applies. The hold ‘em rake on the Las Vegas strip averages 10 percent of each pot up to a maximum deduction of $4 (about £2). In addition, many casinos deduct another $1 to fund their bad-beat jackpot (typically awarded when a player loses with four-of-kind). Throw in $1 for a dealer toke and winning a $60 pot will cost you $6 in overhead.

Can a good player overcome these expenses? Yes, but he or she must refine strategies to incorporate the ramifications of the rake. Always remember this axiom: Your objective is not to win the most pots; it is to win the most money.

Let’s concoct a scenario that will convey ‘rake repercussion.’ You are playing £4-£8 limit hold ‘em in a casino and pick up K-J offsuit in the £2 small blind. The rake is 10 percent (maximum £4). There is no jackpot takeout. All fold to you. Well, K-J figures to be the best hand heads up, so you raise to £8. Your opponent calls. Then comes QhJs3d. Oops—you’re out of position and there’s an overcard on the board. You bet to find out whether your pair of jacks is good. In addition, you don’t want to give your opponent a free card because he may have picked up a straight draw or have a hand such as A-8. He calls quickly. The turn card is the three of clubs. There is £22 in the pot (£2 has been raked). Double oops—your opponent probably won’t release his hand if he holds a queen. You don’t want to give him a free card, but you don’t want to be raised if he was slowplaying two pair or K-Q. So, you check. He bets. You are faced with a very difficult decision. If you call, the pot will be worth £36 (£4 will be raked). Once again, after the river card falls, you’ll be out of position with a marginal hand. Let’s assume there is no river betting. If you win the pot, you will tip the dealer £1. So, by calling on the turn, you’ll have invested £20 hoping for a net profit of £15. Putting yourself in these situations is simply not winning poker. If this scenario occurred seven times, you would have to win four times just to break even. Put in different terms, you would have to be a 57.5-percent favourite to show a miniscule profit. So, when facing a stiff rake in a low-limit game, you should:

• Push your marginal advantages when it appears that a large pot will develop. Once the ‘rake threshold’ (£40 in the above, example hand) is exceeded, every pound that goes into the pot will be awarded to the winner. You can raise with nut draw hands when many players remain. You can value bet more profitably on the river after a pot has been fully raked.

• Avoid headsup play unless you believe you are a substantial favourite (I like to use 60 percent as a guideline).

• Avoid tight games; the rake is an almighty enemy when the average pot is tiny.

Risk/Reward Decisions

When playing a three-hour session of limit hold’em in a casino, you’ll be faced with at least 20 close decisions. Your choices will generally determine whether you win or lose that day. Always consider whether the risk (the amount you are about to bet or raise when you are the aggressor, and whether to call, raise or fold when someone has bet into you) is worth the reward. This easy to understand ‘formula’ is often neglected in the heat of battle on the felt. Here are three risk/reward principles that, if followed, will improve your results:

• When you are substantially behind in a hand, eschew the desire to ‘take one off.’ Typically, you will miss, and occasionally you will catch a card that will improve your hand, but you will still lose.

• Be careful when you possess a drawing hand and are heads-up on the flop. You may be getting the correct odds (for example, you are a 2-to-1 underdog to make a flush by the river), but if you miss you will usually be faced with another bet on the turn (when the amount doubles and you become a 4-to-1 underdog to make your flush). When holding a drawing hand and playing heads-up you’ll rarely be getting the correct odds to call on the turn. Always think ahead.

• When you make a pure bluff, you’re taking a big risk since you cannot win if an opponent calls. Make sure you have a good read on the foes you choose to bluff. Your bluffing frequency should be dependent on your table image, the pot size and the propensities of the opponents left in the hand. Many players bluff too little or too much when they don’t properly analyse these variables.
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