I recently played in a live game of no limit hold'em where the number of players had reduced from 6 to 5. I called the floor manager over and asked for a reduction in rake and while he did grant one it was insignificant at best for a game so short handed. I then told my friend who was also seated at the table that I would do everyone a favor by leaving and making the game 4 handed, to essentially force the floor's hand to give a further reduction. But as I cashed out and started to leave the room my friend informed me that the floor had not granted another reduction. I told him that the game would not last another 30 minutes and wished him good luck as I walked out. All too predictably the game broke about 20 minutes later and the whole episode left me very frustrated. I should point out here that I left the game at approximately 4:30 AM and so the floor manager was essentially punishing the very players that were keeping his single $1-$3 NLH game alive at this late hour. I did not understand the logic of this decision and wondered if there could be a better way for poker rooms to grant reductions in situations such as this.
The truth of the matter is that for the most part, rake reductions are near meaningless and do not alleviate the burden for players in a short handed game. Let us consider a few factors that will help us to come to this conclusion. A competent dealer will get out approximately 20 hands per every 30 minute down or shift. This number only increases when the game is short handed, the very situation that requires a rake reduction. But it is the bottom levels of the rake that are still most likely to get hit regardless of whether or not the game is short handed. In considering a 10% rake system the first dollar is take when the pot reaches $10. Being the first level that is the most likely one to be hit on every hand and that does not change no matter the number of players. In fact a short handed game will dictate that higher levels of the rake are less likely to get hit. So all the poker room is doing when granting a rake reduction is eliminating a level, or levels, that are the least likely to reach in the first place. And although fewer players usually means smaller pots and less rake, the first levels are still being reached frequently enough and since the dealer is now getting out more hands the house is still taking the same amount of rake per hour, if not more. Or to give an example:
• Dealers A and B get out 40 hands total during a one hour span in a full ring game
• They average $3 dropped in rake per hand
• 40 hands x $3 = $120 rake/hour
• Dealers A and B get out 60 hands total during a one hour span in a five handed game
• A rake reduction is in effect
• The dealers average $2 dropped in rake per hand
• 60 hands x $2 = $120 rake/hour
And while the total dollar amount taken in an hour is the same, a closer examination of this scenario reveals that each player is now paying more rake:
• $120 rake/hour taken in a 9-handed full ring game
• $120 / 9 players = $13.33 rake paid per player per hour
• $120 rake/hour taken in a short 5-handed game
• $120 / 5 players = $24 rake paid per player per hour
Having run many hold'em games throughout my life I can say with confidence that $120 dropped in rake per hour for a full or near full $1-$2(3) game is completely appropriate. It certainly is not ideal but at that rate the game is beatable. But when we nearly double the amount that each player is paying from $13.33 to $24, that is an insurmountable amount for a player to have to bear.
As poker is at its core a game that can be beaten, this is a situation that requires correction unless we just assume that short handed games are never to be played live. My proposal would be that rake reductions occur in the reverse order of the traditional method. In other words, instead of cutting the rake at the top simply cut it at the bottom. In most rake systems it is the first couple of levels of rake being taken that are the most punishing as the burden is lessened when pots get bigger and the cap is reached. Let us consider the rake system that is used at the local casino here in Phnom Penh for a $1-$3 game as an example:
• $1 at $10
• $2 at $20
• $3 at $30
• $4 at $40
• $5 at $50
• $10 at $200
So if a rake reduction is granted in this example it would mean that the house would not take $10 when the pot reached $200. Instead they would simply cap it at $5 for pots $50 and larger. But I would contend that $200 pots in a five handed game occur infrequently enough that the gesture is near meaningless. My proposal would therefore be that the reduction take place at the $1 at $10 level so that the house does not take a commission until the pot reaches $20. It would mean less rake per hour for the house, but would maintain the hourly burden for each individual player so that the game remains beatable for the very players that are keeping the game alive. And in the instances where the pot does get large, the house can still maintain the top level to compensate for the reduction at the bottom level(s). And besides, at 4:30 AM it should not be the goal of the poker room to take the same amount of rake as they would in a normally full game. In these instances it should be the goal to just keep the game alive for the next wave of players that may potentially arrive. And even if this does not occur, the good will fostered will be more than worth the reduction in hourly rake in the long run.
The trend in Southeast Asia in regards to rake has been an upward one at an alarming rate to players. Rates and percentages keep rising to meet the demands of casinos that would rather much run other games. On top of this players have to bear the burden other forms of revenue extracted from the game such as bonus drops for various promotions that may or may not be +EV for the players. While all of this is not likely to stop or reverse itself anytime soon, the one concession that the house should make for players is in this area of the rake reduction. Unless they want to start bringing out free food, buffets or at least doughnuts for those keeping the game alive during late hours it should not be a huge ask for poker rooms to make this minor adjustment in how rake reductions are given. By the way, almost every poker room I played in Las Vegas would always bring out free doughnuts for players if the game last until 6:00 AM. I would not mind seeing that either by the way:)
Life in the Third World
Just a collection of random and not so random thoughts from my daily life here in Cambodia.