Hourly Rate

As suggested in the coin-flip example at the opening of this chapter, hourly rate is closely related to expectation, and it is a concept especially important to the professional player. When you go into a poker game, you should try to assess what you think you can earn per hour. For the most part you will have to base your assessment on your judgment and experience, but you can use certain mathematical guidelines. For instance, if you are playing draw lowball and you see three players calling $10 and then drawing two cards, which is a very bad play, you can say to yourself that each time they put in $10 they are losing an average of about $2. They are each doing it eight times an hour, which means those three players figure to lose about $48 an hour. You are one of four other players who are approximately equal, and therefore you four players figure to split up that $48 an hour, which gives you $12 an hour apiece. Your hourly rate in this instance is simply your share of the total hourly loss of the three bad players in the game.

Of course, in most games you can't be that precise. Even in the example just given, other variables would affect your hourly rate. Additionally, when you are playing in a public card room or in some private games where the operator cuts the pot, you need to deduct either the house rake or the hourly seat charge. In Las Vegas card rooms the rake is usually 10 percent of each pot up to a maximum of $4 in the smaller seven-card stud games and 5 percent of each pot to a maximum of $3 in the larger seven-card stud games, in the Texas hold 'em games, and in most other games.

In the long run a poker player's overall win is the sum of his mathematical expectations in individual situations. The more plays you make with a positive expectation, the bigger winner you stand to be. The more plays you make with a negative expectation, the bigger loser you stand to be. Therefore, you should almost always try to make the play that will maximize your positive expectation or minimize your negative expectation in order to maximize your hourly rate.

Once you have decided what your hourly rate is, you should realize that what you are doing is earning. You are no longer gambling in the traditional sense. You should no longer be anxious to have a good day or upset when you have a bad day. If you play regularly, you should simply feel that it is better to be playing poker making $20 an hour, able to come and go as you please, than to be working an eight-hour shift making $ 15 an hour. To think of poker as something glamorous is very bad. You must think that you are just working as a poker player and that you are not particularly anxious about making a big score. If it comes, it comes. Conversely, you won't be so upset if you have a big loss. If one comes, it comes. You are just playing for a certain hourly rate.

If you have estimated your hourly rate correctly, your eventual winnings will approximate your projected hourly rate multiplied by the total hours played. Your edge comes not from holding better cards, but from play in situations where your opponents would play incorrectly if they had your hand and you had theirs. The total amount of money they cost themselves in incorrect play, assuming you play perfectly, minus the rake, is the amount of money you will win. Your opponents' various mistakes per hour will cost them various amounts of money. If the hands were reversed, you wouldn't make these mistakes, and this difference is your hourly rate. That's all there is to it. If they play a hand against you differently from the way you would play it five times an hour, and if it's a $2 mistake on average, that's a $10-an-hour gain for you.

To assume you play perfectly is, of course, a big assumption. Few if any of us play perfectly all of the time, but that is what we strive for. Furthermore, it is important to realize that there is not one particular correct way to play a poker hand as there is in most bridge hands. On the contrary, you must adjust to your opponents and mix up your play, even against the same opponents, as we shall explain in later chapters.

Furthermore, it is sometimes correct to play incorrectly! You may, for example, purposely make an inferior play to gain in a future hand or future round of betting. You also may play less than optimally against weak opponents who have only a limited amount to lose or when you yourself are on a short bankroll. In these cases it is not correct to push small edges. You should not put in the maximum raises as a small favorite. You should fold hands that are marginally worth calling. You have reduced your hourly rate but have ensured yourself a win. Why give weaker players any chance to get lucky and quit big winners or get lucky and bust you if you are on a short bankroll? You'll still get the money playing less than optimally. It will just take a few more hours.

You should try to assess most poker games in terms of your expected hourly rate by noticing what mistakes your opponents are making and how much these mistakes are costing them. Don't sit in a game with an insufficient hourly rate projection unless you think the game will become better — either because you expect some weaker players to arrive soon or because some good players in the game have a tendency to start playing badly when they are losing. If these good players jump off winners, you should quit if you can. However, it is sometimes good to continue in a game with a low hourly rate projection for political reasons — you do not want to get a reputation for gambling only when you have much the best of it. Such a reputation can make enemies, cost you money in the long run, and even get you barred from some games.

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