While poker is played by the same basic rules everywhere (e.g. a flush always beats a straight), there are some things that can differ depending on the venue. Here are a few examples:

I once played in a no-limit hold’em cash game in Kansas City with $10/20 blinds and a $5 ante. Having the ante made it a much bigger game, so there was a lot of money on the table. The game was played in a casino, but run like a private game, so that a certain group of locals always had first dibs on the seats. I got in by invitation because I knew someone in the game who told me about the most important stipulation: the game starts at 6pm, and if you’re winning, you’re not allowed to leave until 2am. The idea was to keep someone from hitting-and-running (taking down a huge pot and then leaving), as well as to guarantee that the game would go for at least 8 hours. I asked how they could force me to stay and was told, “Well, legally we can’t make you stay, but if you leave while you’re ahead, you’ll never be allowed back in the game.” Fortunately, there was a lot of action and I had a very good night, so I had no interest in bailing until we broke up around 3am.

Speaking of hitting-and-running, there’s a rule in a couple of St. Louis casinos that if you pick up your chips and leave a game, you’re not allowed back at that table for 3 hours unless you put in play the same amount of chips you had when you left. The reason is to avoid someone from hitting-and-running with a big stack and then returning to the game with a minimum buy-in an hour later. The rule came about because of one particular player who — to this day — has a reputation for doing exactly that. Because of him, the time limit was increased from one hour to three hours. He still uses the same tactic, starting with the minimum and playing ultra-tight until he can double up and leave, but then he has to go play another game for the next three hours or go home.

At the Isle in Pompano Beach, Florida, they have a $5/10 no-limit hold’em game that starts every morning when Joe shows up. He gets to choose the starting time and can have whatever seat he wants at the table. Needless to say, the other players put up with this because Joe dumps a lot of money into the game — so much that there’s a full complement of players at the Isle most mornings by nine o’clock waiting for him to show up.

There can be all sorts of special rules in home games, where there’s also a lot of variance in the rake (the amount the host takes out of each pot). Most that I’ve played in have taken $5 out of every pot. Over the course of an 8-hour session, that can amount to over $1,000 for the person running the game. Incidentally, that’s the only part of home game poker that’s illegal — taking a rake — which hasn’t stopped it from being played pretty much everywhere.

In some places, the host is much greedier. I’ve spoken to guys from Texas (which has no legal casinos) who play in $25/50 pot-limit Omaha home games where the house pulls $30 out of each pot. When I heard a player from Dallas talking about this, I asked, “How can you possibly beat that rake?” He answered, “That’s how good the game is.” That’s nothing compared to some other home games — and cruise ships — where the person running the game drags 10% of every pot, with no cap!

The best deal I ever experienced in a home game was when my friend Mike ran a weekly game at his house. He charged $20 as an entrance fee, but then took no rake at all the rest of the day. Plus, he provided free snacks, beverages, and food — including dinner. The only variation was on the nights he served steak, when he asked for another ten bucks. I really liked that game, not just because it was profitable for me in the long term, but because of Mike’s hospitality. However, the first time I played there I thought would be my last after I felted Mike (took all of his chips) twice in big hands. He wasn’t happy, but the next week welcomed me back to the game as if nothing had happened.

And still only charged me $20.

Previously on Harris Online…