I have played a lot of home games and generally done pretty well but I'm just getting to the level where I think I might be good enough to play at a casino. The problem is a $3-$4 rake on every hand seems like such a steep penalty that I'm afraid I will end up playing very conservatively and being pushed around by players who are willing to put a lot of money out on feeler bets. What are some suggestions for how I can play around the rake? --that is how should my play style differ in a game with the additional drain on the table like that.
You need to be aware of the rake. Be aware of how much the rake is, what is the cap and what is the granularity of the rake. Also be aware of Jackpot drop and when it is taken.
Typically rake is taken at ten percent to the nearest dollar. However it may be taken to the nearest half dollar or even the nearest quarter. You will know if it is something more then the nearest dollar if there are coins in the pot. You can also ask. I suggest asking discretely.
Some times the rake is not taken before the flop. No flop no drop is the catchy little phrase. This brings up some situations were it is much better to raise a pot that has a number of limpers in it then to just become another limper.
Jackpot drop is typically taken at the point the pot qualifies as being large enough for a promotion. Usually something like a ten dollar pot qualifies. So that would be the point where they take the Jackpot drop. But the devil here is in the details. Some places have no pot size qualification and simply take a dollar on the flop for the Jackpot drop. Many casino also have a two dollar Jackpot drop, and you should be aware of when that second dollar is taken and adjust accordingly.
Generally speaking making minimum bets and opening with a limp late are no win plays because of the rake, no win is understating it.
Worse case scenario, paying 70% of your investment to see a flop. If you are the small blind in a game with a 1/2 blind, the rake is to the nearest quarter, the Promo drop is one dollar on the flop, you pay $1.25 to see the flop. If you limp and win the pot checked down your return will be 75 cents. You could limp with aces against random hands here, and you will be betting dollars to win pennies. Your best tactic here is to look at the player in the big blind and ask for a chop or raise. If the player to your left does not chop, your absolute choice is to raise or fold. And you only raise with hands that have high EV heads up.
On the button in this worse case scenario stealing blinds is not a very good play, you need a very high expectancy of the steal being successful for this play to have positive EV. If you have a hand you should always raise when you are the late opener.
Be aware of pot size, my favorite dumb ass poker player thing to watch is the player making a small value bet that has no value. Your in a three way pot that is six dollars. The rake is ten percent to the nearest dollar, the first dollar of jackpot is taken at ten dollars. A player bets two dollars, the minimum bet. One player calls making the pot ten dollars the point that the dealer will grab a dollar for the rake and a dollar for the promo drop. No net on the bet. You really want to bet in such a way that the players are going to fold.
Most of the time there is not going to be any revenue taken from a pot until it reaches ten dollars, but you do need to be aware of the times and places that this is not the case and adjust your play accordingly. This means less steals from the button, little or no limping head up in the blinds, less slow playing since the price of calls make the bet a bad one more often. Starting hands need a much better return, don't make marginal calls. A bet that takes a pot uncontested is almost always better then a value bet when the pots are small and a call will cost you rake.