It is often said that the house always wins. If you decide to play any casino game like roulette or blackjack, you can rest assured that the casino will profit in the long run. That’s just the nature of gambling.
But poker is different.
You don’t play poker against the house and the house but rather against other players.
The casino doesn’t have the proverbial horse in this race, and they don’t care who wins or losses in any given session. So, why do they even bother with poker, you may ask?
The answer to this question, or at least one of the answers, is the poker rake.
If you happen to be new to Texas Holdem or poker in general, you might not even be aware of the rake or its influence, and it can cost you a lot. This article aims to provide you with plenty of useful information on the topic and expand your horizons.
What is a Rake in Poker?
To start at the very top, you need to know what is a rake in poker.
Simply put, the rake is the fee that the casino or the poker room takes for hosting the game.
Like with any other business, those organizing poker games are looking to make some money to cover their expenses and make some profit, and taking a rake is the usual way of doing it.
Usually, the rake is paid in one of two ways:
- Beforehand (common for tournaments)
- During the play (usual in cash games)
In tournaments, the poker rake is usually included in the price of the buy-in. For example, if a buy-in into a Sunday major is $215, $200 will go towards the prize pool, while the $15 is the rake.
So, if the tournament gathers 1,000 entries, the room will collect $15,000 from fees.
In cash games, poker rooms prefer the players to pay the rake as they go as this increases their profit margin. In this case, the casino will take a small percentage out of the pot for most poker hands that you play.
In most places, pots without a flop and under a certain threshold (10 – 20 big blinds) aren’t raked.
Players new to the game and those who have been playing for a while but see poker just as a hobby or a pastime often don’t even know what the rake rules are in the games they play in.
However, this is an important piece of information as every time you win a pot of $100, the house might be taking $5 or so, and these numbers add up over time.
Poker Rake Cap
Another important concept to understand when talking about this topic is the rake cap. Usually, the casino will limit the maximum amount of money they can take out of the pot.
This is especially important when taking a rake in high stakes games.
Imagine playing a $100/$200 game and winning a pot of $50,000. Before the dealer ships the pot to you, they take out $1,500 (3%).
Now imagine them doing it every time, taking out a few hundred up to a couple of grand out of every pot.
Clearly, this would be an insanely profitable game for the house, but not many players would agree to play under such circumstances.
Instead, the casino will cap the maximum rake to something like $5, $10, or $20 per pot (depending on the stakes).
Once the cap is hit, it doesn’t matter how big the pot gets. The casino will never take an amount that exceeds the cap.
This is an important piece of information because some poker rooms, especially the live ones, will have very high caps (20+ big blinds).
This can make games much harder to beat and even unprofitable sometimes as you need to have insane win rates to beat that kind of a poker rake.
If you want to play all loose and goose with a high VPIP poker stat, you might end up in the red even if you are one of the best players at the table. But, more on that a bit later.
Other Methods of Taking A Rake In Poker
Most poker rooms will be taking a rake in one of the two ways described above. However, you’ll also encounter a few other methods, especially in private games and some live venues.
- Dead Drop – the button player paying a fixed amount of blinds at the start of each hand.
- Time rake – charging players for the time spent at the table (usually hourly).
- Fixed rake – in high stakes games, the house will only take a certain fixed amount out of each pot regardless of the size of the pot.
If one of these methods is used, especially the first two, you’ll usually be notified as soon as you join the game so you’ll know what to expect. However, these are uncommon in the live environment and practically non-existent in the online arena, so I’m just mentioning it here and will leave it at that.
Impact of the Poker Rake on the Games
Now that the question of what is a rake in poker has been answered, it’s time to tackle another, more important one.
What does taking a rake means for you as a player?
Is this something you shouldn’t even think about, or is it an important factor when choosing your games?
The fact of the matter is, the rake can play a huge role in your overall profitability.
To make things simple, here’s an example.
Say you were a 5bb/100 winner in a particular game before the rake. You look at the numbers and calculate the rake, and it turns out you’re paying around 6bb/100 in rake.
So, although you’re clearly a winning player in a vacuum, you’re actually losing money!
Too many players disregard the effects of the rake in poker and fail to realize just how much it influences their bottom line.
It may not seem like a lot as it is taken in small chunks over a long period, but the more hands you play, the bigger its effect.
The (sad) fact is, you won’t find very many (if any) rake-free games.
Apart from home games among friends on private battles like Dan Bilzerian games, all other cash tables and tournaments, official, private, and online, will be raked in some way.
Taking a rake and playing poker are two sides of the same coin, and there is really no way around it.
But, this isn’t to say that you can’t lessen the blow!
Smart players find ways to diminish the impact of the poker rake, and if you’re looking to play poker seriously, you should do it as well.
Get Yourself a Good Poker Rakeback Deal
Being successful in this game sometimes takes more than just learning in-game strategies. You need to look at the bigger picture as well. Just like most casino games you can find in WeGamble, poker also can give you quite a few bonuses to chase.
The first and the most important thing you can do to minimize the impact a poker rake has on your bottom line is to get a solid poker rakeback deal.
While this isn’t something you can do for live games, it is quite common in the online environment, and it’s something you need to consider before you pick the room you’ll play at.
A rakeback is basically the percentage of rake paid that you’ll get back at the end of a certain period (day, week, month). There are two main ways of getting a rakeback deal:
- Through an outside affiliate
- Directly from the room
In the early days of online poker, the first method was very popular. Affiliates were given a lot of freedom to offer players very generous deals, whereby they’d be getting 60%+ on the rake paid, and some of the more serious players could even get deals where they’d get all of their poker rake back.
Today, you’ll struggle to find such deals, especially if you want to play with major, trustworthy operators.
The second method is an incentive that’s provided by the poker rooms themselves.
Usually, things are set up so that the more you play, the better the deal you can get. For example, when you first join, you might be getting just 20% of your rake back.
As you play and generate more rake, you’ll be bumped up to higher tiers, and the percentage will go up to 25%, 30%, 35%, or even 40%.
You should also know that not all rooms will give you your poker rakeback in cash.
Sometimes you’ll be given tournament tickets or tokens that you can use to buy-in into real money games. Sometimes, you’ll be collecting points that can be exchanged for cash, bonuses, or tickets.
While the cash option is obviously the best, the number of rooms offering it is getting smaller by the day.
Of these other options, choose the one that you’re most comfortable with. If you don’t like playing tournaments, for example, and don’t think of yourself as a good tournament player, you should avoid places that pay the whole or a part of your rakeback in tournament tickets.
Beating the Rake in Live Games
Live players have to deal with the poker rake’s effects just as much as their online counterparts.
In fact, the rake in live games is usually higher, and live poker rooms don’t offer straight-up rakeback deals, either.
So, what can you do as a live player to offset the rake?
Well, the first and the most obvious thing is to look for places that reward their regular players in some way and follow basic poker tips to offset your losses.
If the venue offers free meals and drinks for regular grinders, it’s not huge, but it’s something. It is a few bucks that you’ll be able to save.
You should also focus on playing in the rooms with a monthly competition for those who spend most hours playing or something along those lines.
These competitions usually pay in cash and are equivalent to online poker rakeback deals.
However, to take advantage of them, you’ll have to put in at least a decent number of hours every week.
If your particular venue doesn’t offer any of these perks and you don’t have anywhere else to play, you don’t have many options. But, if you can gather enough regulars, perhaps you can convince the floor to get some kind of a competition going. It’s worth a shot, at least!
Move Up as Soon as You Can
Small stakes live games are notorious for a high rake almost without exception. Whether it is a cash game or tournaments, you’ll often be paying much more (at least percentage-wise) than at higher stakes.
Cash games will often have a fairly high cap as well, and all of this will cut into your profits.
So, as a live player, you should be looking to move up as soon as you can. If you’re grinding $1/$2, you should be aiming to get at $2/$5 at the very least.
It makes perfect sense from the financial point of view, provided games aren’t much tougher, and you can still beat them at a reasonable rate.
Moving up can seem like a scary proposition, but if you consider all the benefits and the fact the influence of the rake will be much smaller once you do, it should really be one of your main goals.
Strategic Adjustments in High Rake Games
Sometimes, as hard as you try, you simply won’t have any other options but to play in games with a high poker rake.
It’s not an ideal setup, but it’s still better than not playing at all if games are soft enough and the rake isn’t ridiculously high.
That said, these types of games call for certain specific adjustments.
If the rake is high in terms of percentage, you probably don’t want to play too many smaller pots as the impact of the rake in these pots will be greater.
This means that you can tighten your preflop hand selection to gravitate more towards hands that you expect to build big pots with, so you should not follow the small ball poker strategy.
By the same token, it makes sense to get involved in some bigger pots as the equity required in the same spots will be lower than that in smaller pots.
Similarly, you’ll be less incentivized to defend with a wide range from the big blind. With the rake’s increased impact, the equity required to make the call increases even if you’re getting good immediate odds.
Of course, this does not mean you should keep playing only pocket aces and other premium holdings, but tightening your range and following proper hand selection is vital.
Summary: Rake in Poker is No Joke
No one likes to think about how much money they’re leaving behind through the poker rake. Sometimes, it can be really painful to observe the dealer going into that pot you fought so hard for and take out a big chunk.
It’s no joke, and it does affect your profitability.
But one thing you can pretty much count on that the tradition of taking a rake isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Simply put, if there weren’t for the rake, you’d struggle to find decent games to play in as there’d be very little incentive for the people to set them up.
So, all you can do is be aware of the rake and look for ways to offset its impact.
Hopefully, some of the advice in this article will help you do just that. With a bit of patience and some shopping around, you can usually find decent deals, be it rakeback, some kind of cash return, or other perks that offset your other costs connected to playing.
There is no need to make the rake in poker into this horrible monster that’s killing the games. While some rooms are definitely overdoing it, there are plenty of places with fair conditions, and the best poker players know how to pick those.
You have all the freedom to choose where you want to play and whom you want to give your business to, so stick with those that are giving you the best returns!