Rake Effects: Why Pay More?

Poker chips poker table casino Texas Hold’em.
Poker chips are seen at a poker table at the “Paris Elysees Club”. Lionel Bonaventure / AFP

What Is the Rake?

Every time you sit down to play cash games in a poker room, live or online, there’s a price you have to pay. It’s called rake, and it usually works like this: The dealer will remove anywhere up to 10% of the pot at the end of each hand, up to a pre-determined amount, and keep it for the house.

This is fine. Someone has to pay for all the dealers and other poker room staff – or for all that hardware and software if you’re playing online.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t minimize the amount of rake you pay. A penny saved is a penny earned, so keep these three questions in mind the next time you’re sitting down to play the Beautiful Game.

How Much Is the Rake?

Always find out how much the rake is before playing any game of poker – and how it’s taken. It’s usually done as described above, but in California and other locations, they charge a certain amount per hour instead of raking each pot. This is called “the drop” for short.

Once you know how much the rake/drop is, you have the opportunity to do some comparison shopping. Some poker rooms charge more rake than others; some variants will also feature higher rake than others.

As a general rule, Texas Hold’em will have a higher rake attached than a less popular variant like Razz, and No-Limit games will scoop up more rake than Fixed-Limit games.

This is vital information, so don’t be shy about asking the people in charge when you’re at a live poker venue. If you’re online, you can find out the rake for your chosen poker room(s) by digging around their Terms & Conditions or FAQ pages. Contact their Customer Service desk directly if you’re having trouble locating that info.

Can I Afford the Rake?

If you want to be a winning poker player, you have to do better than break even – you also have to beat the rake. It’s like sports betting, where you have to nail at least 52.4% of your point spread picks in order to beat the –110 vigorish.

This is why you need to shop smart and choose the right games for your bankroll and skill level. The rake for online micro-stakes No-Limit Hold’em is very high compared to other games; even intermediate players with a decent skill advantage can have trouble showing a profit at these tables. Switch to Limit Hold’em, and the same person might suddenly become a winning player.

Not that you should worry too much about profit at the micro-stakes, of course. The amount of money you can win at these tables isn’t enough to sweat over – these games should be played for fun and practice, not building a bankroll.

Once you move up in stakes, now you’re getting serious about poker. You’ve ideally learned more than just Hold’em by this point, which means you can be pickier about which games to play, and which ones offer you the best combination of skill advantage and lower rake.

How Can I Minimize the Rake?

Here’s the one weird thing about rake that you need to grasp: If there’s no pot in the middle, no rake gets collected. That’s why hands that end during the pre-flop phase are the cheapest hands in poker.

So how do you make this happen? By avoiding flops, of course. If you’re in the small blind and it folds around to you, don’t limp in – raise instead and hope the big blind folds.

Otherwise, if you’ve got a marginal hand pre-flop and you’re wondering whether to get involved, consider folding instead. Whatever tiny advantage you have is going to get eaten up by the rake anyway, so save yourself the grief and the expense.

Playing this relatively conservative style has other benefits. It simplifies the game by keeping you out of those tricky marginal situations, which will both lower your variance and keep you from making mistakes at the table.

All this and less rake, too. It might seem a bit nickel-and-dime if you’re new to poker, but those nickels and dimes add up over time. Count them wisely, and may the rectangles be with you.